Four New and Updated Restaurant Reviews for September
Dinner nightly. Wheelchair accessible, child friendly, outdoor dining. $$
The 18 Best Pizzas In Chicago, 2014 Edition
Restaurant review: Ceres' Table ★★
The success of Ceres' Table in its original Uptown location was a culinary mystery. Set across the street from a cemetery and next door to the infamous Lincoln Towing company, Giuseppe Scurato's restaurant sat on a street that literally was the last place any Chicagoan wanted to end up.
"We joked that people were dying to get in there," Scurato says.
This didn't prevent the restaurant from doing respectable numbers and earning four consecutive Bib Gourmand designations (for good food and significant value) from the Michelin Guide. But good was not great.
"We did OK for four years," Scurato says. "I picked the location because it was inexpensive, and I expected the neighborhood to improve. But it never changed."
Enter restaurant veterans Scott Manlin and Caryn Struif of All Day Hospitality, who were about to take possession of Dale Levitski's Frog N Snail space. "The same week, Giuseppe called and told me he was having location issues," Struif says. "I thought we were presented with a gift."
In very short order, a partnership was formed, and Scurato found himself with a space twice the size of the original Ceres', a well-equipped kitchen and a brand-new, wood-burning oven. "We had to assemble it brick by brick and custom-vent it," Struif says. "It was well worth it."
But the real appeal was the location, on a heavily trafficked stretch of Broadway and an "extremely supportive" (Struif's words) neighborhood. "We get as many walk-ins as we get reservations," says Scurato. "We never had that before."
Ceres' never had so deep a beverage program before, either, nor a front-room staff this clever and personable. And in terms of the kitchen, well, cooking has never been Scurato's problem.
From the new wood burning oven, Scurato cranks out tasty, thin-crust pizzas with cornmeal bottoms and slightly chewy, blistered crusts. Of the six varieties offered daily (there may be a special besides), I'm fond of the Calabrese version, dotted with smears of nduja (spreadable pork sausage) and no shortage of lively Calabrian chilies. From the plancha (plancia, to keep it Italian) come large, head-on prawns, fragrant with garlic and brightened by caramelized orange and capers.
Scurato is unafraid to mess with tradition; I remember the arancini from his original location, improbably stuffed with oxtail but absolutely delicious; on this menu, he takes on vitello tonnato, often not the prettiest plate the world. He gives the classic veal and tuna sauce a linear presentation (circular is more typical) and decorates the top with pink beets, thin-sliced radish, oregano flowers and parsley leaves. Flavorwise, the dish is unchanged, though the beets add fleeting bits of sweetness. But it's beautiful.
Another colorful composition involves swordfish carpaccio. The swordfish has been smoked, giving it unexpected depth of flavor (abetted by very good olive oil and Sicilian sea salt), and he tops the generous square of fish with lemon zest, oregano and bright-red neonata (a spicy fish condiment). If Jackson Pollock redesigned the Italian flag, it might look like this.
House-made pastas are primi sized but large enough to share. A little ground pork liver gives the pappardelle bolognese a sense of rusticity, even as summer truffles and grana padano cheese add luxury. I could barely discern the swordfish in the gemelli pasta, but warmed cherry tomatoes and a finishing hint of mint made it a pleasant dish regardless.
The large-plate options, of which there are four, are the only dishes that cross the $20 threshold. Of these, whole-grilled orata (sea bream) with a salmorigano dressing is a wonderful dish, the fish's sweet flesh contrasted by the bed of rapini underneath; and porchetta romana, generously seasoned with fennel, rosemary and garlic, is a conspicuous hit as well. Pollo al mattone is a good-looking bird, but the chicken's flavor can't compete with the other entrees. And those splurging on beef can tackle the 32-ounce, $65 bistecca fiorentina, a massive porterhouse that comes with a side dish and is easily shared.
Desserts are few in number, but mighty. Pastry chef Leticia Zenteno adds a twist to affogato by pouring room-temperature espresso anglaise over vanilla gelato (instead of hot espresso), and she makes a nice pistachio panna cotta, topped with whipped cream, whole pistachios and a chocolate-chip vanilla biscotti. Best of the bunch is the salted-caramel budino, a pudding-in-a-glass made with rum-laced custard, salted caramel and whipped cream over a crushed-Oreo base.
The all-Italian wine list numbers more than 100 bottles, most of them at budget-friendly prices. There are also a dozen craft beers and 10 signature cocktails (the Lazy Hitman, a negroni with a blood-orange accent, is quite good), nearly all of them under $10. Which makes Ceres', named for the goddess of grain, a good place to seek out the brewed and distilled stuff.
All in all, the Lakeview version of Ceres' Table, while just 5 months old, is superior to its predecessor in nearly every way. Except that the new neighbors are a lot noisier.
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Ceres’ Table - 3124 N. Broadway
List Focus: 100 percent Italian featuring 18 of the 22 principal growing regions of Italy.
Size of bottle list: 145 labels ranging in price from $34 to $180 per bottle.
Glass pour offerings: This is one of the more interesting glass programs lists in the city. Offering both by the glass (150 ml pour) and by the carafe (375 ml pour.) This includes 2 Proseccos, 6 whites, 6 reds and three dessert wines. Glass pours range from $9 to $15 and carafes range from $18 to $30. On the weekends they also do a selection of higher end wines from the list, sometimes poured from large format bottles. These wines range from $13 to as much as $22. While 22 bucks might seem like a lot for a glass of wine, that’ll get you a 2006 Barolo!
Vintage Range: 2004 to Current vintages
Hidden Gems: 2012 Danilo Thomain Enfer d'Arvier Petite Rouge Val d'Aoste $84
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The recently relocated Ceres’ Table is making their own lonza cotta (brined and poached pork loin), porchetta di testa (cured and rolled pig face), along with pork liver sausage (bacon, mascarpone and saba, which is a sweet syrup made from grape juice). For the porchetta di testa, chef Giuseppe Scurato debones the whole pig head before marinating it for three days in garlic, salt, pepper and lemon zest. He then rolls the head in cheese cloth and plastic before sous viding the whole thing low for nine hours.
THE HOT LIST
Ceres' Table: Bigtime pasta fans in CT's new ZIP code know Uptown's loss is Lake View's gain. 3124 Broadway, 773-922-4020
Favorite New Restaurant: Ceres' Table. That restaurant is fantastic. I never went in there when it was Frog 'n Snail, and I've only heard it was really dark and didn't fit the neighborhood. I didn't expect for the restaurant to be as big as it was. It was deceiving how big the space is. The staff were very friendly and gracious and I felt immediately walking in that it was neighborhood people and a neighborhood restaurant. It felt like it's meant to be there and I think they'll be very successful. I had the swordfish crudo, which I enjoyed and the pastas were good. Arugula salad was the best part of the meal, with house-made ricotta.
Ceres' Table: Giuseppe Scurato moved his highly regarded Uptown Italian to new, larger and prettier digs in Lakeview. The space boasts a wood-burning oven that will enable Scurato to add pizzas to his menu mix. After years operating across the street from a cemetary, Scurato will undoubtedly appreciate the higher energy here. Open. 3124 N. Broadway, 773-922-4020
BITE OF THE WEEK
We love crudos of all kinds, but are accustomed to fairly light condiments dressing these delicate dishes—a little acid, a light herb or two, a hit of good oil, but nothing too bold. So the smoked swordfish carpaccio dotted with neonata at the newly reopened Ceres' Table in Chicago was that much more intriguing when it hit the table. Executive Chef Giuseppe Scurato serves an elegant plate of thinly sliced smoked swordfish seasoned with this Calabrian chili fish sauce, made with "baby fish" like anchovies and sardines, and mixed with the region's famous chili peppers. Think of it as a cross between garum and chili sauce, perfect for dressing everything from crudi to pizza. The small doses of heat perfectly compliment the delicately smoked swordfish in this dish, which is finished with lemon zest, fresh oregano, and chives. This is crudo, amplified.
Look Around the New Ceres' Table, Now Open
The new and larger Ceres' Table location in Lakeview, relocated from Uptown, is officially open for business. Diners will recognize some of the bones from the last restaurant here, Frog N Snail, while simultaneously being reminded of Ceres' Table Uptown.
The space has a similarly bright color scheme as the original while incorporating modern art and muted wallpaper. Stone tiles and reclaimed wood are prevalent, most notably on a kitchen counter that surrounds a wood-burning oven and as a base for booths. Victorian-style couches are a classy touch at some tables. A 16-seat patio sits out front.
The whole space seats 100 and is open everyday.
Chef Giuseppe Scurato has made himself at home in Uptown.
"Years ago, when chef Giuseppe Scurato left BOKA and landed at Burr Ridge's Topaz Café, I begged and coerced and guilt-tripped a friend until she finally drove me there. It was all about getting my hands on one of his steaks. Cooked on the pinker side of medium-rare and paired with some sort of luscious potato, they encapsulate everything I love about Scurato's food. Which is that it's very simple. And yet the flavors are just mammoth.
Obviously, when I started eating meals at Scurato's new restaurant, Ceres' Table (the first the chef has owned), I couldn't help but have beef on the brain. The flat iron steak tasted just as good as always. And yet eating it was palpably different than before. Where BOKA tipped upscale, and Topaz held court in a fancy strip mall (for post-shopping dining, I guess), Ceres' is as unassuming and quiet as a neighborhood joint can get. Here, Scurato's wife greets you at the door and handles the coat check. And that shy food runner who wordlessly puts the plates in front of you—that's Scurato himself. In this setting, the big flavors on the plate are loud in a different way: It's no longer the volume of trendy dining, but of a large family meal.
That familial feeling works precisely because of how uncomplicated—but highly flavorful—this food is. Baby octopus—tender, with nice charred edges—is simply cloaked in a fresh puttanesca. A chunky Tuscan bean soup is well executed and textbook, save a punchy pile of sun-dried tomato in its center. And soft gnocchi, one of Scurato's signatures, gets tossed in an addictive pesto and plated with rich shreds of rabbit.
Entrées are even bigger in flavor: The fantastic pork loin is wrapped in thick bacon and plated with chestnuts and apples for a smoky, nutty, caramelly effect. The perfectly cooked chicken has herbs rubbed under its skin and arrives with big disks of potatoes slathered in a provençal-herb-tomato sauce. And, of course, there's that steak, flanked by lemon potatoes and roasted tomatoes. These are familiar flavors for sure—Scurato obviously didn't invent the concept of pork with apples, or steak with potatoes. But because the place is completely void of pretense, a little unoriginality is easy to forgive.
Following dishes like these—and, for that matter, the fabulous dishes as well—Leticia Zenteno's desserts are a necessity. In her years with Scurato (she, too, was at BOKA and Topaz), Zenteno has developed a style of dessert that is both restrained and familiar, and right now she's hitting a stride. The homey banana-chocolate bread pudding is the most rustic option, and it's a good one. But I liked the way the carrot cake arrived with sweet, crunchy carrot shavings on top, and I loved the intensity of the creamy pistachio crème brûlée. Most of all, I liked the rice pudding, which arrived dotted with crisped rice, crunchy brittle and beautiful cherries. It was a five-dollar dessert that I would have paid ten for, and that, like a lot of the food here, I can't wait to pay for again.
Giuseppe Scurato insists Ceres' Table isn't an Italian restaurant.
The menu of his month-old Uptown restaurant is inspired by his native Italy, his culinary background and, says Scurato, "things I like to eat."
If a label must be pinned, the "modern American" catchall fits best. Scurato has cooked in America for decades--notably as chef of Boka and Landmark--and Ceres's menu jumps from crab Louie to garlic-flecked bouillabaisse. But the dishes that exude the most personality are those linked to his motherland.
Like hearty strozzapreti pasta: Dense strings of house-made rolled pasta curl around a deliciously woodsy, rough-hewn boar ragù laced with wild mushrooms.
Tripe--when it makes an occasional appearance--shouldn't be missed. Recently, it came dressed in a style Scurato learned from his grandmother, which eschews the traditional tomato base for more subtle, stewy sauce of braising liquid, bread crumbs and Parmigiano-Reggiano. A new dish is in testing-mode; tender pieces of braised tripe coated with spices and polenta and deep-fried until crisp.
His ode to Italian rice is a dessert home run. Acquerello rice (special aged rice) appears two ways: sweetened and puréed into a sauce; and in a classic rice pudding stirred with crème fraîche and brandy-plumped dried cherries. The garnish, though, is pure Americana: clusters of Rice Krispies (yes, from the box) bound with dark caramel.
This soon-to-open Uptown spot from chef Giuseppe Scurato (most recently of Topaz Cafe in Burr Ridge) stays true to its name—Ceres is the Roman goddess of agriculture—with an ever-changing menu of seasonal and locally focused fare. Scurato's contmporary American menu is informed by his time working with Wolfgang Puck in California and Michael Kornick (MK) here in Chicago, as well as his European training and Southern Italian roots. In addition to daily specials, look for dishes such as country-style pate; gnocchi with rabbit confit, arugula pesto and pecorino; and flat-iron steak with lemon-roasted potatoes and shallot fondue. Ceres' Table will be BYOB to start, with a liquor license expected in the first month or so.
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Giuseppe Scurato (formerly of Topaz Café in Burr Ridge) set out on his own, opening this serene, blue-walled venture with his wife. From the moment you're seated at the rustic, hammered wood tables, the dedication shows. A first course of arancini, oozing with a mixture of Taleggio, artichoke and saffron risotto, is both honest and luxurious. Shaved artichoke and mushroom salad with Parmigiano-Reggiano and arugula in truffle vinaigrette is the epitome of spring. (Seasonality and use of local bounty is a big deal here.) Pasta dishes may range from goat cheese ravioli with rock shrimp, grape tomato, fava beans, leeks and basil to spaghetti alla chitarra. Even the flat-iron steak woos from its bed of lemon-roasted potatoes and grilled romaine. Desserts might include banana chocolate bread pudding with hot fudge and butterscotch sauce. Add craft cocktails and a well-matched, approachable wine list, and the result is nothing short of bliss.
Bar opens at 5pm daily
Reservation requests sent to this email address will be confirmed by Ceres' Table via email or phone.