Hitting white-collar LaSalle Street for a cross-cultural urban experience would be like going to Brooks Brothers to buy gold fronts. But IPO (172 W. Adams St.; 312-917-5608)—which opened quietly on October 4th in the W Chicago-City Center hotel—will attempt to bring the two seemingly disparate elements together. IPO (as in “initial public offering”) replaces the hotel’s recently shuttered Ristorante We with a small-plate “new urban” menu that combines American, Indian, Asian, and Latin flavors from Chicago’s neighborhoods. “Everyone is familiar with contemporary American cuisine,” says chef Trevor Hoyte. “What we’re trying to do is look at the culture from inside Chicago.” Hoyte also hopes to recreate the “social vibe” of the W’s Living Room bar, where he tweaked dishes like seared scallops with Mexican chorizo and Puerto Rican sofrito—a combination that he deems “one big, happy marriage.”
The Pizza Man
“In Northern Italy, the people like their pizza crispier and lighter,” explains Tito Conza, the Turin native who opened Cavatappi (3020 W. 95th St., Evergreen Park; 708-576-3055) last week with Bill Mulchrone, a Beverly native. Their brick-oven pizzeria and wine bar offers hand-stretched thin-crust pizzas and affordable Northern Italian entrées—the most expensive menu items, like grilled salmon with sautéed spinach or a Barolo wine-marinated rump roast on polenta, top out at $15. Conza is quick to explain the difference between his pies (cooked three to four minutes in a 500-degree oven) and the Neapolitan variety (in an 800-degree oven for less than a minute). “The dough, the ingredients—every pizza man has little secrets, but mostly they are the same,” says Conza, whose family has a pizzeria in Turin. “The difference is the way they cook it.”
"As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it." –Buddy Hackett (1924-2003), American actor and comedian
East Meets West
The folks at Ukai Japanese Restaurant (1059 W. Belmont Ave.; 773-868-9900) are serious about fusion. Asian flavors meld with Western staples like hanger steak, scallops, lamb tenderloin, and foie gras at this “global” tapas spot, which opened in August in the old Matsuyama space. Ukai also, for some reason, embraces Chicago sports culture, with team-themed maki including a Bears roll with spicy salmon, avocado, and tempura flakes topped with more salmon. (After Sunday’s ugly 17–3 loss to the Giants, could we suggest calling it the Cutler Sack-imi Combo?)
My Own Private Aquitaine
“I’m a big fan of Eleanor of Aquitaine [twelfth century queen consort of England and France],” says Holly Willoughby, chef and partner at Aquitaine (2221 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-698-8456). “So I named the restaurant after her as my own little Aquitaine.” Despite this homage and other European influences (duck confit crêpes, handmade ricotta gnocchi, and a wine list that favors France), it’s actually local and seasonal foods that rule at Willoughby’s 36-seat, two-month-old American-style bistro. Squash appears in several dishes this fall, as does a little bit of barley, and Willoughby (most recently a line cook at David Burke’s Primehouse) hopes to score pheasant in November for a late-autumn entrée. Sounds like something Eleanor might have supped on. Under glass, of course.
Dessert rescues Penny from complete disappointment at Park Grill.
Indulge in apps at Sable Kitchen & Bar; just don’t say we didn’t tell you so when you’re too full for dinner.
An earthy, autumn meal at Francesca’s on Chestnut.
Prediction on the next big thing (hint: It’s not artisanal, local, or made from pork).
Follow Penny on Twitter.
Things to Do (for $5)
- Carbo-load for this weekend’s marathon (or for an afternoon at your desk) with $5 penne alla vodka during lunch at Quartino (626 N. State St.; 312-698-5000). Beyond the finish line: This deal extends throughout October.
- Grab a $5 glass of wine—from a list of house favorites—on Wednesdays at The Happ Inn Bar and Grill (305 S. Happ Rd., Northfield; 847-784-9200).
- Say aloha to $5 appetizers at Roy’s Chicago Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine (720 N. State St.; 312-787-7599) from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. every day from Sunday to Thursday.
- Get $5 off The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook and a chance to meet Jack Bishop, editorial director for America’s Test Kitchen, with a $5 ticket at this October 13th signing event in Oak Park’s Unity Temple (875 Lake St.; 708-848-6225).
Dot Dot Dot…
Humboldt Park haunt Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar snagged Duncan Biddulph (former Lula Cafe sous chef) to be their new exec chef. . . . Saigon Sisters, the Vietnamese sandwich stall that brought banh mi to Chicago French Market, opened a stand-alone second location (567 W. Lake St.; 312-496-0090), with seating, last Friday. . . . Pierrot Gourmet (108 E. Superior St.; 312-573-6695), popular with the Gold Coast breakfast/lunch crowd, has upped the ante with dinner service—promising heavy hitters such as smoked Gouda fondue, lamb shepherd’s pie, and French brandade—every day after 4:00 p.m. . . . The Snuggery (6733 N. Olmsted Ave.; 773-631-8100) makes a comeback this Friday in Edison Park, where it originally opened as a pub in 1974 (closed in 1991). Burgers, pizzas, and baby back ribs will be staples on the bar’s menu. The Snuggery’s Union Station location (where beer and wine flow freely into travel friendly plastic cups with straws) will remain open.