Former Check, Please host Alpana Singh opened her newest restaurant, Terra and Vine, in the former Bravo and Wolfgang Puck space at 1701 Maple Ave. Just before the Sept. 29 opening she sat down with the RoundTable to talk about the new eatery, moving to Evanston, and what came before.
“The entire concept here is rooted in Italian cuisine [but] what makes it different is that it’s wood-fired Italian,” she said. “As you are sitting here, you can see all the firepower behind us with the brick oven. We have a custom-made wood grill that offers three different styles of wood-fire cooking. You have a rotisserie, there’s an Argentinian-style grill, and then there’s an oven and everything is wood fired.”
The menu includes “Italian Mediterranean as our inspiration, but we’re tapping into the wood fired element to create these dishes,” she said, adding that handmade pastas and mini pizzas “I call pizzettes, a word that I may or may not have made up” will round out the menu.
“Our chef is Andrew Graves, who was at Alinea for seven years,” she said. Alinea was run by Grant Achatz, “who got his start in Evanston,” said Ms. Singh. Mr. Graves moved from Chicago to Costa Rica, she explained, “then his wife had a baby and they wanted to come back to the States to raise their son and we had the good fortune of grabbing him.”
“Of course my background is in wine, you know. I had to make sure the wine was OK,” she said. Ms. Singh started in Chicago as the sommelier at Everest restaurant when she was only 23, and became one of only 23 female master sommeliers in the U.S. Her background is heavily steeped in wine and wine culture.
“Rounding out everything, we have an Italian-inspired beverage program, so when it comes to the cocktails, an 80-bottle wine program. We are careful to offer people their classic selections from California, because sometimes that’s just what you want, but we’re also having a lot of fun with the mostly Italian wine list, and trying to do a good job of representing all 20 regions in Italy,” she explained.
Ms. Singh is enthusiastic about coming to Evanston. “I grew up in a town very much like Evanston so it feels like a homecoming to me,” she said. “Monterey [California] is a very close-knit community, very civically minded, very involved. I feel like there’s a great sense of community and charity in Evanston, and a desire to help their neighbors come up, and so I feel very much at home. It reminds me of Monterey.”
She is not new to the area or unfamiliar with Evanston. “I used to live in Rogers Park about 10 years ago, and I would shop in Evanston quite a bit. This is where we lived our lives. We shopped here, we came to the Whole Foods [then Wild Oats], that was our grocery store. I came to this movie theater to watch movies, came to different restaurants, things like that. I would say in a nutshell, it feels like a homecoming.”
Ms. Singh is also excited about the location, being so close to public transportation. “This just ended up being a great spot. I don’t drive, so for me it’s great. I take the Purple Line. I live downtown, so I take the bus, then I take the train. This is a godsend for me….I am a big fan of public transportation.”
Terra and Vine features 90 to 100 seats, a 40-seat bar, and an outdoor patio with around 70 seats, plus a private dining room that seats up to 140, which can be separated into three rooms.