I admit it: I was sad to see the Lombard location of Magnum's Steakhouse go by the wayside, especially since its lobster was one of my faves. But things change, and I headed to its replacement - Topo Gigio - with an open mind.
Since it shares the same space, the lofty ceilings, expansive floor plan and lengthy bar (with piano player) remain. Cosmetic changes are minor, as in new carpeting and quickie decorative trappings - pasta, olive oil bottles - on a shelf. Of course, the addition of relentless piped-in Sinatra tunes serves to reinforce the mantra.
Starters, by and large, are classic. The carpaccio (paper-thin slivers of filet) is accented by Parmesan, mushrooms, capers, lemon and olive oil. The calamari is fried to a golden crispiness and served alongside lemon wedges and marinara. Clams casino gets baked with pancetta. You get the idea.
We particularly enjoyed the prosciutto-wrapped scampi atop a pool of buttery sauce with a thimble of onion-studded saffron rice. Still - oops! - it was disheartening to have to pluck a garlic skin from my mouth. Getting past that fact, we found the tomato, garlic and basil bruschetta to be an equally solid (and peel-free) stalwart.
There are plenty of salads on offer, and many are meal-sized. Take, for example, the Gina's Chopped - romaine, iceberg and endive with tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, Granny Smiths, green olives, pepperoncini and hardboiled eggs in red wine vinaigrette - or the Garbage with salami, hearts of palm, artichokes, ceci beans, provolone, red peppers, olives and shrimp with mixed greens.
As at any self-respecting Italian restaurant, pasta takes center stage. You'll find both the ubiquitous (spaghetti and meatballs) and some slightly lesser-knowns such as house-made pappardelle with rich, pulled wild boar ragu studded with porcinis and sprinkled with Parmesan. The full-bodied sauce was good - a perfect warmup on a chilly eve - but it would have benefited from a longer stewing. And, as a matter of preference, we would have liked to see the rosemary leaves chopped rather than left to simmer whole.
Should this fail to ignite your appetite, know that there's homemade duck confit ravioli with wild mushroom sauce; cream-sauce-swathed tortellini with mushrooms, peas and pancetta; and seashell pasta in tomato cream sauce with ground sausage, peas and Pecorino as well.
While the lunch menu includes lighter fare (such as a steak sandwich), dinner brings on an expanded selection of entrees. Veal saltimbocca is everything it should be: savory, salty and earthy with pomodoro sauce and bubbly mozzarella cheese. Filet medallions appear with thyme and oregano-accented mushrooms with red sauce, fontina cheese and roasted potatoes, while grilled lamb chops get classy with a balsamic reduction, spinach and roasted potatoes.
Seafood and poultry get play, too. A half chicken is roasted with wine, lemon, garlic and rosemary, and whitefish lounges in caper, lemon and wine sauce with garlicky spinach.
Desserts, while present, are not a primary focus. Crème brûlée is fine in form, and the apple crisp delivers on its promise of homey simplicity. There's ice cream and chocolate mousse cake to choose from as well.
The wine list is lengthy enough, heavily emphasizing Italian producers. While there are many affordable bottles ($35 to $55), special-occasion selections can be found as well.
Should the name sound familiar, you're not imagining things. Its owner sold the Chicago location to move to this more-spacious home. (There is no affiliation, save a likeminded name, between the two.)
Service-wise, a tag-team approach boded well - especially since there seemed to be some confusion over wines that were and were not available and whether glasses had or had not been delivered to the table. There weren't any major gaffes, though, making it easy to speculate that this popular cuisine and populated location will serve this eatery well.
• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. Our aim is to describe the overall dining experience while guiding the reader toward the menu's strengths. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.
Topo Gigio il Ristorante
Facts: 777 E. Butterfield Road, Lombard; (630) 368-0110; topolombard.com
Setting: Lofty, spacious and business appropriate
Hours: Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday; dinner 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Sunday
Price range: Appetizers $4 to $9; soups and salads $4 to $10; pasta $10 to $18; entrees $12 to $38; desserts $5 to $6
Accepts: Major credit cards