Look Back, Push Forward

April 2020 View more

Avanzare, 667 W. Roosevelt Road, Lombard, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune)

Comfort food tends to get an unfairly bad rap in some quarters these days, as if in failing to explicitly reinvent the culinary wheel (even if just for the sake of doing so) a new restaurant that opts instead to craft a menu of well-chosen and finely executed staples is somehow not worthy of the same regard as its more daring brethren.

But when it comes to Avanzare (667 W. Roosevelt Rd., 630.317.7076, avanzarerestaurant.com)—where a trio of Chicago restaurant veterans are bringing both Italian classics and the best of their combined dining résumés to new life—the only proper response to any hint of been-there-done-that dismissal would be something along the lines of senza senso (Italian for “nonsense”). Partners Ricardo Brizuela, Gabriel Hernandez, and Jose Estrada are in fact pursuing a philosophy of not just fully respecting and embracing tradition, but pushing forward (which is the English meaning of avanzare) as well.

“Our goal is to do classic Italian cooking with a few twists and turns, and to make almost everything we use right here onsite,” Brizuela says.

Red (Sauce) Alert

For proof that Avanzare has a firm grasp on the fundamentals of traditional Italian cuisine, look no further than the appetizer slate, where tender meatballs rest on a bed of soft polenta and are bathed in a tomato sauce that confirms that your coming meal is indeed in good hands. Traditionalists can get their fix for calamari with the fritto misto, which combines the fried squid with scallops, shrimp, and zucchini in a light marinara. Both of these are best enjoyed with a selection from the extensive wine list, where nearly 90 percent of the options hail from Italy.

On a cold night, a steaming bowl of the hearty escarole soup is a great option for dipping the housemade focaccia and sourdough breads as well. The breads emerge from the same wood-burning oven that fires up the half-dozen pizzas on the menu, including the gamberi, which layers shrimp and grilled zucchini atop a pesto base alongside chunks of Gorgonzola.

Under the Sea

The delicious tomato sauce on those meatballs figures prominently into any number of pastas (all made in house) and entrées, of course, including the very tasty chicken parmesan, and what from an adjoining table appeared to be an amazing lasagna. But like any good Italian eatery, there is plenty to explore beyond the pasta and red sauce at Avanzare, including an array of veal and chops.

There’s also a boatload of seafood selections. An easy mark for a good risotto, I was immediately drawn to one of the specials for the night featuring crab and scallops in a rich, creamy broth. As much as this kitchen knows its way around the pasta, this was clearly the highlight of the evening, with perfectly cooked rice and flavorful bites of seafood throughout presenting a strong argument for inclusion on the everyday menu.

Perhaps not an everyday thing for most people, on the other hand, is dessert—but this is not the place to take a pass on a comforting option like cannoli (not surprisingly, also made in house) or, in fact, anything that comes accompanied by a healthy scoop of the gelato (in our case, the chocolate cake).

In other words, when the waiter comes over with those dessert menus and asks if anybody has room, be sure to push forward.

Editor’s note: Avanzare will be open from 2 to 8 p.m., offering its dinner menu with 20 percent off orders through Grubhub, carry-out, or by calling 630.317.7076. The restaurant will be delivering in nearby neighborhoods.

Photos by E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune