I’m loath to use the word adorable, but in the 20 minutes I spent walking around Andersonville while waiting for a table at the new no-reservations spot Anteprima, there were no less than a dozen things that could only be described as just that. Rosy-cheeked babies feeding ice cream to dogs, antique-store window displays of shabby-chic finds, a cop helping an old lady lock up a stuck door of a European imports shop and plenty of DINKS strolling hand in hand looking for the next new place to eat.
It’s not that they don’t have a plethora of restaurants to choose from already, it’s that this neighborhood seems to have the capacity to support more eateries per block than anywhere else in town. You could open a fried cicada stand at Foster Avenue and Clark Street, and if you piped in house music and staffed it with a cute boy, you’d be in business.
Luckily Anteprima does more than just provide a new name on the locals’ credit-card bills—it’s a good option for any Chicagoan looking for simple, and mostly well-executed Italian eats. In terms of style, think more along the lines of roasted game with pan juices and garlic-spiked rapini than mostaccioli with meat sauce. And for decor, imagine that Martha Stewart was a vintage fiend, and she coated the tin ceiling and walls with her signature sage-green before installing weathered window panes, Italian plates and antique sconces.
The servers appear to be vets and the diners are apparently already regulars. On both visits, newly arrived guests were greeted by so many others in the room that we felt like we were crashing a dinner party. Servers were helpful with the all-Italian wine list, even offering pours of four varieties we were considering to ensure we got the quarter-liter carafe we liked. A crisp Soave was great with the antipasti assortment—a platter of lemony, house-marinated olives, bread crumb–topped roasted peppers, red chile–flecked cannellini beans, and sweet-and-sour cippolini onions. It’s a nice dish to munch on while you check out the rest of the menu.
Forgo debate and just skip the veal meatball appetizer; the size of the meatballs is way too similar to Chef Boyardee’s to avoid comparison, and the somewhat slimy exterior doesn’t help. Instead, go for the tender, lemon-kissed, grilled octopus or the salumi plate (pictured above, background) of silky Parma prosciutto, just-spicy-enough soppressata and peppercorn-flecked finocchiona from Seattle’s famed Artisan Salumi. The housemade mostarda alongside provides heat from the mustard seed and earthy sweetness from mashed cherries.
Pastas show promise, but stellar flavor combos are nearly sabotaged by greasiness—a pool of spicy oil is left behind from the orecchiette’s lamb sausage (pictured above, foreground) and the strozzapreti’s pancetta. More successful is the balsamic and honey–laced quail, perfectly roasted so that the crispy skin gives way to juicy, tender meat, while borlotti beans offer smoky contrast to the bird’s sweet marinade. Tuna filet is a proper medium-rare, but served bare atop untouched arugula and sauceless cannellini beans, it’s a pretty dry dish that’ll have you reaching for your wine again and again.
Results may seem hit or miss, but the overall experience is positive. Especially at dessert, a definite hit whether you choose the incredibly silky, vanilla bean-speckled lemon panna cotta or the chocolate tart lined with a buttery hazelnut crust. Service, wine options and the relaxed room go a long way, adding Anteprima to the ever-growing list of adorable things in Andersonville.