Good Eats at Zaza Cucina: Enjoy delicious “family recipes with a twist” at this sleek new Italian hot spot in Uptown Park Ridge
By Trent Modglin
608 W. Touhy in Uptown Park Ridge
It’s a family business: Danielle Sisto’s first memory of life in the restaurant business dates back to when she was 12 years old, working in whatever capacity she was needed at her dad and uncle’s restaurant. Over the years, she’s worked every type of role: washing dishes, clearing tables, serving as hostess, bartending on busy nights. Not only do her uncle and cousins also own Italian restaurants, but her brother bartends at Zaza Cucina, which opened in November in the old Tony’s Deli space and represents the fourth restaurant collaboration between Danielle and her dad, Joseph, the executive chef.
“I learned quickly because I had to,” Danielle says at the memory of wearing many hats early on. “I put my whole heart into it, and my dad does the same with the menu.”
Danielle had wanted to get back in the restaurant business for some time, and the notion of carrying on her dad’s legacy and passion for food and art is what appealed to her most. Turns out Joseph has some architectural skills too, as he is credited with building out Zaza’s stunning space right down to matching the stone on the bar wall with the dark wood.
“He’s an artist, he really is,” Danielle acknowledges. “The design, the atmosphere, the menu. Without him, this wouldn’t have happened. He made my dream a reality.”
Comfortable, classic and modern at the same time, it’s a versatile restaurant that’s equally ideal for date night or a larger family outing.
The scene: Zaza is a gorgeous restaurant with multiple dining areas. The jazz and big-band music, cracked-glass light fixtures, jagged stone and dark wood combination, bold red drapes and large windows create an inviting, stylish ambiance. Comfortable, classic and modern at the same time, it’s a versatile restaurant capable of satisfying a lot of different sized groups. In other words, equally ideal for date night or a larger family outing.
The menu: Zaza’s impressive menu represents “family recipes with a twist,” according to Danielle, and it will be continuing to evolve going forward, with a focus on utilizing seasonal ingredients.
Start things off with one of 11 appetizers like fried zucchini, grilled house sausage with sweet peppers, Spanish octopus with chorizo, the crab-and-shrimp-stuffed mushrooms or bacon-wrapped dates. Then settle in for a difficult decision over a main course among the stone-fire pizzas, pasta creations (seafood-loaded linguini, hearty lasagna, etc.) or chef’s specialties (veal marsala with roasted potatoes, roasted whitefish with linguini, 20-ounce ribeye, rack of lamb with whipped potatoes, etc.).
The rich and creamy shrimp risotto with cherry tomatoes, spinach and wild mushrooms was a huge hit for us. The fact they use large Gulf shrimp makes all the difference according to Joseph, and you’ll get no argument from our table. We also enjoyed the rigatoni carbonara with pancetta in a cream sauce, and our son was wowed by the kids’ spaghetti and homemade braised meatballs in a tomato basil sauce that’s packed with flavor.
While the wine list is more than respectable at Zaza, we found ourselves drawn to the imaginative cocktails and martinis. Be sure to save room for one of their tempting desserts like the cheesecake or four-layer chocolate cake. Decadence abounds, in a good way.
Zaza’s impressive menu represents “family recipes with a twist,” and it will be continuing to evolve going forward, with a focus on utilizing seasonal ingredients.
We can’t wait to… eat or have a cocktail outside this spring and summer on the spacious second-floor patio overlooking the library and Pickwick Theater.
Keep an eye out for… a new happy hour deal featuring 25 percent off everything (drinks, appetizers, entrees) at the bar and in the lounge area.
Final thoughts: “We honestly are so grateful for how supportive the community has been since we opened. And for everyone who has come in and dined with us and given us feedback. We can’t wait to put Covid behind us and share Zaza with everyone.” — owner Danielle Sisto