I came across this story from Cosmo recently and immediately related to it. There’s no doubt about it – I love trying new restaurants more than just about anything else. I’ve always been that way and it has only intensified since I moved to Chicago. There are so many incredible restaurants here and we just keep getting more and more options.
I had heard a lot of great things about Charlatan, a new Italian eatery in West Town, and was super excited to try it. Did it live up to my expectations? Read on for the answer.
First and foremost, let’s talk service. We walked in about 10 minutes early for our 9 pm reservation (we scored this spot on a Friday night, booking a few days in advance) and checked in immediately before waiting at the bar. Forty minutes later….we were still waiting. Despite checking back in with the hostess twice, we weren’t seated until after 9:30, a full half hour after we were supposed to have our table.
Look, I realize that things happen and that you can’t always stay perfectly on schedule – after all, some of it is way out of the restaurant’s control. Still, I could’t help but notice that we were definitely not the only party that didn’t get seated at the right time. I would have been willing to overlook this had the situation been handled better. Accomodating service is what sets great restaurants apart from good ones and in my experience, Charlatan’s service needs a lot of work. The hostess didn’t apologize for our wait and honestly, a sincere apology is worth much more than a free appetizer. After we were seated we got an incredibly hasty ‘sorry for your wait’ served with a complimentary order of focaccia, so offhand that we weren’t even sure if we had heard correctly. Still, it was better than nothing.
Despite the lackluster service, I do think Charlatan has potential. I liked the decor of the place – it felt hip but a little bit rustic, complete with hunting bounty lining the walls. The menu was also really interesting and so many of the dishes sounded great. We ordered three pastas, a salad and a bruschetta to split and had enough leftovers for a midday snack the following day.
As for the food, I loved the texture-rich farro salad, which light, refreshing and delicious. The beet salad came next and while you can never go wrong with lots of goat cheese, I feel like the bread this was served on was so thick and charred, it overpowered everything else. The pastas were the main attraction: We tried to sweet potato agnolotti, the black kale spaghettini and the black pepper rigatoni. The agnolotti had a really nice balance of texture as well and was unlike any other pasta dish I’ve had. The spaghettini, served with kale and walnut pesto, bleu cheese and pumpkin chips, seemed over salted (and I like my food salty.) The black pepper rigatoni, the dish we had heard the most about, was flavorful and original. It goes without saying that if you don’t like loads of black pepper, you won’t enjoy this, but I linked the peppery flavor.
Overall, Charlatan gets points for originality. All of the menu items are innovative and make good use of contrasting ingredients. I think it’s just a matter of working out some kinks at this point. I really hope they fix the few things that need attention because all in all, this place has potential. In a city filled with lots and lots of Italian restaurants, it’s hard to bring something new to the table, and Charlatan deserves credit.
1329 W Chicago Avenue
Image via Zagat.