autre Monde Cafe ★★★
6727 W. Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn; (708) 775-8122
Prices: Tapas dishes, $9-!5, larger plates $13-$25.
Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 5 p.m.-midnight; Sunday, 5-9 p.m.
Try: Pork rillette, grilled octopus, flatbread with roasted peppers, olives and feta, and honey-lavender cheesecake.
Tips: Reservations recommended. Street parking. Full bar with unique beer, wine selections and inventive cocktails. Seasonal patio. Occasional fixed-price wine dinners.
In a bite: Autre Monde Cafe is a class act, a wonderful shot in the arm to liven up Berwyn’s dining scene. The decor is understated, the staff congenial and the Mediterranean fare creatively prepared and fairly priced.
KEY: ★★★★ Extraordinary; ★★★ Excellent;
★★ Very Good; ★ Good;
Zero stars: Poor
West suburban Berwyn, long known for its hearty Czech cuisine, recently made room at the table for an ambitious newcomer that puts Mediterranean fare on the menu.
Since its opening in June, Autre Monde Cafe — that’s French for “other world” — has turned heads and prompted diners to take note of its inspired tapas-style offerings.
Owners John and Christine Aranza, along with chefs Beth Partridge and Dan Pancake, all draw from experience gained while working at Spiaggia and Mantuano Mediterranean Table under celebrated chef Tony Mantuano.
The decor is simple and elegant: cream-colored walls, a pair of oversized mirrors, hardwood floors, soft lighting and comfortable seating. The 65-seat dining room, tastefully transformed from space that once housed a flower shop, shares quarters with an L-shaped bar. Don’t be surprised to discover that the sound level in this intimate room escalates appreciably, especially during peak hours.
Servers are vigilant about keeping water glasses filled and emptied plates cleared. They also are knowledgeable both about Autre Monde’s food and beverages, and their recommendations merit consideration.
Such know-how came in handy when selecting drinks from the restaurant’s eclectic, organic-focused wine list. The staff’s advice helped firm up a decision to try an unfamiliar full-bodied white wine from Slovenia, a 2010 Verus Furmint, and one of the bar’s specialty cocktails, the Adriatic, a flavorful concoction featuring vodka, homemade sour mix and Creme de Violette.
The menu (which has since been updated to reflect the fall/winter season), offers no lack of choices. It’s divided into cold and hot plates, flatbread, pasta and larger plates, and you can order dish by dish for sharing or individual consumption as the meal progresses. Most selections are $9-$15, while larger plates are $13-$25 and are paired with potatoes, beans or other accompaniments.
Butternut squash gnocchi ($15), a special the night of our visit, were just right: light and fluffy and perfectly complemented by the onions, mushrooms and brussels sprouts.
Pork rillette, a rustic course, also was a palate pleaser. Cooked slowly in fat and then shredded, the pork was presented in a small canning jar, ready to be spread on toast with coarse mustard and thin apple slices.
I can also recommend the grilled octopus l’Escala, served with capers, red wine vinegar and olive oil from Spain and the impressive flatbread topped with roasted peppers, olives, feta and za’atar, a zesty Middle Eastern herb and spice mixture.
Dinner was a pleasure, with no missteps from start to finish (honey-lavender cheesecake). Among other available options were eggplant frites, pecorino croquettes, pappardelle with wild boar sugo and tagliatelle with rock shrimp, bay scallops and sweet pea sauce.
Autre Monde has an attractive patio that’s used during warm-weather months for alfresco dining and holds a small greenhouse where some of the kitchen’s herbs and vegetables are grown.
NOTE: For the restaurant’s current menu offerings, visit www.autremondecafe.net.
Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.