clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

A Romantic Outpost of a New York City Italian Restaurant Arrives in River North

Olio e Più is the first of three Chicago restaurants from East Coast brand the Group

A bowl of pasta topped with an egg yolk.
New York’s The Group is ready to launch the first of three Chicago restaurants.
Rachel Bires/Olio e Più

An East Coast hospitality group will kick off its ambitious three-restaurant plan for the Windy City this week with the debut of its first restaurant in Downtown Chicago. Olio e Più, an expansive trattoria and enoteca featuring Italy’s many regional cuisines, debuts Wednesday at 445 N. Dearborn Street in River North, aiming to win over local diners outside the boundaries of New York City.

The brand, simply dubbed the Group, unveiled the original Olio e Più as its first endeavor in 2010 in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. More than a dozen years later, founder Emil Stefkov is eager to introduce Chicago to a more elegant, upscale version of the New York City original with a menu from Italian-born executive chef Danilo Galati. Galati oversaw Vinaiolo restaurant in Munich, Germany, when it was awarded a Michelin star in 2000. The openings of sister spots La Grande Boucherie, a fancy French restaurant, and Japanese-style Omakase Room are slated to follow in winter 2024.

A large dining room in an Italian restaurant.
Diners can get a peek inside the open kitchen.
Sandy Noto/Olio e Più

“When we decided as a group to go and explore outside New York after 13 and a half years, Chicago was an obvious choice,” Stefkov says. “We find it a very cool city with a very vibrant scene and great gastronomy.”

Galati’s seasonal menu traverses Italy with an emphasis on meat and seafood. It includes large plates designed for sharing such as delicate red snapper crudo (rose peppercorn, tarragon powder, blood orange, chive oil), as well as fresh pasta made on-site — think chitarra alla carbonara with guanciale and orecchiette with Italian sausage and broccoli rabe. Entree selections lean on classic staples such as chicken scaloppine (lemon, sage, white wine), and those with a serious appetite can opt for a 38-ounce grilled ribeye for two.

In a departure from its New York sibling, however, the Chicago restaurant won’t offer pizza. The original restaurant houses a wood-burning oven, but Stefkov says that the pies only account for five or six percent of its sales. Chicagoans know a thing or two about pizza, so the decision to emphasize less controversial genres seems a reasonable one for a company that’s dipping its toe into the local market.

A large steak.
Costata con osso for two (mushrooms, potatoes, braised chicory, mache).
Rachel Bires/Olio e Più

Unsurprisingly, Italian wines dominate an extensive list featuring red, white, and sparkling varieties. The team has tapped Chicago bartender Tim Williams (Pour Souls) to design cocktails including the Calabrian peach sour (Sneaky Fox, Calabrian chili, Nardini Grappa Riserva 7 anni) and White Plains (Sipsmith, Dimmi, heirloom pineapple amaro, sage).

Stefkov is adamant about the importance of design in creating the kind of “la dolce vita” atmosphere that Olio e Più seeks to evoke. “We want to create an environment — not just a place, but a feeling that transcends into another era and another place,” he says. “It’s almost like a movie set where everything has to be from the era... from the music to the decoration to the furniture to the walls and flowers, we try to achieve that feeling.”

In pursuit of that seamless effect, Stefkov, New York-based designer Julien Legeard, and designers from Chicago firm Barker/Nestor (also behind the style at Fioretta and Lyra) decided to view the restaurant as the country home of an “older, elegant lady,” perhaps in the Tuscan countryside. That cinematic approach is reminiscent of the opulent design that Chicagoans may associate with Bonhomme Hospitality, the local group behind lavishly decorated restaurants like Beatnik, Bombola, and Michelin-starred Porto.

A corner of a dining room inside an Italian restaurant.
Lime-washed walls and framed artworks aim to evoke the Italian countryside.
Sandy Noto/Olio e Più
A long table and wall decor inside an Italian restaurant.
Olio e Più founder Emil Stefkov has strong feelings about design.
Sandy Noto/Olio e Più

Equipped with airy, soaring ceilings and lime-washed walls that create the illusion of age, the dining room balances rustic Italian aesthetics with fresh greenery and floral motifs that are bathed in sunlight through large windows. Antique chandeliers underscore the historical feeling, as do vintage Italian posters and artworks that dot the walls. The 5,172 square-foot space includes an open kitchen and custom pewter-topped bar — the latter being a Chicago-specific element that was built in France with metal-working techniques that date back 200 years.

“When we were visiting [Chicago], we realized people love these big island bars where you can practically see the people on the other side,” says Stefkov. “At both Olio e Più and La Grande Boucherie, we created these big island bars in the middle of the restaurant, people can sit 360 degrees around the bar.”

Between Olio e Più and the forthcoming La Grande Boucherie (the New York version made a cameo in Episode 8 of Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That...), the Group will essentially take over the entire block. That’s strategic, says Stefkov, as the close proximity may foster the “synergy” needed to make the stretch of Dearborn into a destination for fans of the brand. “I think we’re going to bring great, vibrant life on that block,” he says. “I believe that whatever we’re going to receive from Chicago, we’re going to return in kind.”

Olio e Più Chicago, 445 N. Dearborn Street, Open 11 a.m. to midnight Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday, Reservations available via OpenTable.

Olio e Piu

445 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 363-3335 Visit Website