Food & Drink » Restaurant Review

What's New: Rustic Italian, Coal-Oven Pizza, and Thai Tapas

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Anteprima

5316 N. Clark

773-506-9990

I was a little surprised to hear that the owner of this so-called "regionally inspired," "rustic," tin-ceilinged Italian spot was also a partner in the generic barstaurant Charlie's Ale House next door. But Marty Fosse also ran the front of the house at Spiaggia at one time, and while Anteprima is a far cry from that rarefied temple of la cucina italiana, his new place shows promise as a neighborhood standby. A dozen or so antipasti lead the menu, a few of them very inexpensive and a few rather special, including soft veal meatballs in a sweet saffron-tomato sauce and a salumi plate that features a fragrant finocchiona salumi cured by Mario Batali's papa in Seattle. While the aspirations of this place seemed to indicate the kitchen might know how to handle pasta, my table's orders of strozzapreti ("priest stranglers") with pancetta and cherry tomatoes, orecchiette with lamb sausage and dandelion greens, and tagliatelle with duck ragu, arrived merely warm and a little gummy. But navigating restaurant pasta options is always treacherous, and because an order of spaghetti with fava beans placed later in the night was damn near perfect, I'm willing to bet the kitchen is capable of getting it right--perhaps just not when the house is slammed at eight o'clock on a Friday night. Main dishes include a salty brick-grilled Cornish hen with rapini--there are bitter greens all over the menu, in fact--baby lamb chops, and wood-grilled whole fish specials. There's a long, all-Italian wine list with plenty of quartino options and a decent selection of grappa and other digestives. --Mike Sula

Coalfire

1321 W. Grand

312-226-2625

Hotly anticipated since it was first announced, Coalfire--Chicago's first east-coast-style coal-oven pizzeria--opened to a flood of buzz and business, catching owners J. Spillane (a longtime bartender at the Matchbox) and Bill Carroll off guard. But they've added more staff and tried to smooth out some of the opening-week kinks, and things now appear to be running smoothly. Was the frenzy warranted? It is, after all, just pizza (almost literally--besides the pies, the menu offers calzones, a few salads, and a selection of soft drinks; anything stronger is BYO for now). But as pizza goes, it's pretty great. The thin, blistered crust is sooty and crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy toward the center of the pan, with a dense, toasty flavor. The sauce, applied sparingly, is fresh and slightly sweet; toppings include buttery prosciutto, hot Calabrese salami with fennel, and terrific sweet and spicy varieties of sausage from nearby Bari Foods. The margherita, with ovals of melting mozzarella each topped by a sole basil leaf, was a bit bland, but the white pizza was tangy and complex, thanks to a last-minute substitution of goat cheese when the kitchen ran out of ricotta. And while in pizza, to each his own, I agreed with my friend who, four pies in, declared the simplest to be the best: sauce, cheese, one topping, perfection. Coalfire has some service issues: you have to get a table first, then order and pay in advance at the counter, and the sole hostess/server seemed a little scattered. But the atmosphere is casual and cheery, and for the most part the hassles are minor. Now if only someone would open a wine store next door. --Martha Bayne

Sura

3124 N. Broadway

773-248-7872

The interior of Sura, a reasonably priced "Thai tapas" restaurant and lounge, is like a cross between Disney's Tomorrowland and an Apple computer commercial. Up front is a sleek chill-out space with beanbags and hanging birdcage chairs; farther back is the softly lit seating area with a DJ booth. The bulk of the menu consists of about three dozen small plates, so no one can accuse the kitchen of aiming low, but I'd prefer fewer but more consistent choices. Scallop seviche with spring onion and mint cream had a nice a balance of sweet and savory but the scallops themselves were slightly chewy, and the stacked Caesar salad was drowning in sharp, overbearing dressing. The duck crepes, sliced into four segments and surprisingly light, made for a great palate cleanser. But the best dishes were the most traditional. Sesame chicken wasn't the heavily breaded variety but instead a simple mixture of lean chicken, onions, and chile with a scrumptious sauce that made me wish it had been served with noodles. The pineapple pork chop, served in an entree-size portion, reminded us of bulgogi: pounded thin and ever so slightly charred, with a slow-burning spicy heat. Desserts include deep-fried bananas with ice cream and coppa Catalana, a very sweet vanilla custard with a caramelized top. Currently the place is BYO, but since Sura means "drink" in Thai, you can be sure there are cocktails waiting in the wings; a liquor license is pending. --Rob Christopher

Other recent openings:

Cordis Brothers Supper Club 1625 W. Irving Park | 773-935-1000

Crust 2056 W. Division | 773-235-5511

For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Owner Marty Fosse at Anteprima photo by Eric Futran.

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