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CLOSED. Contemporary American from a veteran of MK, Spiaggia, Paramount Room, and Cibo Matto.

Our Review

Javier Perez got his first kitchen job washing dishes at Tony Mantuano's Tuttaposto and eventually made line cook at Spiaggia, along the way putting in time at Marche, MK, and Cibo Matto before quietly going solo in Old Irving Park. Here, in a low-slung beaux arts storefront, he's putting out Mexican-accented but largely seasonal midwestern-Italian plates. In fact, if it weren't for those flourishes—say, wild roasted mushrooms and polenta sprinkled with cotija cheese, salmon fillets crusted with adobo seasoning, or habanero aioli with the hand-cut frites—you could almost call the chef's style meat-and-potatoes. He administers them only occasionally and with a light touch, in contrast to the relatively sizable and starchy portions, so that what could otherwise seem like just another pair of grilled lamb chops with fingerling potatoes comes with two involtini: thinly sliced eggplant packaging belly-busting portions of braised shredded lamb shoulder. Those make the sort of leftovers I look forward to for lunch. And then there's the occasional head-scratcher: light, fluffy gnocchi made with masa accompany a large shredded pork shoulder "torchon," sliced and seared crispy, with a smear of almond-and-pumpkin-seed mole inadequate to address its dryness. And an otherwise appealing-sounding orange-saffron sauce oversweetens mushy bucatini tossed with enormous shrimp and house-made chorizo. But when Perez practices simplicity and draws on the neighborhood farmers' market—caprese salad with thick local tomatoes and milky fresh mozzarella, a salsalike gazpacho fattened with a dollop of avocado mousse, or a perfectly cooked filet mignon with hedgehog mushrooms, green beans, and purple mashed potatoes—it shows he's a cook who's paid his dues and can be forgiven the occasional misstep. Al Dente shows a lot of potential, and deserves to be recognized beyond its neighborhood. Read the full review >>

Mike Sula

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Price: $$$
Payment Type: MasterCard, Visa, Discover

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