Best New Restaurants November...
Fabio Sorano has a hit on his hands with his second restaurant that just opened in Logan Square. Letizia’s Fiore Vino Bar & Ristorante’s similar to its predecessor, Enoteca Roma Ristoranti & Wine Bar, in that it offers authentic Italian cuisine and a full-scale bakery, but that’s pretty much where the comparisons end.
The two-level venue caters to the area’s influx of young families in the cheery front room on the first level, and the downstairs wine lounge draws a fun, adults-only crowd. Sorano is especially excited about the wine bar’s “secret” entrance, which revelers are supposed to slip into for some after-hours fun (It’s basically just a back door so that customers can avoid going through the upstairs restaurant).
The full dinner menu is served in both venues, and you’ll find dishes paying homage to several Italian regions, from the bold and flavorful Tonnarelli al Cinghiale of square spaghetti and braised wild boar sauce hailing from Tuscany to Siciliy’s saucy Trofie alla Stromboli of black grouper, cherry tomato, capers and eggplant. All breads and pastas are made in-house, and a wood-burning oven cranks out juicy seafood and meat, as well as Neapolitan-style pizzas (in the café during lunch).
The Italian-born Sorano mans the beverage menu, while his mother, Letizia, is behind the cuisine. Sorano has paired each dish—and appetizer—with suggested wine and beer pairings of Italian origin. He’s also created a cocktail menu of classics with an Italian spin on each, including a tasty Manhattan Perfetto that uses a touch of Amaro Meletti.
Another hot new ethnic spot that we’re excited about this season is Cantina Laredo, a sprawling Mexican restaurant in the heart of River North. The vibrant, two-level venue features two large bars, plenty of seating for drinking and dining, and a coveted area near the fireplace. The dishes are modern Mexican, starting with made-to-order, tableside-prepared guacamole and ending with a sinfully rich mango tres leches cake. In between, highlights include crab cakes that come with spicy Latin sauces, a shrimp-stuffed chicken breast, and hand-rolled tacos of seafood, pork and Portabella mushrooms.
Look for Italian-style doughnuts at Filini, located in the upscale Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel. Bomboloni are Amaretti-scented doughnuts that come with three sauces and are on the dessert menu. Executive Chef Christian Fantoni goes above and beyond to merge modern Italian accents into traditional dishes, such as Ipoglosso with olive oil-poached halibut and braised rabbit and Osso Bucco Milanese. There’s an additional menu in the downstairs lounge area, but what’s certain to be in great demand here are the pizzas from the large coal-fired oven.
Who doesn’t love noodles?! Takashi Yagihashi of the Michelin-starred Takashi heads to River North for The Slurping Turtle, spotlighting Japanese noodles as well as other traditional Asian eats. House-made noodle dishes include Tan Tan Men of whole wheat egg noodles, spicy miso, ground pork and spicy homemade sausage; Harusame, stir-fry mung bean noodles with grilled short ribs; and chilled spicy sesame noodle with rock shrimp. Those looking for non-noodle dishes may spring for sashimi, dumplings, tapas, and meats and vegetables cooked on the bincho grill. The bar offers beer and sake only.
And Vera comes to us from husband-and-wife team Mark and Liz Mendez, who were executive chef and wine director respectively at Carnivale. Named after Mark Mendez’s grandmother—who inspired him to become a chef—the West Loop eatery is a cozy alternative to the many scene-y restaurants in the area. The focus is on Spanish cuisine and wine, with a special emphasis on sherry, which is not something you’ll find in most Chicago spots. And while Liz Mendez is particularly proud of the sherry program she’s built at Vera, she has also included a number of Old World wines from neighboring regions in France, Italy and Portugal. Mark Mendez’s menu, of course, complements the wine program with share-able dishes that go beyond the usual tapas you’ll find at Spanish-oriented restaurants. The starting menu features dishes like paella with rabbit and duck chorizo; Brussels sprouts with crispy ham and black truffle; and marinated sardines with grapefruit and pine nuts. Vera also offers 10 artisan cheeses as well as ham flights, where guests may choose a variety of meats.