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Knockout Noodles: Linguini with Ragu of Wild Casco Cod at Trattoria Ultimo

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[Photographs: Roger Kamholz]

"Simply Italiano." That's the one and only bit of descriptive information, apart from the customary address, phone number, and whatnot, on the business card for Trattoria Ultimo, a newcomer to the maturing West Town dining scene. At first, the slogan seems kind of reductive, but a meal at the small, sparsely appointed, BYOB, cash-only restaurant on West Chicago Avenue puts the phrase in the proper perspective. Trattoria Ultimo is focused on simple, rustic, delicious Italian food. Besides some quietly registering flourishes like deep blue water glasses, oversized mirrors, a bouquet of wilting flowers, and long dining tables made from reclaimed pallet wood, decor is kept to a minimum. Tellingly, the menu—just a sheet of printer paper slipped into an undersized clear-plastic stand—is the most interesting thing to look at. (Well, at least until your dishes arrive.)

Indeed, it would seem with Trattoria Ultimo, owner Antoine Cedicci—who after closing his longtime Gold Coast spot Pane Caldo in June has gone on to open Ultimo as well as Alimentari, in the West Loop—wants to give us good Italian food, with little fuss, at a decent price. An anti-RPM Italian, if you will. And after tasting Trattoria Ultimo's linguini with ragu of wild casco cod fish ($12), I am tracking with his vision.

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When the plate arrived, I inhaled a heady aroma of seafood and basil. The nest of linguini noodles, generous in size, had been dressed in a sauce the color of late-afternoon sun. There was no need to go searching for the wild-caught cod; juicy chunks of fish were tucked in everywhere throughout the tangle of linguini. The noodles were carefully cooked to a plump, enjoyable consistency, but I wouldn't call them a major presence in this dish; the linguini did the yeoman's work of delivering the sauce and cradling the tender chunks of cod. And by doing that they served a higher purpose.

Unlike your typical meat ragu, in which after a long simmer on the stovetop the disparate flavors from the tomatoes and meat have been melded into one, here the delicacy of the cod and the brighter, basil-tinged notes of the tomato sauce seem to circle one another but never get muddled together. I appreciated how the kitchen kept the flavors parsed, allowing them all their opportunity to shine.

Trattoria Ultimo

1953 West Chicago Avenue, Chicago, IL 60622 (map)
312-243-6343

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