Sarah Grueneberg left Spiaggia to open her own restaurant, Monteverde, in late 2015, but while she brought along the masterful Italian techniques she honed there, she left the fine dining trappings on Michigan Avenue. At Monteverde, the Top Chef alum's wonderfully relaxed West Loop restaurant, assistant servers wear Blackhawks hats, a TV flips on when the hockey game starts and a gluten-free menu is featured prominently on the website—a nice touch for a pasta-focused restaurant.
That menu is important, since the pastas are the main draw. Made in house, they’re all perfectly cooked and accompanied by sauces and ingredients that look surprising on the menu, but make sense once you’ve taken a bite. The cacio whey pepe ratchets up the classic with four peppercorns and whey, so it’s creamy and intensely peppery. To make the wintery tortelloni di zucca, Grueneberg stuffs squash into delicate pasta, then serves it with apples and bacon. If you sit at the bar, you’ll spy pasta-makers rolling out pappardelle, later tossed with tender nuggets of duck, olives and parsnips.
Grueneberg knows more than just pasta—arancini packed with spicy nduja sit atop poached tuna sauce; artichoke crostino come with rotating toppings, including shaved black truffle; and grilled octopus chunks share a skewer with sweet potatoes. Desserts are on the smaller side, which is ideal after so much pasta. Salted butterscotch budino wears a delicate bruleed cap, while the perfectly nice sorbetti are upstaged by Forgotten Cookies, meringues jammed with chocolate and dried cherries. But the dish I’m most likely to return for is the simplest—cobia crudo, a mosaic of fish, avocado and grapefruit, served with a spoon to scoop up every last drop of spicy fresno-chili water. The reinvention of Italian food continues.
Atmosphere: Monteverde is bustling with the after-work crowd for cocktails and bites at the bar, and dinner dates in the dining room. Go later for an easier time snagging a bar seat or to watch the Hawks game. The vibe is casual but the food makes the evening feel special.
What to eat: Cobia crudo, artichoke crostino, hand-rolled pappardelle, salted butterscotch budino.
What to drink: The cocktails have Italian tinges, like Sardinian Bandit, a gin sour with Mirto Judu, a sweet, fruity Sardinian myrtle liqueur. Saba (a grape must syrup), is one of my favorite cocktail ingredients, and when paired with Old Forester bourbon and soda, helps round out the drink. The wine list is mostly Italian, but branches out into other regions. A pairing request with duck pappardelle resulted in a gently sweet Riesling with a dry finish.
Where to sit: A bar area offers seating and high-top tables with a view of the kitchen (and the pasta-makers behind the bar), while the dining room has a mix of tables.