Disotto, the latest addition to Highwood’s restaurant row, is a warm, cozy enclave offering exquisite, authentic takes on Italian classics constructed with ingredients, all made in house.
It’s like walking into a rustic Italian wine cellar, the walls evoke an old-world workmanship of stacked irregular stones and a red brick ceiling all decoratively weeping mortar. The lighting is kept at a soft glow. The entrance is wallpapered with the deconstructed sides of wine crates and an array of copper stovetop coffee pots are on display. The marble tabletops are covered with a torn-off table-sized placemat of brown paper, signaling this is one of those great places that likes their Italian food a little messy. Each of the booths at the back wall has a wall plate outlet mounted above the table surrounded by the stonework. It’s such an odd, wonderful, grandfathered-construction kind of detail—and excellent for the folks who want to charge their phone over dinner.
All it took was one bite of their table bread to tell us we were in for a great night. It’s a thick slice of warm focaccia bread sprinkled with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. Spongy air pockets in the bread serve as the perfect vessels for the bowl of dipping sauce made of olive oil, herbs, garlic slices, red pepper, and yellow tomato. It’s so rich and satisfying with a sharp, salty sting.
We dove into the Antipasti menu with the Brussels Sprouts, blackened and carrying a hint of balsamic sweetness. They share a serving dish with crisp tangles of prosciutto fried to a deep bacon flavor, combining with the sprouts in a wood smokiness. Sliced Calabrian chilies at the bottom of the bowl inject a hit of spiciness. Perched on top is a fried egg. When you cut into it, the yolk runs down over everything creating a clientele-triggered sauce element. This aspect of dining, asking the eater to activate the yolk and complete the dish is brilliant. It focuses your mind on all of the elements of the dish and how their flavors combine to create your meal.
That subtle trick of diner engagement continued with the Focaccia di Recco, an Italian flatbread stuffed with cow’s milk cheese and sprinkled with sea salt, also from the Antipasti menu. The flatbread is delivered on a wooden cutting board and comes with a small butter dish filled with a segment of honeycomb. The rich melted cheese inside the flatbread oozes wonderfully as soon as you bite into it, but it’s when you cut a slice of honeycomb and let it melt over the top that the dish really sings. The sweetness of the honey teases out the saltiness of the cheese, and against the slightly fire-blackened, cracker-crisp crust at the edge, the effect is ambrosial. It arrives at the table blisteringly hot, but try to get to the flavors before it cools too much, they’re at their best when everything is melting together.
We continued the wood-fired trend with the most unique offering from their Pizze (the Italian plural of pizza) menu. The Ricotta, butternut squash, pumpkin seed pesto, prosciutto, 9 year aged balsamic pizza gets rid of tomato sauce and leans into a lot of robust, autumnal flavors. The crisp, thin crust is covered in a base of olive oil that leads the flavor alongside the pads of ricotta cheese and incredible pepita pesto sauce ribboning across the top. A butternut squash puree contributes a thread of creamy sweetness and tissue thin strips of prosciutto stretch across each slice. It’s a very tasty, very filling flatbread for two.
Further embracing the authenticity, we went for the very large, house made Pappardelle noodles from the Pasta menu. Disotto makes all of their pastas from scratch. The Pappardelle were coiled inside bowls with large floral detailing, the kind you’d find in grandma’s kitchen—if grandma made everything in house with the highest quality ingredients. The noodles had just the right level of al dente bite and were covered with a mild Bolognese meat sauce, herbs, and, upon request, fresh shaved Parmesan cheese.
The dessert menu continues the parade of tempting European options, and we were almost wooed by the Torta Bacio, a chocolate-hazelnut mousse with a white chocolate center. In the end, though, we couldn’t escape the pull of the Bombolini, Italian doughnuts, bigger than the average doughnut hole, piping hot from the fryer and rolled in white sugar. They’re served with two dipping sauces, a smooth chocolate sauce and a mixed berry fruit preserve. Both sauces are decadently delicious, even more so when combined. However, deep in the fried dough, you’ll find an intriguing hint of citrus that makes the Bombolini stand on their own without any sauce at all.
Disotto is located at 310 Green Bay Road in Highwood, 224-765-9490, disottoitalian.com.