A former steakhouse in the western suburbs is now an Italian restaurant worth knowing about. Avanzare opened in October in Lombard, where chef Gabriel Hernandez, one of three partners and first-time restaurateurs, offers classic and contemporary Italian dishes.
You would think, after all these years on the job, that I'd never again be wowed by chicken Parmesan, but Hernandez makes a terrific version, abetted by a long-simmered tomato sauce that bursts with concentrated flavor. Just as impressive is the paglia e fieno, a combination of egg and spinach noodles with leeks and plump sea scallops.
And this timballo, in which eggplant is rolled around a ricotta-spinach mixture, is the chef's modern take on manicotti, crafted so that it is both vegetarian and gluten-free.
One of the improvements the partners made was the installation of a wood-fueled oven, which produces the excellent house focaccia and very good pizzas such as this pizza Avanzare, topped with olives, mushrooms, artichoke and prosciutto. It's very much like a classic quattro stagione pizza, only the toppings are combined, rather than arranged separately.
Branzino, a sea bass, is the most eye-catching entree. The fish is roasted in a sea-salt crust, presented whole at the table, then returned to the kitchen for filetting, served with broccolini and graced with a nicely balanced lemon-caper sauce.
The dessert list abounds with familiar names, such as totino, which is a molten chocolate cake served with strawberries and hazelnut gelato. My favorite is the torta de mele, or apple tart, which places chopped apples and crumble in a fluted shell, alongside vanilla gelato.
The interior is handsome and Mediterranean-themed, with arched windows and one or two pastoral murals. The tables you see here, set for lunch service, are covered with white tablecloths at dinner.
I give Avanzare, 667 West Roosevelt Road in Lombard, two stars. Avanzare in Italian mean “push forward,” and this operation definitely represents a step up from the rest.