Italian restaurants offer different experiences

April 27, 2012 8:28:07 PM PDT
Large hunks of king crab and toothsome strands of handmade, squid ink pasta topped with grated lemon zest are rarely found in the same dish.

But at RPM Italian, which stands for the six partners and took over the old Ben Pao space, Chef Doug Psaltis is bringing his New York City experience, along with a lineup of freshly-made pasta to the table.

"We're selling a good number of them, so it's a lot of work, a lot of hand-crafted stuff. A lot of things as you mentioned that we make by hand. We're bringing great ingredients, very simple food," said Psaltis.

Among the starters, excellent meatballs, as good as anyone's nonna could make, roasted in a wood-burning oven.

"We just add a little more attention to detail, a little more care. We have great ground beef, we feel we make a really good pomodoro sauce. Lightly fry them, braise them in a pomodoro sauce," he said.

From the same oven, tiny pizzettes, as well as Sicilian pork arrosti, dusted in fennel pollen and Calabrian oregano, served with gigante beans and hearty Tuscan kale. For as rustic as the food might seem, it's served in a modern dining room, with its share of people as interested in the scene, as in what's on the table.

"The room got really sleek, it's beautiful, we wanted also for it to be a very comfortable place as well," Psaltis said.

For a completely different vibe, head to Andersonville, where the folks behind Anteprima have recently opened Ombra. The theme here is casual, comfortable, neighborhood dining with an emphasis on cicchetti, or snacks.

"Predominately you see this in Venice, is where it's really famous for," said Marty Fosse, the owner of Ombra. "Most of the things that you see are displayed, room temperature, cold items. We try to feature certain things that are the essentials of the Venetian cicchetti universe."

That could mean mushrooms and grilled spring onions, simply dressed in olive oil and lemon juice; chopped celery and smoked trout salad, or Italian farro with asparagus, shaved artichokes and orange zest. Sit at the long cicchetti bar and choose accordingly. Your eyes will likely affect your decisions.

"Traditionally, our menu skews to probably about eighty percent of non-meat items," Fosse said.

Chicagoans really love their Italian food and it doesn't matter if it's high-end and refined or more casual and rustic. It's the availability of ingredients in our city that make both possible.

5310 N. Clark St.
(773) 506-8600

RPM Italian
52 W. Illinois St.
(312) 222-1888