“Thanks for coming out,” our waitress said when she came up to the table after we’d been seated. No problem, I thought, but how on earth can you tell we’re from the city? Her greeting was strangely apropos given our conversation just before she showed up beside our table. Had she heard us facetiously discussing how scary it was to be out in the suburbs, away from our safe urban enclave? Probably not. I’m sure she just meant to thank us for choosing their restaurant for dinner, but we still laughed about it after she’d taken our drink orders.
Our adventures last night took us to Berwyn, a suburb directly west of Chicago. Even if you’ve never heard the name, you’re probably familiar with the city. They used to be home to that famous sculpture known as the Spindle, which was basically a kabob of cars in the parking lot of a shopping center. This is the same sculpture which was seen in the movie Wayne’s World. Berwyn is actually a nice mix of urban and suburban, even if it is usually overshadowed by either it’s more famous neighbor, Oak Park, or it’s more infamous neighbor, Cicero. At any rate, it isn’t a bad place to go out for dinner and theater, which is why we’d ventured beyond the borders of Chicago last night.
The restaurant we were at was called Autre Monde Cafe, a newer restaurant not far from where the play we were going to see was located. They serve what they describe as Mediterranean fare, with a mix of mostly Spanish, Italian and Greek being represented. And though the menu didn’t suggest this, our waitress told us that the food was intended to be enjoyed like tapas, with the plates being shared among the table. The food just came out of the kitchen as it was ready, in no particular order. Since a lot of the menu looked good, we ordered several smaller plates, and then each chose a larger entree dish. For our smaller plates, we ordered pecorino croquetas, eggplant frites, and cured sardines. Then, for my main dish I ordered the tagliatelle, which was served with rock shrimp, bay scallops, and a pea puree. And I shouldn’t neglect to mention my really awesome drink- I had a Sazerac, which was made with rye, absinthe and bitters.
Everything we had was excellent. The pecorino croquetas came, and I thought they looked like your basic cheese stick. But wow was I ever wrong. Owing I’m sure to the quality of the cheese, these were definitely among the best cheese sticks I’ve ever had. I might consider going back just to order these and keep them for myself. The eggplant frites were also really good. They were large slices of eggplant breaded and fried, and served with a caper-arugula sauce. Whoever invented the caper-arugula sauce was a genius. It was awesome. The frites would have been good on their own, but the sauce just gave them a wow factor they lacked without it. The last of the small plates was the sardines, which I probably wouldn’t have ordered on my own, but I had a couple of them, and they were also excellent. The sardines managed to not be too fishy or too salty, and they were drizzled in olive oil and placed on a toast. I definitely wouldn’t be shy about ordering those again either when we return.
Owing to our all being trained in the fine art of American dining, we mostly ate our own entrees, rather than share them as I think the restaurant had intended. But I wasn’t disappointed by that at all. I probably would have jealously guarded my pasta even if we had been sharing. The pasta was fresh, which I love. The tagliatelle is a lot like a fettuccine, but given the Italians’ love of pasta, they differ just slightly in width, enough to merit their own name. Since they were fresh, they were also perfect for soaking up the pureed pea which was on the bottom of the bowl. I mixed everything up so that the pea puree coated the noodles, and proceeded to devour the dish. It was outstanding. I was pleased, as well, to see that they had resisted the urge to make the plate too large. The portion was well sized to be a good meal, but not to require any belt loosening.
If I could change only one thing about the restaurant, it certainly wouldn’t be the food. It was all great, and likely to draw me out of the city again someday in the not too distant future. But I would perhaps add some fabrics, like curtains to the windows. The restaurant was full, and it did get a bit loud when conversations got going. But that certainly wouldn’t be enough to deter me from going again. Oh, and go ahead and order the Sazerac cocktail if it’s still on the menu. It was also terrific.
(I would also be completely remiss if I didn’t mention that the play that inspired the trip to Berwyn was also really good. If you’re in the area, it’s called “The Crowd You’re In With” and is playing there until 13th of August. It’s a small, intimate theater, and the play was both well written and well acted. )