April 1, 2010
Three-month-old Prasino does so many things the right way, you just want to hang medals around the necks of Peggy Maglaris-Kopley, cousin Ted Maglaris and the rest of the family members who brought this west suburban concept to life.
Environmental consciousness influences every aspect of the operation. The wood for the 200-seat dining space was reclaimed from the demolition of Sportsman's Park. Chairs are hand-woven bamboo from a Midwest firm. Overhead lights include recycled-wine-bottle chandeliers and fixtures made from reused corrugated boxes. A beautiful, irregular-shaped table in the waiting area is a single slab cut from a fallen maple tree.
There's complimentary valet parking out front, smiling hosts at the front stand. If you have to wait a bit for a table, cocktail waitresses fill drink orders and transfer the charges, unasked, to your dining bill.
Executive chef Scott Halverson's menu is dominated by organic produce, sustainable seafood and hormone-free meats. There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options throughout. Even the cocktails, including some whimsical creations by Angie Jackson (the La Grange Manhattan sounds oxymoronic, but it's a fine drink), employ locally produced, organic spirits.
I was half in love with the place before I got my first bite of food.
But then I dug deep into the menu and had to face an inconvenient truth: For all its good intentions and best practices, Prasino still needs work.
Granted, there are plenty of highlights on the menu. The tuna tartare combines elegant presentation (three discrete piles, supporting triangular sesame crackers) with excellent quality and complementary flavors (a well-balanced ponzu sauce contributes mightily to this dish). Steamed mussels in Thai-curry broth were absolutely delicious, with a just-right peppery kick.
Entree highlights included piping-hot pappardelle pasta with shrimp and lobster, in a light cream sauce, and a superior miso-glazed black cod over ginger-carrot puree. Chicken provencal, surrounded by artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms, was a surprisingly robust option, as was the Greek-style grilled skirt steak (Niman Ranch) over orzo pasta with feta cheese and tomatoes. Rare-seared striped marlin, a special served with pickled Asian vegetables, is a singular and elusive treat; if you see it on the specials card, grab it.
But there were also disappointments, small and profound. A side dish of asparagus-corn risotto was a gummy mess, and the crust on a flatbread pizza was so insipid it might have come from a box.
Oversalting doomed a calamari salad (the greens were a bit overdressed as well), and slices of wagyu sirloin (a special) weren't helped by the flat whiskey-pepper sauce that accompanied them.
Straightforward desserts, including a molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and a banana-bread pudding, are fine. The fanciful "apple napoleon" is in fact a waffle sandwich with juicy apple chunks and vanilla ice cream; it's not bad, but customers expecting a true napoleon are apt to be disappointed.
Service was terrific and flawlessly attentive one night, curiously disconnected and neglectful another.
The Maglaris family runs a few other restaurants, mostly breakfast-lunch operations such as Yia Yia's in North Riverside and Jam N Jelly in Darien (though Rise N Dine, in Wheeling, has begun offering evening service on weekends). Prasino, with its seven-day, breakfast-through-dinner service, is a new experience for the owners, so it's perhaps understandable that not everything is working as it should.
So, to sum up: Consider scaling down the menu, allowing the kitchen to focus on doing more consistently excellent work on fewer dishes. Scale up the wine list, which needs upgrades in quality and quantity (kudos, however, for the very fair pricing structure). And bring service up to the level that your best waiters already provide.
This is not to dissuade the owners from what is a fine, promising start. Prasino has the potential to be a very important and influential restaurant in this region. Keep at it.
93 S. La Grange Road, La Grange, 708-469-7058
Breakfast, lunch and dinner daily
A, DC, DS, M, V
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