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There's a local restaurant famous for doing entire menus based on a cultural or geographic theme such as, say, "Sicily." It's Next, of course. And then there are other restaurants that adopt a menu devoted to a place or theme for a period of time, but don't get the same level of publicity and crazed fandom as Next. Homaro Cantu's Ing is one, and lately, another has been Logan Square's Telegraph, which for a few more days has a three-course menu, with wine pairings, on the theme of . . . Sicily.
Well, Sicily's a small part of Italy, but its cuisine is certainly big enough to accommodate two restaurants' very different takes. Where Next set out to reproduce the high points of the island's traditional cuisine, Telegraph's menu (which is in addition to its regular menu) is more like jazzy improvisations on rustic Sicilian flavors. I'm not sure I believe that you would ever have a briny flavor of anchovy in a cauliflower puree, as the lamb dish on this menu claims, but I can believe in both of them as Sicilian, so why not put them together? (I don't know what to think about the slices of plum.)
Telegraph has been doing these themed dinner-and-wine menus at reasonable prices since earlier this year; one was built around sherry, while another focused on the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. The idea for a Sicilian menu came from sommelier Jeremy Quinn, who traveled to the island not long after the restaurant and wine bar opened in 2011. Dishes and pairings inspired by his travels have been common on chef Johnny Anderes' menu ever since, so it was a natural choice to finally devote an entire prix fixe menu to the island and its wines.
Telegraph's wine list is focused on small producers that take a no-chemical, noninterventionist approach, often biodynamic and using natural yeasts. To develop each menu, Quinn first picks out nine to 12 wines and does a tasting with the kitchen staff; they narrow it down to "the wines that speak to them the most. We talk about what flavors they pick up on, and they start thinking about what proteins they think will go with them and we start looking in books for ideas of what to make."
The Sicily menu has three courses. A salad is made of brusque flavors and textures: sharp mizuna greens; tart, chalky sheep's cheese; bulgur wheat; and big hunks of smoked beef tongue, pink as a wealthy landowner's face, occasionally chewy but full of smoky meatiness. This dish was put together with a delicate pinot noir-like red, Chiara Vigo 2009 Mascalese, whose light tannins balance the leanness of the beef tongue and whose fruit complements the bitter greens.
The middle course is the most traditional—manila clams in a white wine sauce with bread crumbs, tossed with linguini made with caraway, tasting like rye-bread pasta. The original plan for this was to pair it with marsala, a fortified wine, but close to the menu's debut Quinn and Anderes decided a dry, nonfortified white, Tami 2011 Grillo, was a better fit, and Anderes adjusted down the garlic in the dish to match it.
The final course is the most out-there—ash-rubbed lamb saddle, sliced and served rare in the cauliflower-anchovy puree. I don't have to ask Anderes where the idea of rubbing meat with ashes came from, because I was there:
The wine that's paired with it is equally extreme—"I was kind of shocked that they picked it," Quinn said. It's a rosé from an "extremely noninterventionist" winemaker named Frank Cornellisen who grows his grapes in the volcanic soil near Mount Etna. Quinn calls the wine "a little savage, a little raw, almost like unfermented grape juice." Weirdly, the fruit-juicy taste immediately put me in mind of the nonalcoholic pairings at Next, but it's a fascinating half a glass, like tasting the moment when juice evolves into wine.
I've eaten at Telegraph a few times without ever quite pegging it in my head with a single snappy descriptor, but I suppose it's something like Nightwood in that Anderes is dedicated to the simple integrity of ingredients, without the exclamation points of sweetness or acidity that the same farmers' market produce would get at a Paul Kahan restaurant or Girl & the Goat. At times the food might seem a bit underpowered, but when it clicks there's a rare satisfaction in dishes delivering so much with so little apparent adornment. Kind of what you think the food and wine in a rough and rustic place like Sicily must be like.
The Sicily menu is $35, with wine pairings for $15, and runs through this weekend; a new prix fixe menu, pairing Carolina comfort foods with Rieslings, starts on Tuesday.
Telegraph, 2601 N. Milwaukee, 773-292-9463.