1417 W. Fullerton
After buying the empty lot next to his west Lincoln Park trattoria Via Carducci several years back, Giovanni Scalzo has opened a second, less formal restaurant there. The new place, a cozy enoteca called VIA DUE, is a big room with 30-foot vaulted ceilings, a handsome bar, dim lighting, and white tablecloths. Chef Joseph Cosenza tampers lightly and inventively with tradition, using baby octopus and caramelized sweet onions in the grilled calamari and serving pizzettes (minipizzas) topped with combinations like Swiss chard, pancetta, and buffalo mozzarella or sausage, mushrooms, and onion. Starters include a sampling of crostini (prosciutto, asparagus, and fontina, and zucchini, pancetta, and goat cheese) and seared sea scallops served with crunchy baby greens and blood orange--the tangy fruit underlines the seafood's clean flavor. The Insalata Due, a refreshing palate cleanser, tosses paper-thin sliced raw fennel, toasted walnuts, blood oranges, and juicy pomegranate seeds in a sprightly mint vinaigrette. Squid-ink linguini comes with a generous serving of giant shrimp in a rich but delicate champagne-tomato sauce--it's a bargain at $13. The filet mignon is wrapped in salty pancetta, which adds flavor and holds in moisture, and served with slightly wilted spinach in a porcini-wine sauce. A traditional Italian assortment of cured meats, cheese, and olives is offered after the main course, but it's unnecessary after the huge, full-flavored entrees. The mostly Italian wine list ranges from aged Chianti (nice with tomato-based pasta dishes) to full-bodied Barbaresco and Barolo (great with meat). For dessert there are traditional sweets like profiteroles as well as lighter choices like a single scoop of hazelnut gelato served melting in a martini glass after being doused with a shot of hot espresso. The small lounge area in the back has leather couches for those who want to relax before or after dinner.
Globe Cafe & Bar
1710 Orrington, Evanston
Closed for a ten-month, $34 million renovation, Evanston's Hotel Orrington reopened in October with a sleek, modern look and a new restaurant. GLOBE CAFE & BAR is a stylish 125-seat art deco American place with a 12-seat communal table and a crowd-pleasing menu. Chef Robert Nava (Hard Rock Hotel) focuses on comfort food like braised short ribs--a humongous serving of tender ribs in a sweet dressing on an enormous mound of whipped sweet potatoes. A mixed grill of filet mignon, Colorado lamb chop, and Santa Fe quail is another hearty choice for hard-core carnivores. On the lighter side there's a chilled beet salad whose sweet, perfectly cooked purple and yellow beets contrast delightfully with crunchy, tangy greens in an olive-oil-and-citrus dressing. The adjacent lounge has five TVs, a rack with international newspapers, and free Wi-Fi access. Come spring the wall of French doors will swing open, making for some lovely al fresco dining.
3301 N. Clark
SOCCA, housed in what used to be Buddies' in Wrigleyville, is airy and spacious, with a menu of French and Italian country fare. It's named after a French chickpea-flour crepe--chef Roger Herring's version is stuffed with tender shredded lamb and served beside a pile of grilled diced eggplant and zucchini. The Fall Roll is a mixture of autumn vegetables (potatoes, parsnips, leeks, butternut squash, and fennel) rolled into a cylinder of flaky pastry and served with a creamy truffle fondue. There are a variety of pizzettes, perfect as starters or side dishes, with delicious combinations like mushrooms, caramelized onions, fennel sausage, and Gorgonzola. A fresh, flaky seared sea bass comes skin-side up in a tomato broth full of baked gnocchi, clams, rapini, and bite-size pieces of fennel sausage. Even the ubiquitous baby-spinach-and-arugula salad won me over--Socca's is gently tossed in a walnut vinaigrette with crisp Granny Smith slices, candied walnuts, and a tiny goat cheese souffle. The long list of pastas includes a rich rabbit risotto with sweet, tangy slow-cooked tomatoes, earthy forest mushrooms, and shaved Parmesan. For dessert there's an intense chocolate hazelnut crostata--dark-chocolate custard and toasted nuts in a delicate pastry shell served with a pitcher of white-chocolate sauce--and a croissant bread pudding topped with caramel and silky vanilla ice cream. The wine list is dominated by French and Italian bottles, all aged at least a few years but still affordable. The dining room's floor-to-ceiling windows allow diners to watch cars whiz by on busy Clark Street. There'll be patio seating by summer.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/A. Jackson.