Italian restaurant Locanda ( 201 E. Walton St.; www.locandachicago.com/ ), opened very quietly a few months agobut the laid-back casually elegant spot practically deserves a parade.
How low-key is Locanda? It's actually housed inside a Residence Inn ( although it's a separate space within that establishment ). However, this place is a little treasure.
The restaurant is the brainchild of chef Antoine Cedicci, who was behind the Italian spots Pane Caldo ( famed for its window-display seating of one table while the rest of the spot seemed virtually secluded ) and Trattoria Ultimo. Locanda specializes in seasonal dishes, rotating its menu weekly in addition to offering daily specials.
Starters include items such as parma-and-duck prosciutto and sautÃ©ed fresh wild mushrooms. The tuna terrine ( with mesclun and lemon-oil vinaigrette ) was creamy without a fishy taste; the beets ( roasted in sea salt, and served with burrata and honey-lime vinaigrette ) were tasty and refreshing; and the parmesan ravioli were simply delightful, accented with crispy prosciutto and corn sauce.
Of course, Locanda has pasta dishesand the king-crab ravioli in saffron-fennel sauce was one of the most memorable items I had eaten in ages. ( Moreover, it's pretty affordable, at $18. ) Thankfully, there aren't too many dishes ( to spare the indecisive ), but they include gnocchi with braised beef short rib ( with a gluten-free option ), butternut-squash tortellini and fruitti di mare ( assorted seafood with squid-ink tonnarelli and light tomato sauce ).
Entrees offer some variety. The roasted duck breast, with cherries, was expertly done. However, there are also options like chicken with wild mushrooms; and grilled lamb chops, with rosemary and mustard sauce.
Lastly, desserts should definitely be sampled. The justifiably named "magic cake" is a three-layered item based in vanillabut the fig-and-goat cheese gelato just didn't do it for me, "forcing" me to return to the cake. #FirstWorldProblems ( You can also try the peach tart, flourless cake and tiramisu. )
By the way, "locanda" means "inn," in Italian. Antoine said he always wanted to open his own hotel, and Locanda is his "inn" where he felt he could take care of guests, offering great food and accommodations. Mission accomplished.
The Dearborn ( update )
I've visited The Dearborn ( 145 N. Dearborn St.; www.thedearborntavern.com/ ) a few times over the last couple years ( for business and/or pleasure )and I'm happy to report that the quality of the Block 37 spot's cuisine has not flagged one bit.
I witnessed this during a recent lunchtime visit as co-owners Amy and Clodagh Lawless, along with Chef Aaron Cuschieri, continue to serve top-quality food and drinks. ( The Loop spot opened in June 2016. )
I loved the housemade parmesan gnocchi ( served with morel mushrooms, snow peas, white and green asparagus, heirloom cherry tomatoes, spinach, edamame emulsion and grana padano ) as well as the kicky Midwest fried chicken ( with a maple mustard glaze and hot sauce ). However, there are so many other fun items on the menu, ranging from the Not Billy's Scotch Egg ( with spicy pork sausage ) to the Veggie Dagwood to the grilled pear-and-Gruyere sandwich.
BTW, The Dearborn is planning a Prohibition-themed party for the release of its Dearborn Gin, in collaboration with North Shore Distillery's husband-wife team Derek and Sonja Kassebaum. The eventon Monday, Sept. 10, at 5 p.m.will feature one complimentary cocktail for guests showcasing the custom spirit, plus party bites by Cuschieri. Local jazz a the )ensemble Brooklyn Britches and The Whispers will perform live, and you will take home custom Dearborn shot glasses, while supplies last. ( Be sure to RSVP. )
Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.