Dining review: Naperville's Che Figata lives up to its Italian meaning of 'That's awesome!'

  • Executive chef Austin Fausett shows off the roasted chicken and Calabrian potatoes at Che Figata in Naperville.

      Executive chef Austin Fausett shows off the roasted chicken and Calabrian potatoes at Che Figata in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Mae Calamos, owner of Che Figata in Naperville, shows some of the many Italian delicacies in the restaurant's market.

      Mae Calamos, owner of Che Figata in Naperville, shows some of the many Italian delicacies in the restaurant's market. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Enjoy a bowl of gazpacho with crab and mint on the quiet patio in front of Che Figata in Naperville.

      Enjoy a bowl of gazpacho with crab and mint on the quiet patio in front of Che Figata in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Start off with the avocado toast at Che Figata in Naperville.

      Start off with the avocado toast at Che Figata in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Seating at Che Figata centers around the open kitchen.

      Seating at Che Figata centers around the open kitchen. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Take a seat in one of the comfortable booths at Che Figata in Naperville.

      Take a seat in one of the comfortable booths at Che Figata in Naperville. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Italy to table is the mantra at Che Figata.

      Italy to table is the mantra at Che Figata. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 7/26/2019 7:42 AM

One of the first things you'll notice upon walking into the sleek, modern Che Figata next to Hotel Arista in north Naperville is the overwhelming smell of the open wood-fired oven. But, do not let that deter you from the excellent "Italy to table" dinner that awaits.

Though the aroma can be a little confusing to the senses -- it smells like a wood campfire, reminiscent of a barbecue spot -- just wait until you look at the well-thought-out authentic Italian menu including small dishes, salads and soups, sides, Roman pizza, unique pasta dishes, panini (Che prime burger, medium-rare prime rib), and wood-fired grilled meats, fresh fish and seafood. The menu is quite impressive. And for those who read through the menu to the end, there is a fun section featuring common Italian words and phrases.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But first, know this: The food at Che Figata is sourced from local farmers -- Miller Farms, Nichols Farms, Prairie Farms, Linz Heritage Breed and Underground Meats Salumi. And housemade is central to the mission of the restaurant helmed by owner Mae Calamos, general manager John D'Alexander, executive chef Austin Fausett and chef d'cuisine Brett Neubauer, including the 47 sauces, 10 pastas, 27 specially selected meats and 12 varieties of Mediterranean seafood. Plus, the restaurant was recently awarded Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence for offering interesting selections, including 147 different wines, that appeal to a wide range of palates.

On our recent visit, though we had reservations, we had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated. This gave us time to peruse the Italian marketplace at the entrance featuring housemade pastas, breads, gourmet coffees, spices, wines, to-go dinners and unique items straight from Italy.

Che Figata offers creative dishes such as scallops with cauliflower trio and agro dolce at the Naperville restaurant.
  Che Figata offers creative dishes such as scallops with cauliflower trio and agro dolce at the Naperville restaurant. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Though we were offered seats at the counter facing the open kitchen -- probably a fun option for foodies who enjoy watching their food being prepped -- we opted for a small wood table along the wall. Larger groups might choose one of the roomy, circular booths arranged in a semicircle overlooking the open kitchen.

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Our friendly, attentive waiter promptly greeted us and offered an introduction to the eatery. We enjoyed the subtle pop music and jazz playing in the background while perusing the extensive menu. We finally decided on the grilled octopus appetizer to accompany a glass of the Tramin pinot grigio and Goose Island Bourbon County Bourbon Barrel Aged, which, according to our server, is rarely found in restaurants.

The slightly chewy octopus, served artfully on a wooden board, was mixed in with a lightly spicy housemade giardiniera bursting with flavor. I'm not a giardiniera fan, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed Che Figata's version. Knowing that I have a gluten sensitivity, our server brought out delicious, chewy gluten-free toast and regular bread, perfect for soaking up the remaining giardiniera.

John D'Alexander is general manager at Che Figata in Naperville. The restaurant, which offers 147 different wines, recently won the Wine Spector Award of Excellence for 2019.
  John D'Alexander is general manager at Che Figata in Naperville. The restaurant, which offers 147 different wines, recently won the Wine Spector Award of Excellence for 2019. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

Though we had hoped to order the ossobuco 24 ore, a 24-hour braised veal shank with pecorino soft risotto, lemon-infused olive oil, gremolata and broccolini, we were informed after we had ordered that the restaurant was already out. No matter, that will have to wait for another visit.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

A more than acceptable alternative recommended by our waiter was the ravioli che figata fatti in casa (short-rib ravioli in a Parmesan broth with spinach, Gorgonzola and black truffle essence). Tender and luscious, this rich dish delivered. Unfortunately, a side of Parmesan polenta was slightly bland.

But the real star of the meal was the absolutely delicious pappardelle alla Bolognese, designated as a house favorite. And for good reason. The flavorful, chunky Bolognese was the perfect balance of salty and sweet, filling and comforting. Plus, this was the best gluten-free pasta I've ever tasted. It was al dente and not mushy or with a gritty, off aftertaste, as so often happens with gluten-free pastas. Even my husband, who detests GF pasta, couldn't get enough.

Owner Mae Calamos and executive chef Austin Fausett show off the Chef's Garden outside Che Figata.
  Owner Mae Calamos and executive chef Austin Fausett show off the Chef's Garden outside Che Figata. - Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

I've already raved about the dish and the restaurant numerous times to friends. And while doing so, mentioned the impeccable service and citylike vibe. Che Figata is perfect for a group outing, yet personable for a date night.

And don't forget about dessert, which includes options such as the luscious-sounding triple chocolate (chocolate bread pudding, chocolate sauce and gelato), salted caramel budino, semi-frozen Italian custard, cannoli, tiramisu, gelato and sorbet as well as Italian housemade liqueurs, grappa, amari and more. We were so full from dinner that we opted instead for Lavazza coffee, which turned out to be a perfect ending to a memorable meal.

• • •

Che Figata

2155 CityGate Lane, Suite 103, Naperville, (630) 579-3210 or chefigatakitchen.com/

Cuisine: Authentic Italian

Setting: Upscale and urban with an open kitchen

Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. daily; dinner: 5 to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 5 to 9 p.m. Sunday

Prices: Appetizers: $3-$18, salads and soups: $6-$18; pastas: $20-$33; Roman pizzas: $17-$18; entrees: $24-$58

• Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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