621 W. Randolph St. 312-382-8880
Rating: 3 (out of four) Off to a good start
The backstory: Sometimes, a restaurant can get by on its location and not a whole lot more. Despite its circa-2005 martini list and just-OK sushi, Meiji, which previously occupied the space next door to Blackbird and Avec, no question benefited from spillover. So it was a smart move for new inhabitant Alimentari to build a long bar perfect for whiling away a two-hour wait for Avec's legendary chorizo-stuffed dates. But with Pane Caldo owner Antoine Cedicci behind the operation, I wondered whether this osteria (what the Italians call a place for simple food and wine) would be worth a trip on its own.
Likes: My server was just the right amount of attentive and made excellent recommendations, including a satisfyingly earthy barbera ($9) from the wine menu to match with my prosciutto and lamb sausage pizza ($15). The super-thin crust was deliciously airy and crunchy around the edges, but admittedly, these pies are smaller than most in town. Laden with fragrant saffron sauce, ravioli with bits of shrimp and avocado tucked inside ($16) tasted rich and light at the same time. Expect the pasta and gnocchi preparations to change seasonally, though they'll always be made in house. Shout out to gluten-free diners: There's one pasta and one pizza especially for you.
Gripes: I was surprised that my server actually encouraged my friend and I to downgrade our order—that's a first, considering so many goad you to order more and more plates—but as a result, we left a little hungry. Though prices seem on-par with other Randolph Street places (a bowl of olives costs $7, the going rate at Girl & The Goat down the street), I'd love to see a little more value for a restaurant with less star power than others on this strip.
Bottom line: Follow your server's recommendations and Alimentari could make a fine Plan A. Hook me up with some bread next time to sop up the extra pasta sauce on my plate and I'll be an especially happy camper.
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