By Phil Vettel
The vast Pella Signature has a big vision
When I first heard of the new restaurant Pella Signature, which opened just before Labor Day in the Burr Ridge Village Center mall, I found the name … perplexing.
The restaurant is not, as one might wonder, named for the window company, nor the Iowa town where that company is headquartered. No, “Pella” refers to the ancient city of Macedonia, a hint to the restaurant’s European and Middle Eastern leanings.
The name isn’t the only eyebrow-raising aspect to the project. Pella Signature is huge, capable of seating more than 500 people at a time. Built with an unconfirmed eight-figure budget, the wide-ranging space is cleverly broken into multiple dining rooms (each named for a European capital), each with its own sense of glamor.
Where to sit? In the cocktail lounge, with its illuminated onyx bar? The dining room highlighted by the lighted wine case? The brilliant blue, private dining room? The chef’s counter overlooking the open kitchen? Or the glass-enclosed Pavilion, an atrium space that can be enclosed or open-air as circumstances permit and has “wedding venue” virtually written all over it?
The owners didn’t skimp on the kitchen equipment, either. The top-of-the-line prosciutto slicer, on view as though it were an art installation, cost more than the down payment on my first house. “Anything I wanted,” says the executive chef, “I got.”
That chef, Rick Gresh, is a familiar name to Chicago dining devotees. His long and impressive career includes work at Green Dolphin Street (which I raved about in a 1999 review), Caliterra, Chicago’s Virgin Hotel, and more, all in the city. I wondered what had lured him out to Burr Ridge.
“This started as a consulting gig,” Gresh says, “but it was always in my wheelhouse to work with open-fire cooking, and [the owners] gave me a lot of room to explore things. I live in the suburbs, so I thought, if anybody is going to move the dining scene along, why not me?”
Gresh acknowledged that the restaurant’s opening weekend didn’t run very smoothly. “We had 800 covers [each customer is a ‘cover,’] which was way too much,” he says. “But the energy was insane. Sometimes you gotta break it before you can fix it.”
Pella Signature’s opening menu is “a toe in the water,” adds Gresh, who promises more ambition as the restaurant progresses. “The goal for [the owners] is eventually to have something from every Mediterranean country on the menu—and that’s a lot of countries.”
The opening menu begins with chilled seafood, from shrimp cocktail to oysters (paired with a very nice pomegranate mignonette). Those splurging can take on one of the three seafood towers (oysters, shrimp, king crab legs, and lobster in a tiered presentation), ranging from $99 to $250 (the latter whimsically named the Kraken).
Appetizers have a strong Mediterranean accent: Italian focaccia and prosciutto, stuffed saganaki, and a mezze platter of various spreads and proteins. The duck-fat-braised octopus, delicate yet full flavored, is a star dish, finished on the wood grill and plated with cherry tomatoes, potatoes, and radicchio. Ditto for the piri-piri chicken kebabs, an easy-to-share dish of skewered chicken over a tomato-cucumber salad; piri-piri can be a formidable pepper, but Gresh keeps the heat level manageable.
Flatbread pizzas are well done, particularly the sausage version with loukaniko (Greek sausage), sweet peppers, and provolone. There are also margarita, mushroom, and lobster versions.
Four pastas are served; I love that all are available in full and half portions, as this menu lends itself to grazing. And I like the build-your-own presentation of the shawarma (seasoned protein served with tzatziki sauce, veggies, and excellent house-baked pita); the shawarma ingredients arrive in the same tiered tower used for the chilled seafood.
Entrées include dry-aged steaks; double lamb chops; and a mixed grill of lamb chops, fillet, and loukaniko sausage. I’d steer you instead to the mostarda-glazed roast half-chicken, highlighted by delicious moist meat, crispy lacquered skin, and herb stuffing.
Pastry chef Maria Mac engineers some nifty desserts, including a gianduja-chocolate caramel bar with passionfruit curd and an orange-scented crema Catalana (some would call it crème brûlée) topped with berries. Best is her tiramisu, a magazine-ready, contemporary presentation topped with dots of coffee toffee and a ring of Kahlua-whipped chocolate ganache.
Pella Signature is open for lunch and dinner, and soon the breakfast café will debut with high-end, grab-and-go service. Lunch, currently operating with the same menu as dinner, will evolve into more casual eating, and Gresh has plans for wine dinners, beer dinners, and other special events.
At the risk of sounding trite, Pella Signature is very much a work in progress. The people behind Pella Signature have bet, big-time, on high-end DuPage dining, and clearly are in it for the long run. It will be fascinating to watch this project develop.
Photos: Jen Banowetz