Phil Vettel reviews Stefani Prime

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LINCOLNWOOD, Ill. -- Stefani Prime, the latest restaurant in the Phil Stefani group, is a suburban spot with a city sensibility, where Stefani's time-tested formula of prime steaks, seafood and Italian-American classics plays out in a contemporary and airy dining room.

It's a cool-looking space, classic dark wood balanced by bright, modern artworks, and it's home to some dishes that Stefani has been doing for years, and more updated plates from executive chef Nolan Narut.

There is, for instance, steak tartare, bound in an emulsion of olive oil and mustard and topped with a barely-cooked egg yolk; and tuna tartare, mixed with olive tapenade and served with wild arugula.

Shrimp de jonghe, a dish invented in Chicago ages ago, gets uncommonly good treatment here; the balance of breadcrumbs, butter and wine is a delicate one, but Narut nails it.

Pastas are an important part of the menu. Fettucine wins points for theatricality; the noodles, with chopped speck, mushrooms and shallot cream, are tossed table-side in the hollow of a 20 pound wheel of grana padano cheese, yielding a thickened cheese sauce that's absolutely luxurious.

The signature steak is the prime tomahawk ribeye, delivered on the bone and sliced at your table, yielding more than enough rich, glistening meat for two diners. But don't overlook the veal valdostana, a hefty veal rib chop topped with prosciutto and fontina cheese.

There are some fine side dishes, particularly the fresh vegetables, but I especially like this baked potato, which is stuffed with creamed kale and artichokes and topped with slivers of Fresno chilies, which add a little heat to the equation.

Most of the desserts are classics like tiramisu, and the eye-popping sweet is the Big Chocolate Cake – five layers of dark chocolate cake and four layers of chocolate buttercream. It's enough to feed an army.

I give Stefani Prime, 6755 North Cicero Avenue in suburban Lincolnwood, two stars. Close to the city, easily reachable from many northern suburbs, this restaurant's location is as prime as its steaks.


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