Fine dining stakes claim in Berwyn

To corrupt an old saying, the good Lord never closes a condo without opening a bungalow.

Berwyn is on the rise. The financial crisis has turned the near west suburb into a hot spot of affordable housing, and young couples and families are crowding in. Area stores stock T-shirts proclaiming, "Ich bin ein Berwyner," and not all the sales are ironic.

The most recent and notable Berwyner, however, is a restaurant that commands not just attention, but also envy.

I'd wager most people think of Berwyn's dining scene in terms of tacos and Czech dumplings, but that was then. Autre Monde, which made its debut a little more than a month ago, boasts good looks, terrific value-driven food and a culinary pedigree that reaches deep into Chicago's fine-dining history.

The two-couple, four-person team behind the operation — owners Christine Tully Aranza and John Aranza, and chefs Beth Partridge and Dan Pancake — worked together at Spiaggia, Mantuano Mediterranean Table and even Tuttaposto, all under chef Tony Mantuano. (Call them the Mantuano Mafia.)

Indeed, one reason I like Autre Monde so much is that it reminds me of Tuttaposto (a long-closed restaurant I still miss), or, rather, what Tuttaposto might look like today.

Autre Monde's name is French (it means "other world"), but the cuisine stretches across the Mediterranean. The charcuterie platter is a hearty hike through Spain, the board crammed with generous slices of Serrano ham, chorizo, lomo and more, abetted by piquillo peppers and a handful of marcona almonds. All this for $12? I'm in.

I'd also reserve room for the flatbread pizzas, which are true flatbreads, cracker thin and slightly charred at the edges. These crusts support some novel topping combos, including roasted peppers with olives and French feta (creamier and milder than its Greek counterpart) sprinkled with za'atar (a seasoning made from dried herbs).

Other worthy starters include fat, lightly crusted oysters sitting in a simple watercress salad; the improbable combination works, the greens contributing clean tastes opposite the oyster's richness. Clams and white asparagus commingle in an herbaceous tarragon broth; tender grilled octopus shares its plate with charred tomatoes and capers, united under a light vinaigrette.

A trio of pasta options, all $15 or less, includes a fine tortellacci with goat cheese and black truffle above a classic brown-butter sauce, and tagliatelle with shrimp and scallops over a sweet pea sauce.

Partridge calls the menu's grilled pork porterhouse "a big and unashamed pork chop," which is a pretty good way of describing this hefty bone-in chop; served with escarole and gigante beans, the juicy chop represents pure peasant perfection. More porcine satisfaction can be had from the porchetta sandwich, a mound of slow-cooked, picked and shredded pork topped with fennel slaw on a potato bun, accompanied by house-made chips.

And there are always a couple of specials; keep your eye out for the robust salmon a la plancha, and Pancake's guinea-hen sausage with oil-cured olives, both terrific.

In keeping with the Mediterranean approach, desserts are not emphasized to any great extent. But there are a few sweets, notably a chocolate hazelnut pot de creme and a light but satisfying honey-lavender cheesecake.

The 65-seat dining room is simple and charming. Hardwood floors, cream-colored walls and soft globe lights give the place warmth. There's a small, L-shaped bar in back and a couple of highboy communal tables in the middle of the space. An outdoor patio in back opened recently. When full, the room resounds with excited chatter.

Add Autre Monde to your list of late-night dining options, especially on weekends, when the kitchen generally stays open until 10. "We're staying open," Partridge says. "We might close earlier on slow nights, but anybody who comes in looking for food is going to be served."

The rusticity of the menu does not extend to the service, which is unaffectedly knowledgeable and helpful. The beverage program is especially impressive; John Aranza's short but well-chosen wine list abounds with interesting picks, including a couple of Croatian wines.

And the bar cranks out some good cocktails, including a Sazerac that comes off like a boozy Good & Plenty, and a blood-orange gimlet that would be my favorite Sunday-brunch eye-opener if this place were open for brunch. One can dream.

Watch Phil Vettel's reviews weekends on WGN-Ch. 9's "News at Nine," CLTV and at wgntv.com/vettel.

Autre Monde

6727 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn; 708-775-8122; autremonde cafe.com
Open: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday
Entree prices: $12-$25
Credit cards: A, DC, DS, M, V
Reservations: Strongly recommended
Noise: Conversation- challenged
Other: Wheelchair accessible

Ratings key:
Four Stars: Outstanding
Three Stars: Excellent
Two Stars: Very good
One Star: Good
No stars: Unsatisfactory

Reviews are based on no fewer than two visits. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.

pvettel@tribune.com Twitter @philvettel

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
Related Content
  • Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    Grateful Dead drummer dishes dirt, drug dependency in new book

    As a founding member of the Grateful Dead, Bill Kreutzmann watched the world change from behind his drum kit, shoveling coal in the wildly tribal rhythm section as the Dead went from San Francisco underground curio to ground-breaking indie outfit, then progenitor of the improvisation-based rock...

  • Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    Book comes out ahead of Grateful Dead farewell concerts in Chicago this weekend

    The cliché that colors every good rock star story is “sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll." For the Grateful Dead, the trailblazing rock band known for its improvisational style, revelatory live shows and dedicated fanbase, there was that and so much more.

  • 10 best movies of 2015 so far

    10 best movies of 2015 so far

    The year’s half over! How did that happen? No idea. With six months of a good year of movies in the books, let’s see how the Top 10 list is looking, with a quote from each respective review. Note: There are a few I’ve seen that I really like that haven’t yet opened in Chicago, and those aren’t...

  • If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    If you make less than $50,440, proposal could increase overtime pay

    Nearly 5 million more Americans would qualify for overtime pay under new rules proposed Tuesday by the Obama administration, a long-anticipated move expected to affect a broad swath of salaried employees from store managers to social workers to restaurant shift supervisors.

  • Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Chicago's minimum wage increase attracting workers to city

    Unlike previous summers, UniStaff is experiencing a spike in job applicants at its Little Village location, a trend the branch manager says is tied to the city's minimum wage increase to $10 per hour beginning Wednesday.

  • 'The Bachelorette' episode 7 recap: How many meltdowns can Shawn have in one week?

    'The Bachelorette' episode 7 recap: How many meltdowns can Shawn have in one week?

    Welcome to RedEye’s coverage of “The Bachelorette,” arguably the most misogynistic show on television! The format is pretty simple: Five women of RedEye each drafted five of the 25 competing men. Everyone gets one point for every man who gets through each week. If you ever want your daughter to...

Comments
Loading