"Cooking with a traditional heart and a modern hand." That's the phrase that chef Sarah Grueneberg and her team constantly reiterate, a question that they ask of themselves about every dish they present, dishes that Grueneberg says she "cooks from a soulful place." It's what they hope will be recognizable to everyone who steps inside Monteverde, the former Spiaggia chef and "Top Chef" runner-up's first restaurant that opens to the public for the first time tonight in the West Loop.
If Grueneberg's cooking is Monteverde's soul, the heart of the menu—and restaurant itself—is pasta. The 20 dishes are grouped into the usual variety of sections (snacks, starters, entrees), but the seven pastas are the "vehicle," and they're sourced, made and cooked in a variety of ways. Two (tortelli; duck egg corzetti) are freshly-made when ordered and dried on racks next to the bar, others are house-made earlier each day, others are dried pastas imported from Italy, one (arrabbiata) is wok-fried. They're broken into two sections: one is traditional Italian; the other is based on personal experience and style.
Despite the presence of sections, Grueneberg's idea isn't about coursing out the dishes; it's about eating family-style. Pastas aren't in huge portions, she says, and the chef/owner thinks the price points (most are $12-16) reflect that. Of the non-pasta dishes, she highlights the mozzarella e ham on the prima section and the rib eye entree, which among others, carries a small nod to her Texas upbringing.
Desserts aren't on the opening menu below, but expect a salted butterscotch budino among them. The cocktail and wine lists, which are mostly affordable, are designed by Grueneberg and partner Meg Sahs. Brunch will be on tap soon.
Above all—except maybe pasta—Grueneberg hopes her first restaurant is comforting and welcoming to everyone, no matter where you're coming from and how you feel when you enter. You can finally enter Monteverde and try her pastas tonight.
Monteverde, 1020 W. Madison St., (312) 888-3041
UPDATE: Read the dessert menu below.