A Trip to Greece

April 2023 View more

By Phil Vettel

Violí offers a Mykonian spot in Oak Brook

Violí, 260 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook
Violí, 260 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook

The western suburbs’ restaurant renaissance continues with Violí, an ambitious Greek eatery that opened in late November in Oakbrook Center. It’s the latest effort by DineAmic Hospitality, known for such Chicago restaurants as Prime & Provisions steakhouse, Radio Room, Siena Tavern, Bar Siena, Barrio, and the Bandit. Earlier last year, DineAmic debuted Lyra, a fine-dining Greek restaurant that’s essentially the city mouse (it’s in Chicago’s Randolph Street corridor) to Violí’s country mouse.

Violí is DineAmic’s second suburban foray (the group also operates a Bar Siena in Skokie) and was several years in the making. “When I was growing up, Oak Brook was always the place to go for a change of pace; I marveled at how many restaurants were there,” says Luke Stoioff, one of DineAmic’s two principals. “David [Rekhson, DineAmic’s other half] and I were always interested in the area, but we waited for the right opportunity.”

The entrance of Violí

That opportunity arrived in 2019. “We were approached by Brookfield Properties, who had some leases expiring,” Stoioff says. “And then the pandemic shut everything down. But we continued to talk; David and I made the decision [to open] way in advance.”

Violí took over the space that for years was home to Mon Ami Gabi. Though the layout is essentially unchanged, the decor is dramatically different, highlighted by rustic hanging-basket lights and a wood mural, which mimics the curves and strings of a violin (the restaurant’s namesake, played by street performers of the Greek isles), running the length of the west wall.

The big addition—one that will pay for itself a thousand times over—is the four-season, indoor/outdoor pergola patio in front. A permanent ceiling protects diners from rain or snow or anything in between, heat lamps guard against chilly temps, and the oversize guillotine-style windows retract at the press of a button. A garden provides a sense of the outdoors year round.

“A lot of our design, we might not have done the same thing if it hadn’t been for the pandemic,” Stoioff says. “We looked into outdoor heating and cooling, and things we didn’t think we’d be getting into at first. And now, having a convertible outdoor space is so important.”

Short-rib bucatini
Short-rib bucatini

Both of DineAmic’s Greek restaurants are overseen by chef-partner Athinagoras Kostakos, a Greek restaurateur of considerable repute; Kostakos brought over more than two dozen of his employees from Greece to ensure authenticity. The concepts are not mirror images; the city-based Lyra is an estiatoria, or fine-dining restaurant, while Violí is posited as a taverna (think bistro or café), a casual spot with more rustic offerings. Accordingly, nearly every item on Violí’s menu is substantial, intended to be shared by two or more (thankfully, the servers are quick to point this out, so you don’t over-order.)

Start with the “breads & spreads,” a communal dish of warm pita with beet tzatziki, spicy feta cheese, charred eggplant with pine nuts, and tarama with caviar, contrasted by crunchy vegetable crudités in a lettuce-lined cup. The platter is a perfect opening nosh while contemplating the rest of the menu.

Grilled octopus
Grilled octopus

Among appetizers, the don’t-miss standout is the grilled octopus, a virtual sea monster served with charred cippolini onions, Fresno peppers, and Kalamata olive relish. I’d also make room for the spanakopitakia, four spinach- and feta-filled phyllo triangles arrayed beautifully over herb sprigs and a folded napkin. Grilled meatballs with smoked yogurt and minted tomato sauce, crispy kalamarakia (calamari), silky-smooth eggplant with charred feta—all delicious.

The most popular entrées are the roasted halibut, an excellent piece of fish served with skordalia (a garlicky, potato-based spread) and lemon-caper butter, and the short-rib bucatini, with béchamel sauce, black truffle, and graviera (a cheese often used to make flaming saganaki, a dish you won’t find on a Kostakos menu).

The slow-roasted lamb gyros commands an eye-popping $45, but it’s a huge platter loaded with pure lamb, not the melded-meat combo common to fast-food spots. Served with fresh-from-the-oven pita, three sauces, and a pile of thick-cut cheese-dusted fries, it’s a stupendous amount of food. Pro tip: Though the dinner menu doesn’t specifically mention it, you can order a half-portion for $22, and trust me, you won’t feel calorically deprived (I split a half-portion with a friend, and we barely finished it.)

The “deconstructed” baklava is attractively presented and lighter than most syrupy versions.
The “deconstructed” baklava is attractively presented and lighter than most syrupy versions.

Desserts are big and very sweet. The “deconstructed” baklava is attractively presented and lighter than most syrupy versions. Order the bougatsa, two puffy phyllo-dough pillows filled with semolina custard, just to watch your waiter crush and mix the ingredients at the table.

The wine list is heavy with bottles imported from Greece, and if you’re not familiar with the names, servers are well versed in the tastes and can make reliable recommendations.

There are only a few dishes common to both Violí and Lyra (among them the octopus, spanakopitakia, and lamb gyros) though that may be changing. “At first, our strategy was to gear Violí to the suburbs, pivoting to approachability,” Rekhson says, “but in time, we found that a city-esque experience was something people wanted. So, we’ve added a few Lyra favorites to the menu.”


Photos courtesy of DineAmic Hospitality