At this late hour of the modernist epicurean era—foam is over; chefs light hay on fire—ingredients are myriad, and you could go through an entire wheat-free meal without noticing any lack. You wouldn't notice, at Senza
—whose name comes from the Italian word for without
—but for the fact that this new Lakeview fine dining spot advertises its glutenlessness. You'd more quickly notice how good everything on the menu looks, with dishes listed, as is au courant, by their chief ingredient: "Tagliatelle." "Duck." The terse style is another indication that you're not playing with amateurs here. The chef, Noah Sandoval, put in time as a sous chef at Schwa
and Spring; this restaurant wants to present a menu that, as the website puts it, "appeals to the entire dining community."
(It should go without saying that a restaurant that emphasizes its appeal with phrases like "the entire dining community" will be serving a menu that's affordable to only a few of its members—if by "entire dining community" you're talking about, you know, people who eat. About the more catholic appeal of the specialized menu, point taken; thriftier diners will still want to consider going to Subway, though, and just ordering without the bread.)
You'll find the desire to ingratiate expressed in the "everything" gnocchi, which takes as its inspiration the everything bagel, which no decent citizen can dislike. The gnocchi as well as other traditionally wheat-flour-based items on the menu are made from a special blend of gluten-free flours; when I asked what was in the bread the server mentioned quinoa and white rice. (Owner Susan McMillan, whose partner is gluten-intolerant, is also the restaurant's baker.) The satisfyingly chewy gnocchi come tossed with traditional everything toppings like dehydrated garlic and sesame and poppy seeds, plus crunchy, salty shiitake mushrooms, which lend such a nice suggestion of bacon to the dish that it's like a joke, or a point argued to the taste buds: here's one more thing you can do without. The whole dish is brought together with a gooey duck egg, cooked sous vide.
You'll want to sop up what's left with a piece off one of McMillan's little square loaves of bread, which are both gratis and delicious: slightly sweet, they have a subtle graininess that recalls cornbread, a crisp crust, and a surprisingly open crumb.
Senza offers two tasting menus—one with meat, one without—that I'm sure are fantastic (and mysterious, with descriptions along the lines of "Parsnip & Apple" and "Lettuce." Lettuce?). Austerity compelled us to order a la carte; there's only one a la carte menu, which the server explained progressed from, at the top, appetizerish and cheapish—like the gnocchi, which was $12—to entree-sized and entree-priced at the bottom. We eschewed pasta and halibut for duck and New York strip. The steak, cooked to medium rare, was damn near outshone by the meaty smoked-potato puree it sat atop; the dish also featured a couple different root vegetables that somebody had taken a melon baller to. They were mounded against the steak, like oversize Dippin' Dots. A couple blackberries finished the dish; over on the plate that had the duck, it was blueberries, which may or may not have been pickled, and a couple different preparations of corn—popped (and caramelized) and in kernels. The duck was moist and slightly chewy, its fattiness well complemented by the frisee and fennel served alongside.
Compared to dinner, a meaner feat may be a gluten-free breakfast, which can be such a carbohydrate-heavy meal. I'd be interested to come back and try Senza's version, which includes beignets, a waffle-cone parfait, English muffins, and bagels. Like dinner here, it's served Tuesday through Saturday.
Senza serves wine, two beers—both gluten-free—and four cocktails, each devoted to a different spirit: gin, bourbon, rum, and tequila. Both the bourbon and rum cocktails were on the sweetish side: the latter wasn't much more than a typical whiskey and ginger ale, though you could really taste the chiles that infused it—it was spicy! Incorporating cider and caramel and shaken with egg white, the rum drink was a bit more intriguing, its flavors less easily identifiable, and its overall effect autumnal. Speaking of effect: this corner space, with its gleaning white picnic-style tables, fabric walls, and soft lighting, is a gorgeous spot to eat.
2823 N. Broadway, 773-770-3527, senzachicago.com