NEW CHICAGO RESTAURANTS chicago’s culinary trapeze
1700 W. DIVISION ST. // (773) 384-9700
Tesori’s lamb shank with cipollini onions and fava beans.
ARTS AND TREASURES TO REGALE YOU
TESORI // 65 East Adams St. // (312) 786-9911
At most new restaurants, you’ll see
nary a silver hair amidst ambitious
project coordinators, aggressive
sales folk and pretty young women
scouting out prospective mates.
Tesori is a whole different ball game,
tucked into Symphony Hall and
right down the street from the Art
Institute. You can bet your blender
that these mature diners are keeping
the classical arts alive. This clientele
wants comfort food, not revolutionary
foodie hoopla. The environment signals
mid-century modern, its sprawling
light fixtures evoking Alexander
Calder as a restrained lamp maker.
Background music adds a curiously
distilled sense of Frank (Sinatra).
Some deck themselves with
diamonds, pearls, rubies and
opals. Others lust after less-precious
stones, such as tourmalines, or
crave twinkly rhinestones. And
some, like the crowds filling Tesori
(which means treasures), find their
gems in Mediterranean foods that
are not too snazzy, not too dressed
up, like treasure hunters seeking
real jewels amidst the costume
bracelets, necklaces and earrings
saved by an old-maid aunt or
your beloved grandmother, not so
spectacular or glittery, but treasured
because of their memories.
Take apple-cheeked chef Andrew
Deuel. Douse him in Italian experience and French technique. Then
ask him to cater to someone like
the commanding female at the
next table rhapsodizing about her
perfumed duck sauced with blood
orange marmalade. Eggplant
parmesan rollatini wouldn’t offend
a fly, not too sauced, not a hint
of garlic, with a mellow drizzle of
Parmesan and mozzarella. And who
wouldn’t enjoy the lush yet mild
roasted-beet insalata gussied up
with velvety soft goat cheese? While
white-root-vegetable minestrone was
flavor-neutral, it did have marvelous
crunch, as the room filled with
laughter and happy talk of so many
art and music lovers.
Our treasure hunt uncovered chef
Deuel’s hunky, succulent lamb
shank with cipollini onions and
yummy fava beans. And what a
joy to unearth wonderful, rustic
wild-mushroom lasagna—all 21
layers separated by a four-cheese
béchamel sauce, the work of a
talented culinarian of Mexican origin
named Armando. Add the royal
service provided by Mimi (not to be
confused with Verdi’s heroine), and
you can round out your meal with
the pleasure of being smack-dab in
the middle of Chicago’s cultural hub.
It’s easy to inaugurate yourself as a Southern belle or beau.
Just trot on down to chef Mark Steuer’s Carriage House, a culinary fantasy with traditional and re-imagined dishes, mainly from
Charleston and coastal South Carolina, featuring food from the
home of glorious sunsets, horse-drawn carriages, dainty colonial
architecture and a filigree mindset. Count on mannerly service
and big smiles, too, from Southern-friendly servers who treat you
like treasured friends in a room the color of a robin’s egg.
With lots of small dishes and sides served in tiny cast-iron
skillets and pans, my formerly hassled, mad-dog companion
bucked up. Soon, we were both fantasizing that we were two
merry Dixie pixies playing Southern doll house. A soft egg sets
like a South Carolina sunset across luscious grits, oyster mushrooms
and truffle vinaigrette. Count on the love of the Lowcountry
seen in Pat Conroy’s novels. And lots of heaven in a pan. Corn-bread as tiny as a mini-muffin sweet-talks you with yummy
apple compote and foie gras butter. My Favorite Slaw sasses you
with peanuts, while bacon-wrapped rabbit wallows in smoked
split peas, caramelized turnips and scuppernong mustard sauce.
This is your chance to be wooed with a Southern drawl. Bigger
dishes include smoky, crispy braised pork shoulder with red peas
and rice. And Carolina grouper. And a Lowcountry boil.
Pecan praline sundae left us aflutter with its bourbon caramel,
brown-sugar shortbread and butter pecan ice cream. “I loved that
best of all,” said one newly inoculated Southern belle who came
Then, at one point in the evening, we couldn’t help but notice something flying around the dining room ceiling fan. But it
was only our joy, elevated by fried green tomatoes with pickled
shrimp and creamed red peas in a hot-sauce vinaigrette. Later on,
goodness gracious, there was something on the floor. But it was
only me, the food critic, passed out after a delicately breaded fried
chicken thigh set atop bread and butter pickles.
Many portions are so dainty you won’t know where to stop,
but don’t tell mama if you overeat. After one charmed evening of
homey, refined dining, you may need a hansom to haul you away.
They don’t call it Carriage House for nothing.
Starters: $6-$15 // Entrees: $28-$34 // Desserts: $8
Antipasti: $5-$16 // Primi: $15-$18 // Secondi: $19-$46 // Desserts: $8-$11
E THEL HAMMER IS A WRITER, LEC TURER AND CAR TOONIS T BASED IN CHICAGO.