Nico Osteria focuses on Italian seafood

February 14, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Erling Wu-Bower has worked his way up at places like The Publican and avec. Now, his biggest stage yet: Nico Osteria, tucked into the corner of the new Thompson Hotel, across the street from Gibson's in the Viagra Triangle. The focus is Italian seafood. He got to spend time in Puglia, mainly the city of Bari, for extended eating research.

"But also absorbing the culture, absorbing their traditions, absorbing the way they eat around a table," said Wu-Bower.

There are fettuntas, meaning oiled and sliced breads, topped with things like a cream-garlic-and-potato laced salt cod, or baccala.. Topped with a salad of celery and dungeness crab. But also grilled octopus schmeard in a shallot-balsamic jam, cooked with Spanish white beans and topped with a salad of arugula and treviso.

His training also included a trip to Philadelphia, working with the Vetri restaurant group.

"The main lesson in Philadelphia was pasta. Not just all pasta, although I did learn about all pasta, but specifically stuffed pasta," he said.

Like squid ink bucatini, tossed with the pickling liquid of imported sardines, which are also scattered throughout the dish.

His arctic char is inspired. Marinated with lemon zest thyme and sugar, it's grilled, along with butternut squash, then draped in a pistachio pesto with anchovies, along with grapefruit slices and basil. He says it's definitely a new style of Italian eating in the city.

"The fish that we bring in from Japan, the pork and the beef that we bring in, same stuff we use at our other restaurants. I think that's new to the Italian scene in Chicago," he said.

And you can't forget about Amanda Rockman's desserts here. Just take her version of tiramisu for example. Bottom layer of milk chocolate custard, some aged lady finger crumble; praline crunch, marsala mousse, and on top, this beautiful cloudlike layer of white coffee foam. Every one is made-to-order by the way.

Nico Osteria
1015 N. Rush St.

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