Some chefs head to the suburbs the way actors head to Hollywood, convinced that’s where they’ll find their big break. It’s not a completely naive notion on their part—the stories of Prairie Grass Cafe’s Sarah Stegner or Vie’s Paul Virant provide a certain amount of confirmation that it can happen. Because didn’t those chefs leave their city jobs to open in the cheaper, roomier suburbs? And haven’t they managed to somehow still keep the attention of Chicago proper?
By all accounts, the story of Giuseppe Scurato is a little different. As the chef of BOKA and then Landmark, it seemed he had already had his big break. His food was well received by critics, and the restaurant was consistently popular, so everything seemed in line. If anything, his retreat to Burr Ridge seemed like a demotion.
But after a couple of meals at Topaz, where Scurato has been working for most of 2008, I’m convinced that only now is he coming into his own. Why this is, I have no idea—perhaps spending so much time in the Burr Ridge mall, surrounded by the power suits sold at Chico’s and J. Jill, has rubbed off on him, inspiring him to climb ever higher. Whatever it is, it’s working, because as good as his food was at BOKA, his food at Topaz is better.
It is still very much his signature style, though. His penchant for bold flavors, combinations that result in such big tastes they hardly fit in the room, is in full force here. A crab-cake appetizer was topped with a nest of long saffron strands, and they imparted enough of a peppery smokiness to elevate the dish above most crab cakes in its class. Also offered as an appetizer were sumptuous frog legs, needing practically no effort to come off the bone and paired with a creamy, herbaceous grebiche sauce. And there were heavenly gnocchi with a rabbit ragù—and by heavenly I don’t mean to suggest that they delivered me to Jesus, but rather that they were so fluffy, so light, that I can’t help but invoke the cliché of clouds.
Entrées followed suit. Halibut had rich, bacon-studded clam chowder in lieu of a sauce; an enormous portion of rack of lamb was rubbed with enough black pepper to clear your sinuses; and a Kansas City steak—which, like all of the proteins I tried, was cooked with impressive precision—had a port sauce and caramelized onions, which proved to be a rich, brooding and endlessly delicious combination.
Unfortunately, while Scurato kept up his end of the bargain, the rest of the restaurant sometimes slipped. Service was occasionally shoddy, including a host who inexplicably rolled his eyes when I asked for a table, plus there was the server who felt it necessary to berate—and therefore humiliate—a food runner right in front of me. And despite the fact that at BOKA and Landmark, pastry chef Leticia Zenteno made such a good pair with Scurato, here her desserts failed to live up to the savory food. The “giant chocolate chip cookie” was pale and dry, the apple tatin was texturally challenged, and the carrot cake was merely fine.
And yet even with these underperforming desserts, my meals at Topaz still turned out to be memorable ones. Which is funny, because after he moved out here I almost completely forgot about Scurato and his food. But not anymore. Now I’m just trying to remember why chefs don’t move to the suburbs more often.