Creative Spanish and Italian fare in Oak Park
Photo courtesy of Rustico
Walk into a restaurant called Rustico, and you’re likely to look around to see how the décor and menu reflect its name. That’s true of this Oak Park establishment, down to the thick wooden tables and vertical tin panels that line the wall, along with the hearty slices of bread placed in front of you within a few minutes of your seating.
Yes, the mostly Spanish and Italian offerings and general atmosphere have a rustic flair. Once you settle in for a drink and meal, however, you realize that the big takeaway from Rustico is how everyone there seems to be enjoying themselves.
It could be because the space has high ceilings and a floor plan that allows you to hear what’s going on at other tables, but Rustico is a gathering spot that seems to foster conviviality. Clinking glasses, peals of laughter, animated faces ,and the sight of people sharing tastes of their food and drinks is a testament to that.
One likely reason behind the infectious good vibe and dish-swapping is the quality of the Mediterranean fare, as imagined and prepared by chef-owner Gabriel Padilla. Rustic means anything but plain in this two-year-old eatery.
The assortment of cold and hot tapas plates includes traditional Spanish tapas like baked goat cheese with marinara and toast points, or chicken skewers with peppers and rice. Many of these offerings have a creative and flavorful twist. Try, for instance, the Rustico Albóndigas — veal, pork and beef meatballs with spicy tomato sauce and parmesan — or maybe a carpaccio made with thin-sliced roasted beets, seared scallions, Arugula, cherry tomatoes and onions served with a house vinaigrette.
Drinks — including the homemade sangria and hand-crafted cocktails — and tapas provide satisfying sustenance, especially if you’re seated at the long bar along the side of the room. That said, the main entrées are a true showcase for Chef Padilla’s deft fusion of technique and ingredients. This is particularly evident in the paella offerings, which include chicken, seafood and a house Rustico Paella studded with chicken, pork, shrimp, mussels, clams, cod, sofrito, tomato purée, diced pepper and onions.
Other rich takes on tradition come in the form of pasta, with items like pasta stuffed with smoked salmon and tossed with shrimp, asparagus, and meats, such as grilled ribeye topped with a truffle demi glaze and served with rosemary potatoes and rapini. Then there’s the Chicken Montecarlo, prepared with prosciutto, fontina cheese, mushrooms and roasted sprouts, and served with fried truffle polenta. Wood fired pizza is elevated as well, with options like the Jamon Iberico, topped with tomato-basil sauce, mozzarella and imported Spanish ham.
A difficult decision may come after the meal when weighing desserts that are both authentic and original, like chocolate crème brulée or Spanish tiramisu. On a recent visit, either the regulars were in on a secret or many patrons were inspired by the tables next to them, because several people were spooning up the same chocolate mousse covered in chocolate shavings and served with a Pirouette cookie and a sprig of mint.
An extensive wine, beer and cocktail list includes domestic and imported varieties.
Contact: 722 Lake St., Oak Park, 708-948-7855 www.rusticooakpark.com
Recommended Dishes: Carpaccio de Remolacha, Rustico Paella, Bistec Rustico
Cost: Tapas: $7 – $16, Entrées: $19 – $34
Hours: Tu – Th, 4:30 – 10 p.m. F – Sat, noon – 10 p.m. Sun, noon – 9 p.m.
Extras: Full bar, daily happy hour, street parkingEdit Module