November 19, 2009
Despite a demographic that would make most restaurateurs salivate, Hinsdale has not always been kind to its dining options. Since finally permitting liquor licenses in 2001 (Hinsdale was DuPage County's last bastion of temperance), the town has bid farewell to Salbute, Kafe Kokopelli and Embrace, all of them ambitious concepts.
Il Poggiolo looks like it'll stick, for several reasons. Open since late June, the slickly designed space is glamorous for a dress-up date but unaffected enough for casual dining. It has enough capacity to make significant money on weekends, the better to endure the quiet midweek traffic. And though prices scale up to $40 for a prime steak, most main courses are in the low $20s and pastas are in the low teens.
The concept is by the irrepressible Jerry Kleiner, and represents his first real suburban foray. He did design The Clubhouse, a golf-themed restaurant in Oakbrook Center mall, some years back, but that was a side gig. Il Poggiolo is pure Kleiner.
And it shows in the decor, which features soaring, mahogany-clad walls, colorful fabric-clad chairs with square-cutout seat backs, a dramatic staircase and loft (Il Poggiolo means "the balcony") and outsize, fringed lampshades hanging from the ceiling lights. This is standard-issue Kleiner to those familiar with his Chicago properties (including Marche, Park 52 and 33 Club), but out here, it's a fresh look.
Chef Jim Kilberg developed the menu for Via Ventuno, Kleiner's short-lived restaurant in the South Loop, and exported it to Hinsdale with only minor changes. "I slightly suburbanized it," Kilberg says. "I worried that the (Ventuno) menu might be too sophisticated, but that hasn't been the case at all. I've been able to sell rabbit, venison -- everything sells. There are a lot of sophisticated palates out here."
This balance of traditional and cosmopolitan choices runs throughout the menu. Among starters, there is capably executed but unremarkable calamari fritti, but also an out-of-the-ordinary and spectacular octopus carpaccio, a paper-thin sheet of fork-tender poached octopus accented with salt and coriander, topped with pieces of tomato, olive and oregano. Somewhere in between is the arancini, the traditional rice balls that Kilberg enhances with a filling of mushrooms and Taleggio cheese.
Cracker-thin pizzas are a good bet; mushrooms and Taleggio make a return visit in this category, and I especially liked the prosciutto and arugula version. The pizza del giorno, and there's always one, will be even more adventurous, perhaps topped with rabbit confit and pecorino cheese.
Main courses include a very good tortelloni pasta filled with spinach and ricotta, over a rich, sage-enhanced butter sauce, and a well-made if unexceptional veal Milanese. New to the menu is a maiale saltimbocca, a porcine version of the classic veal dish, and it doesn't quite work, due to a chewy, bland pork chop in the starring role.
You're better off regarding the specials, which always include a pasta, risotto, fish and meat dish and where you'll find Kilberg's best work. Among the hits were a terrific striped bass with Swiss chard and fregola, bucatini pasta with a killer spicy pork ragu and a very good risotto with peas and prosciutto.
Desserts are decent enough. I had a nice fig tart under vanilla gelato one visit, and on a follow-up, my waiter pushed the red velvet cake, a short-lived special that I won't miss. Chocolate mousse is fine, but the Amaretto-laced panna cotta is a hit -- and my favorite.
I had different servers on all three of my visits, and I haven't been disappointed yet. Good personalities, good menu knowledge -- the front room staff impresses on many fronts.
Beverage director Josh Bushnick oversees a reasonably priced, mostly Italian wine list, but his key contribution is at the bar, where he fashions some truly interesting signature cocktails. Among them are the mint-julep-meets-daiquiri Midnight Rider, and the Il Poggiolo, a sort-of nouvelle Old Fashioned that features Maker's Mark bourbon, muddled brandied cherries and orange and cinnamon accents in a way that still respects the bourbon. Eight years after it became possible to get a drink in Hinsdale, it's now possible to get a good one.
Il Poggiolo8 E. First St., Hinsdale, 630-734-9400
Open: Dinner Monday-Sunday, lunch Monday-Friday
Entree prices: $13-$40
Credit cards: A, DS, M, V
Reservations: Recommended weekends
Other: Wheelchair accessible
On the radio: Phil Vettel talks with Greg Jarrett about dining-out options for turkey haters and offers Thanksgiving tips, at
8:10 a.m. Thursday on WGN-AM 720.