Animale ( 1904 N. Western Ave.; AnimaleChicago.com )a restaurant owned by Aldo Zaninotto and Chef Cameron Grantis definitely a non-traditional northern Italian spot.
It's also different than Osteria Langhe, a much-buzzed-about eatery that Zaninotto and Grant also own. The differences show up almost immediately regarding the location ( right by the Western Blue Line stop, so it's more accessible than Osteria ) and the splashy exterior.
Animale is also a less formal version of Osteria, so feel free to wear those jeans. The dishes, however, are given as much care as they are in Zaninotto and Grant's other place. ( As for the restaurant's name, Zaninotto told Windy City Times that it's about "satisfying the animal instinct of hunger." )
Every visit to Animale ( or take-out order from there ) should include plin, the restaurant's self-described signature dish that's basically small ravioli with parmesan, La Tur, thyme and butter; the items are simply heavenly pillows. Pasta dishes can be ordered by size/weight, type of noodle and sauce; examples of the latter include pesto, cacio e pepe ( pecorino romano, black pepper, stock and butter ) and the undeniably tasty tartufo nero ( fontina cream, sunny egg and black truffle ).
More non-traditional dishes are huddled under the section of the menu labeled "Pezzi." For example, there's animelle ( with bacon-wrapped sweetbreads ) and cuore e cuore ( sliced beef-heart pastrami ). They're actually quite delicious, but may be for the more adventurousand there are burgers as well.
However, one of the most popular items at Animale is under the "In Piu" section: ferocious puppies. Basically a take on poutine, the dish incorporates French fries, peppered onions, chiles, arugula, fontina and a sunny-side-up egg.
Make it a New Year's resolution to try something different. Animale will fulfill that wish, deliciously.
Note: Restaurant profiles are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.