A Tale of Two Pizzas
La Madia (59 W. Grand Ave.; 312-329-0400), a long-awaited contemporary pizzeria, opened on October 17th; four days later and three blocks away, Pizzeria Via Stato (620 N. State St.; 312-337-6634) fired up its new Wood Stone oven and baked its first Roman-style pizza. So how do these two River North competitors stack up? La Madia’s crust has great personality—tender chewy, an eense of salt, and lots of soul. Via Stato’s is no slouch, however, with its lighter-than-air blistered collar and crackery texture. Topping for topping, La Madia’s artichokes were light on flavor but the salami topping (called fennel sausage) paved the way to paradise. Via Stato’s artichokes made a clear statement but the pepperoni (called fennel salami) tasted like pepperoni. Not bad, but not special. La Madia feels more hip; Via Stato beckons like an old friend. Either way, River North is two terrific pizza parlors richer. It is the best of times.

Speaking of Pizza . . .
Lettuce Entertain You is also opening Frankie’s 5th Floor Pizzeria on the outside of the old Tucci Benucch space (900 N. Michigan Ave.) in November. “The oven is being put in now,” says Lettuce chairman Rich Melman. “The better it tastes, the faster we can open.” And early next year, Melman will launch Frankie’s Scaloppine, on the inside—another Italian idea he’s had for a long time.

Taste Maker
Eric Aubriot has opened Taste Food & Wine (1506 W. Jarvis St., 773-761-3663), a wine and cheese store next to Gruppo di Amici in the Jarvis Square area of Rogers Park. His description: “We sell Dijon mustard, olive oils, vinegars, and imported stuff like chorizo, serrano ham that’s prepackaged. And two or three different sandwiches ($5.50) every week, like a hot panini with manchego, Dijon mustard, and serrano ham, or a Brie, pear, and almond.” And, Aubriot reports, every Monday night from 6 to 7 p.m. will be free winetastings with a handful of selections from various regions from South Africa to New Zealand to Brazil.

Modern Times
Belinda Chang has left her high-profile slot as corporate wine director for Cenitare Restaurants (Rick Tramonto’s and Gale Gand’s sudden empire in Wheeling and beyond), to run the wine program at The Modern, Danny Meyer’s elegant American spot inside New York’s Museum of Modern Art. “The best thing about my career is that things just happen,” says Chang. “I just couldn’t say no.” She’s come a long way since the late nineties, when she waited on Meyer at Charlie Trotter’s. “He didn’t stay for the whole dinner,” she says. “But it made a big impression. Even Charlie said, ‘Ohmygod, it’s Danny Meyer.’ And there I was saying, ‘Who is Danny Meyer?’”

“It is after you have lost your teeth that you can afford to buy steaks.”
–Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841-1919), French painter

Freakiest Press Release Sentence of the Week
“To . . . show Americans how to create healthier meals that don’t include GERD trigger foods such as chocolate, citrus, mint, alcohol and fatty foods . . . celebrity food expert Ted Allen has teamed up with Illinois’s own Dinner by Design [312-997-5100], a meal prep kitchen, as part of the national campaign GERD-Friendly Meal Makeovers.” (FYI: GERD is gastroesophageal reflux disease.)

6 Questions for David Pasternack, celebrated chef of New York City’s Esca, who will be at Sepia on November 4th to promote his book, The Young Man & the Sea (Artisan, 2007)

D: We never had crudo before we ate it at Esca a few years back. Did you start a revolution?
DP: It’s unbelievable. Places I never expected to see it, they have it on the menu. Like Seattle; the Carolinas—all over the place. Copied by many, imitated by few.

D: Where did you first eat it?
DP: Croatia, eight years ago. That part of the coast is Italian.

D: Do you have plans to branch out from Esca?
DP: I’m happy doing what I’m doing. Come to the conclusion that I’m gonna die poor but at least I’m gonna be happy. I’ve tried to own a second restaurant, which you can do, but it’s hard to look at yourself in the mirror sometimes. I’m going to do a little fish shack in the new Shea Stadium that’s going to be fun.

D: When did you fall in love with the sea?
DP: I’ve never lived more than two miles from the ocean. Now I’m two blocks. This morning I could feel the north wind coming off the bay. We grew up fishing. My grandmother made stew with codheads.

D: Did you eat out a lot as a kid?
DP: We used to always go out. Dad loved Italian. The Carolina on Coney Island was his favorite. Right across the street was the restaurant in The Godfather where the gun was hidden in the bathroom.

D: Besides the book signing, what are you going to do in Chicago?
DP: Going fishing at 5 a.m. on Lake Michigan. And I want to eat some great kielbasa.

He Said It
“When people try the juice we make, they tell me I’m going to be famous. The most famous one is the Lebanese cocktail: 100 percent fruit—bananas, apple, mango, and kiwi—no alcohol. Like a fruit shake. Very thick juice. You use a spoon to eat it. You can use a straw, but a thick straw.” –Jordan native Ibrahim Farah, owner of Tut (2233 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-549-0900), a 50-seat BYO pyramid of a Middle Eastern spot in Lincoln Park

Things to Do
1. Pick (at least) one event to attend at the Chicago Humanities Festival, and make it the November 3rd noontime debate on the future of organic food at the Chicago Temple (77 W. Washington St.). Participants include Atlantic senior food editor Corby Kummer and a handful of food smarties and farmers. (For more information, click here.)
2. Go to Hershey’s Chicago (822 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-337-7711) some weekday after 1 p.m., lay down $12.95, and enjoy a one-hour chocolate tasting. Don’t make an Augustus Gloop of yourself.
3. While we’re talking chocolate, gape at a massive Cadbury egg, a true legend on this site.

Dot Dot Dot . . .
Avenues (The Peninsula Chicago, 108 E. Superior St.; 312-573-6754) will close for the month of January during renovations in The Lobby restaurant. The space will remain physically open, but the menu will be The Lobby menu. . . . In January, Marion Street Cheese Market (101 N. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-848-2088) is moving to 110 South Marion, and the old spot will become an “old-school, sawdust-on-the-floor meat market” full of local, organic, sustainably raised meat, according to Eric Larson, the owner. . . . Happy eighth anniversary to Old Town’s Bistrot Margot (1437 N. Wells St.; 312-587-3660), which celebrates with $19.99 prix fixe menus from November 5th to 8th. . . . And Cocina Barro (73 E. Lake St.; 312-346-8457), a stalwart Loop Mexican spot, turns 25 years old next month. . . . For a photo of the best food-related tattoo ever, flip to the back page of Saveur’s November issue.