Northbrook Court's Di Pescara improves options for suburbanites, but city-dwellers could skip the trip
Smack-dab in Northbrook Court Shopping Center, wedged between Neiman Marcus and Lord & Taylor, you’ll find a valet parking cars. No, the ’burbs haven’t gone the way of Beverly Hills and added valet service for their tony shoppers, but they are alleviating that pesky 50-foot-long parking lot walk for diners checking out Lettuce Entertain You’s latest venture, Di Pescara.
A mall setting could doom any restaurant looking to be taken seriously, but apparently the hordes of locals filling every seat in the house not only accept the location, but embrace it. Di Pescara fills a void for north suburban diners looking to skip the hassle of heading to the city, leave the tie at home and still get a big, fat steak, a bowl of pasta and a decent bottle of wine.
Casting the net far and wide but not really screaming its “Italian Seafood House” tag line, Di Pescara’s menu offers everything from hamburgers to stuffed lobster tails. Ditto for the room, which straddles the line between casual and upscale; not as dark and woody as a Rat Pack steakhouse and not as bright nor done-up as a ladies-who-lunch haunt. And in a departure from their typical theme-decor, Lettuce has avoided a “look” altogether, opting instead for simple, unobtrusive and undefined.
That’s fine by the crowd of older locals, rocking the casual-weekender look and lapping up Alpana Singh’s five-bucks-a-glass bets. The It-girl sommelier (Check Please! host and wine director for the entire LEYE empire) has hand-picked a few value wines that your server matches to your food. Eight ounces for $5 with little thinking on your part is a great deal, but the table wines are much better with food than sipped alone. Start instead with a house cocktail like the sweet-and-tart “Laura’s lemoncello-mojito” and move on to wine once you’ve got some protein on the plate to soak up the hard edges.
Surprisingly, the meats and pastas stand out as the best of a menu that offers a dozen seafood dishes. Many, such as the barbecue-ginger salmon and miso-glazed cod, suffer from going the played-out Asian route, and others fail by having their flavor obliterated (thickly breaded shrimp tossed in Thousand Island–ish mayo sauce) or by simply being boring (flavorless tuna carpaccio begs for salt, a crack of pepper, a squeeze of lemon, anything!).
Forget that the place is named after a seaside city of Abruzzo, Italy, where fish varieties outnumber people, and stick with better picks: flat, wide, house-made pasta ribbons in a rich but bright pork and beef ragù; gnocchi with browned edges tossed with crumbled Italian sausage and broccolini; bone-in veal chop, pounded thin, crisped in herbed bread crumbs and topped with lemon-kissed arugula; and a prime sirloin whose salt-and-pepper punch is the only reminder you’re not at Gibsons. Well, that and the fact that valet is free and a gaggle of trendy teen mall rats—not call girls—loiter outside.
Di Pescara2124 Northbrook Ct, Northbrook (847-498-4321). Metra: Milwaukee N to Lake-Cook Rd. Open: Lunch (Mon–Fri), dinner. Average main course: $15.