"Che cazzo fai?"
I bring up this vulgar Italian phrase ( which roughly translates as "What the f—k are you doing? ) because it's on prominent display in the back of the restaurant Charlatan ( 1329 W. Chicago Ave.; CharlatanChicago.com ).
Maybe the phrase is there to convey some sort of laid-back, rock 'n roll attitude. However, the fare served betrays that to an extent, as it's pretty elegantproving that chef Matt Troost knows exactly what he's doing.
The decor at Charlatan is interesting ( that catch-all word ), to say the least. Wood is prominent, but there are also animal heads on the wall along with skeletons on the wallpaper. In addition, there's a nifty red booth in the back ( that definitely stands out from the rest of the seating ); the restaurant's Jackie Aker said that it might be converted into a chef's table, but the staff isn't sure.
There aren't many cocktails on the menubut, boy, did I enjoy the one I had. It was called a Civil Obedience ( you have to love the names of some restaurants' drinks ), and it was a tasty concoction of Tito's vodka, Meletti Amaro, pineapple, allspice and lime. There's also a solid selection of beer ( including the popular Lagunitas Brewing ) and wines.
Aker described the cuisine as "Italian countryhouse meets Midwest farmhouse." The menu has headings such as "Salt + Time," "Rolled + Extruded" and "Large + Limited"which one could argue give the place a pretension it doesn't need.
But the food itself is done quite well. Aker noted that The Chicago Sun-Times food critic called the daily focaccia one of the 10 best things he had last year. I wouldn't rate it quite that high, but it was pretty good. However, the creamy chicken Bolognese ( Charlatan has a daily Bolognese ) might make my list for the top 10 things I've had this yearalthough 2016 still has a way to go. I'd return for that dish alone.
My dining companion adored the grilled octopus, which is served with beef-braised baby carrots, pan gratato, parsley and romesco. The black-pepper rigatoni ( served with wild-boar ragu, parmesan and fried Brussels sprouts ) was also quite pleasing. Lastly, we tried the goat cheese-stuffed chicken breastand, for me, it almost ranked up there with the chicken Bolognese.
The dessert listing ( which has changed, for the most part, from the one listed online ) is enticing, even if it's pretty short. The budino ( served with an almond mini-financier ) is tasty, sweet and almost shockingly lemony.
By the way, Charlatan is one of the few places I've visited that offers an actual pig head as a dish. Coming from the South, it's not that odd a sight for me, though; however, it might almost lead someone else to ask, "Che cazzo fai?"