CHICAGO, Ill. -- Chef Danny Grant snagged two Michelin stars for the restaurant RIA, now closed, and he also runs the acclaimed steakhouse Maple & Ash. His latest project, Etta, is more casual, and, he says, more fun.
The fun approach is evident in the dish known as the Pig Picnic, an entree big enough for two or more. In the main pan are sliced pork shoulder and shredded pork belly, surrounded by lettuce, hearth-baked bread and condiments such as vivid-green chimichurri and bright red serrano peppers with fish sauce. Use the cucumbers and yogurt to cool things down if needed, but the idea is to mix and match to your taste.
Another plus-sized entree is the whole-roasted branzino, seasoned simply with lemon, capers and parsley. It's one of many dishes prepared in Etta's wood-burning hearth, a cooking style that Grant says he loves.
Wood-roasting works on simpler dishes, such as these spicy meatballs in Sunday gravy; roasted oysters with smoked-tomato butter; the wood-grilled octopus that's part of the panzanella salad; and even a salad of tomatoes, watermelon, basil and stracciatella cheese mixed with wood-roasted sweet corn. And of course there are pizzas, including this spicy blend of sausage, chile and giardiniera known as the Fire Pie.
Exceptions to the flaming rule include mafaldine, one of the featured pastas, which also include crab meat, mussels and spicy 'nduja butter. And of course there are Aya Fukai's desserts, notably a super-rich chocolate sabayon tart with vanilla bean ice cream.
The dining room is large and noisy; seating is at bare-wood tables with metal chairs, and a few plush booths. And while you're waiting for an open table, there's a nice-looking front bar.
I give Etta, 1840 West North Avenue, three stars. Danny Grant has a lot of credibility in the fine-dining realm but this casual concept may earn him a lot more fans.