Great Neighborhood Joints and a Steak House That's Not Just for Tourists | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Great Neighborhood Joints and a Steak House That's Not Just for Tourists 

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Terragusto Cafe & Local Market

1851 W. Addison

773-248-2777

Terragusto, a new Italian cafe and market in Roscoe Village, is a neighborhood restaurant so casual that the waiters eat their staff meal out front and the chef personally serves and apologizes for a late appetizer. It also happens to serve house-made pasta as good as--what the hell--any in Chicago. Owner and chef Theo Gilbert, who's worked at Spiaggia and Trattoria No. 10 and hawked his pasta at the Green City Market, works off a tiny but pristine menu: a handful of antipasti, a half-dozen fresh pastas, and family-style plates of meat and fish, all seared and roasted. The bywords are local, organic, and seasonal--at the front market counter, alongside the fresh pasta, there are multihued local eggs for sale. A deboned half chicken was glisteningly moist, rich, and impossible to improve on, and if I could I'd order the deeply flavored accompanying spinach as an entree. Baked polenta with sausage and rapini was texturally perfect, simultaneously yielding and firm, with a transcendently simple stock-butter-cheese sauce. If the thin Swiss chard pasta with Bolognese sauce was underwhelming (the pasta itself was superb, but the Bolognese was missing the fatty sensuality of the best versions), that's in part because the cinnamon-dotted squash ravioli were good enough to silence the loudest conversation. Terragusto is BYO and open all day--Gilbert figured he'd be around anyway. If you come for breakfast or lunch you can watch the staff make pasta in the front window. --Nicholas Day

David Burke's Primehouse

616 N. Rush

312-660-6000

At first blush David Burke's Primehouse seems straight out of the steak house manual: boutique hotel location, well-known chef, and plenty of sizzle to go with the steak, including an in-house dry-aging room, tiled with Himalayan salt, and a proprietary sire bull named Prime 207L. But on a visit just three days after the opening, I was already impressed. Service was smooth, professional, and affectation free, with chef Burke chatting up customers and tossinga Caesar salad tableside. All meals begin with addictive cheese popovers, baked in individual copper pots; fine starters include Kobe beef sashimi drizzled with truffle oil, pristine east- and west-coast oysters served with three sauces, including a terrific tomato-horseradish granite, and Angry Lobster, a dismantled whole lobster spiced with cayenne and paprika and served propped up on a florist's frog, claws akimbo, with candied lemon and basil. For the main course steak is clearly the way to go: my dining companion's filet mignon, a lightly aged bone-in beauty, had a distinctive beefy tang, and my bone-in rib eye, dry aged for 28 days, had me composing a mental thank-you note to Prime 207L. A great steak necessitates a great wine, and Primehouse mixologist (and former MIT molecular biologist) Eben Klemm nailed it with his pick of a Syrah from Walla Walla, Washington, that emphasized the subtle buttery notes in the richly marbled beef. Side dishes include tempura green beans and onion rings, (both with a subtle note of curry), so-so creamed spinach, and in the only misfire of the evening, oily and oversalted hash browns. There are a number of sauces available, including a bearnaise, a lush truffle sauce, and a house-made steak sauce--all of which gild the lily. --Gary Wiviott

Block 44

4436 N. Lincoln

773-868-4404

The crystal ball is cloudy as to whether Block 44 can distinguish itself among the dozens of neighborhood joints now boasting hand-harvested heirloom thises and organic filbert-fed thats. Though the owners have adopted a contemporary American menu and scrubbed the late Acqualina's LED effects that made bar drinkers appear to be carousing on the set of Tron, in terms of scope and ambition it's very familiar. Most of chef Rick Spiros's menu items are really good: the entree-size appetizer of pulled short ribs, their richness amped by a drizzle of truffle oil, was one of the most luxurious things I've slurped down in a month. Seared tuna with shoestring potatoes and a diced potato salad (truffle oil here again) had very satisfying textural combinations, as did salads with fried artichoke and crabmeat or fried potatoes, goat cheese, and frisee. Invariably some brightly colored emulsion--jus, aioli, gastrique, or what have you--prettily dresses the entrees. Skate wing, one of the trickier cartilaginous fishes to work with, was very tender and moist in its yellow pepper-lemon vinaigrette, and the seared duck breast with fig compote was lush and flavorful. The only disappointing aspect of either of these dishes was the absence of any crispy exterior; crispy red snapper, on the other hand, lived up to its name despite being plopped in a pool of thick corn sauce and capped by a large crab pierogi. Even the most conventional dish was successful: three meaty chops of spring lamb with buttered brussels sprouts and a risotto croquette. Smaller versions of these and other dishes are available on a prix fixe menu with wine pairings for--wait for it--$44. --Mike Sula

OTHER RECENT OPENINGS

Eleven City Diner, 1112 S. Wabash, 312-212-1112

Ole Ole, 5413 N. Clark, 773-293-2222

Over Easy, 4943 W. Damen, 773-506-2605

Wakamono, 3317 N. Broadway, 773-296-6800

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Rob Warner.

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