Last Tuesday we decided to give one of the most recent additions to the 'hood a try. Fortunato is Jenny Newbury's new place. [Chez Jenny, Sole Mio, and, most recently, Blackbird, as the private party planner.]
First off, its a really nice space. Upon entering, there's a bar area to the right. The bar's backdrop is a silver-leafed wall that runs the length of the restaurant. The kitchen is located center back and is fully enclosed by glass. [My seat happened to face the kitchen and I thought the layout was really swift. Retro-styled lighting fixtures illuminate a white subway tile-clad space. A wood-burning oven takes pride of place...over to the left.] The seating area is nicely appointed. A darkly stained cork floor, deep green velvet banquettes, Eames DCMs, and Googie-ish light fixtures set the scene.
Upon being seated, a small loaf of warm bread was brought out, accompanied by a sqaure of butter and a small dish of halved and marinated cherry tomatoes. The bread had a good crust and crumb and tasted great, especially with the tomatoes smooshed on.
The menu layout is straightforward: Antipasti, Insalate, Primi, Secondi and, of course, Dolci. Tuesday night's menu was as follows:
1. Oven roasted mussels with fennel cream and oven roasted tomatoes 2. Wood grilled baby octopus with spring bean salad 3. Polenta, marsala prunes, braised duck, and buckwheat honey 4. Fritto misto-shrimp, artichokes, and squash blossoms 5. Aromatic softshell crab broth with soft shell crab and grilled asparagus 6. Prosciutto di parma with melon and roasted mission figs,
1. Puntarelle, grilled garlic toast, and white anchovy vinaigrette 2. Baby artichokes with almonds in a honey thyme vinaigrette 3. Asparagus with zucchini and housemade mozzarella 4. Shaved fresh porcini with red Belgian endive,
1. Pappardelle with pork ragu, tomato, and fresh ricotta 2. Spinach, riccotta, and potato stelle 3. Prosciutto and mortadella mezzaluna, English peas, with a light parmesan cream 4. Whole wheat trenette with asparagus, house-smoked chicken and mozzarella 5. Black and White tagliatelle with seafood,
1. Fresh Portugese sardines in "cartocchio" 2. Wood-grilled ivory salmon with red-rib dandelion greens, pancetta, and shallot marmellata 3. Sauteed walleye pike "piccata" with brown butter, lemon, and escarole 4. Oven-roasted quail with pancetta, braised celery, pennete, and quail jus 5. Oven-roasted pork loin with prosciutto do parma, spinach, and rosemary potatoes 6. Grilled lamb porterhouse chops with fresh peas, mint, and lamb jus,
1. Baked lemon pudding with candied lemon jam 2. Oven roasted peaches, blueberries, blackberries, and cornmeal almond cake with zabaglione 3. Ruby red grapefruit and campari granita with vanilla poached grapefruit 4. Nutella panna cotta with a hazelnut tuille and Nutella cream 5. Orange and pistachio torta with grappa infused fresh cherries and chocolate sauce 6. Gelato "affogato"--vanilla gelato with chocalate walnut toffee and warm caramel espresso.
[Was that a pain in the ass to read? :( ]
We settled on the Prosciutto di Parma app. which consisted of several generous slices of good quality Prosciutto, slightly stiff melon, nicely roasted mission figs, baby greens, and a balsamic syrup. We also ordered the Shaved fresh porcini salad. Red Belgian endive had been dressed with unfiltered olive oil and was then topped with truffle-thin slices of fresh porcini mushroom and a slice of parmesan reggiano. These were both quite nice. Refreshing.
My GF ordered the Black & White tagliatelle with manila clams, mussels, and calamari in a spicy saffron tomato broth. She was served homemade pasta topped with perfectly cooked seafood and a light, decidely un-spicy sauce. She was ambivalent about it... muttering something about "a superior version at Vivo." [I only tried the sauce which, as I said, was un-spicy, and to me, uninspired.] I ordered the Fresh Portugese sardines. Five whole sardines were baked in parchment on a bed of cime de rape, thinly-sliced fingerling potatoes, lemon, and bay leaves. It had been awhile since I'd had fresh sardines and these were a real treat. The whole of it was infused with the flavours of bay and lemon.
Fortunato's wine list is exclusively Italian. Whites were grouped as "Aromatic Whites," "Crisp+Dry," and "Full-Bodied and/or Oaky." Reds were grouped as "Fresh and Fruity," "Lush, Lush, Lush," and "Monstrous Reds." Not in the mood to share a whole bottle, we opted for individual glasses of White wine. My GF ordered a Sauvingnon Blanc, the Venica 2000 "Ronco delle Mele" (Collio), and I ordered a Pinot & Toi, the Maculan 2000 (Piedmont), a blend of Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc, and Tocai Friulano. Well-made wines, we thought, but poor pairings for our menu. [This was partly our fault.] We probably should have opted for the Trebbiano offered.
Our waiter was able to convince us that dessert was not optional. On his recommendation, we ordered the oven-roasted fruits with cornmeal almond cake and zabaglione. It was delicious, as promised. [We passed, but there was a Digestivi list. It included Grappe, Cognacs, Ports, Sweet Wines, and Single Malts.]
Food-wise, Fortunato reminds me a whole lot of Delfina in San Francisco. It emphatically flaunts the guidelines of the "New American Biggie-Size-It Diet." Portions are modest not massive, allowing for more ephemeral pleasures; The farmstand most definitely trumps the slaughterhouse; High quality raw materials, deceptively simple yet honest preparations (with rustic touches), and warm, welcoming service. Having been to Delfina a few years ago, I wished Chicago had something comparable. I hope that Fortunato proves to be such a place. IMO, it shows promise.