The plate with thick slices of charred cauliflower, sweet grilled fennel and juicy squash with creamy romesco sauce could have been from the Purple Pig. Deftly made strands of tagliatelle tossed with rock shrimp and bay scallops in a nearly lush pea puree were as textbook Italia as any pasta at Terragusto. And wood-grilled octopus that yielded so tenderly to each bite, paired with imperiously acidic roasted whole tomatoes and mild caper berries? It was the kind of elemental, expert cooking I expect from Avec. But I wasn’t eating at any of these places: I was in Berwyn.
Here’s everything I knew about Berwyn before this month: It’s at the center of life in Chicago, you should buy a home there, and shh! It’s Chicago’s best-kept secret. I mean, really, has any suburb done a better billboard campaign? Oh, also: Gina’s Italian Ice.
Here’s what I know about Berwyn now: It’s walkable from the Blue Line. People here really love that Italian ice. And it’s the home of a true gem of a restaurant: Autre Monde.
In the front of the restaurant are John Aranza and Christine Tully Aranza, whose horror-collectibles shop, Horrorbles, is next door. Aranza, who was an assistant sommelier at Spiaggia, is responsible for the inviting, well-edited one-page list of Greek and Italian wines, nearly all of which are less than $10 a glass with bottles in the $30s. Tully Aranza keeps a watchful eye on the floor, where every hostess and server I came in contact with was honest-to-God lovely. Meanwhile, chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge, whom Tully Aranza and Aranza met at Spiaggia, are in the kitchen, and they’re knocking every dish dead.
A knot of burrata is as oozy and extravagant as any, but here it’s sprinkled with tarragon from the restaurant’s greenhouse. Every bite came with a good twinge of anise and a splash of spectacular olive oil to round it out. (And the fact that, because this is Berwyn, the burrata costs $9? It doesn’t hurt.) Flatbread, usually a code word for bad pizza, is here a designation for a crackly but still flavorful crust covered in crispy pancetta, just-bitter-enough rapini and distinctive Taleggio cheese. (This could be a main course for two—it’s $12.) The serving of beef entrecôte is a huge, rustic dish, every piece of the wood-grilled beef cooked on the nose and marked on top with a bold char. The strangest-sounding of the desserts—a tart shell filled with smooth pureed chickpeas, topped with honeyed pistachios—is without a doubt the restaurant’s signature, provocatively less sweet than nearly all standard American desserts, and so much the better for it.
With a few exceptions—the cocktails are too sweet, the huge fried oysters are too bitter, and the toasts that came with the burrata would have been better if they were freshly toasted—nearly everything I ordered at Autre Monde showed off a kitchen at ease with itself, skilled hands that truly prize the ingredients they handle. But even with that said, the pasta is floating on a higher plane. In addition to that flawless tagliatelle, there are these little treasure bags called tortellaci filled with goat cheese, each topped with a small crown of black truffle. They’re as elegant as the best handmade pastas in the city. Yet the fact that they’re at a humble neighborhood trattoria in Berwyn makes them taste even better.
By Julia Kramer