Chicago Sun Times 

Italian food ranks highly among diners, so it's not surprising to see more and more restaurants specializing in the cuisine pop up with some frequency.

One such new arrival is ZaZa's Italian Steakhouse in west suburban Addison. It's run by Dino Sisto, who is building on the success of similar eateries in St. Charles and Sycamore.

The newest ZaZa's is a looker. There's a granite bar accented by mosaic tile. Dramatic red light fixtures hang from high ceilings, and the walls hold striking photos of the Colosseum and other sights that typify Rome. But one cautionary note: While the uncovered hardwood floors are nice to look at, once the dining room fills up, the noise level rises appreciably.

Traditional fare dominates the menu, and large portions seem to be the norm. Entrees average in the mid-teens for pasta, while steaks and chops start at $24 for an 8-ounce filet mignon and top out at $39 for a 20-ounce ribeye.

Italian beer is spoken here, but there's also wine to consider -- by the glass, bottle or in flights of three half-pours.

Insalata alla ZaZa ($7.95), an a la carte salad of romaine, mixed vegetables (including some raw carrots that should be julienned) and tasty Danish blue cheese, easily can feed four. With that in mind, ordering an appetizer might be an unnecessary extravagance. On the other hand, one could make a meal out of the individual 7-inch thick-crust pizzas and by sharing such antipasti as calamari, mussels, carpaccio, grilled portabella or stuffed artichoke.

Homemade Italian sausage was just the ticket to some satisfying eating. The meat, with flavor nicely enhanced by fennel seeds, came topped with roasted peppers and red onions in a wine sauce. A serving of linguini completed the dish.

Another noteworthy entree, a recent special, was salmon aqua pazza ($22.95): wild salmon -- nicely seared on the outside yet moist within -- served with a scallops and capers in a cherry tomato sauce.

Among other main-course options emanating from the restaurant's bustling kitchen were pan-roasted veal medallions with sauteed asparagus, artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes; grilled marlin with sauteed shrimp; Lake Superior whitefish with capers and shallots in a lemon butter sauce, and chicken Saltimbocca, chicken breasts with prosciutto, fresh sage and wild mushrooms topped with mozzarella.

Desserts cover classic turf, from tiramisu to cannoli to spumoni. Assuage the sweet tooth by sharing a tartufo al cioccolato, a decadent ball-shaped chocolate gelato truffle.

Credit ZaZa's, too, for its meticulous service provided by a convivial waitstaff.

Thomas Witom is a local free-lance writer.

Kane County Chronicle  

Dino Sisto, also known as the owner of La ZaZa Trattoria, has been part of downtown St. Charles for almost a decade.

Yet, Sisto said, people keep asking him if he's going to close his restaurant. In a word, he said, the answer is no.

"I just want people to know that ZaZa's is staying," Sisto said this week.

He wants the public to know he has no intention of leaving St. Charles — that, despite plans being crafted to reconstruct and redevelop the First Street corridor south of Main Street.

That is where Sisto's restaurant is located, at 5 S. First St.: It's a property recently bought by the city of St. Charles for the First Street redevelopment project. Sisto rents the space and said he has four years left on his lease.

Since Jan. 1, he's been paying rent to the city, yet he said he keeps getting questions about when he's going to close. Since rumors started, his business has been affected, he said.

"Business is really off for some reason, I don't know why," Sisto said, as he acknowledged it could be simply a slower time of the year.

If there are questions about the restaurant's future, they might stem from city government pronouncements that have suggested the restaurant does not have a future at its current location.

Yet the city's community development director, Robert Hupp, said Friday that no decision has been made and acknowledged Sisto's restaurant could return to the same site, once the current building is demolished and replaced by a new structure.

"Part of the idea is adding floor area and putting in other leaseable space," Hupp said. "Certainly, that is subject to change. There has been discussion (Sisto) might need to go somewhere else during the period of construction."

On the other hand, City Administrator Larry Maholland said the plan to demolish the building has been revised, and the idea now is for ZaZa's to stay in the current building, with some modification to the facade and an extension made to the south.

Sisto said, however, he wants specific plans about the developers' intentions for his location. He's had informal talks with lead developer partner Robert Rasmussen, Sisto said.

"(Rasmussen) basically said they are considering leaving us where we are at, and maybe pushing (extending the space south), leaving the bar more space upstairs," Sisto said, adding nothing has been settled.

"It is kind of up in the air," Sisto said.

One possibility would be for an extension of the business across an alley immediately south of the building and into the space now covered by the vacant Vi's Last Call tavern. Hupp said, however, that the Vi's site is envisioned as a public plaza in the redevelopment project.

A different future for the restaurant is offered on a city of St. Charles Web site, which presents an explanation of the First Street project. City officials said they "would like to see existing businesses thrive in new locations that support their success in downtown ... ."

The Web site said the city has worked "with the developer to make sure the development plan offers the opportunity for The Manor, ZaZa's and Vi's to relocate, should they wish."

The city's explanatory report also cited the need for an "attractive gateway to the First Street area, convenient public access to the riverfront and parking areas, a public plaza and right-of-way improvements ... ."

"These objectives will not be realized without the relocation of these three businesses," the Web site stated.

Hupp clarified Friday, however, that the Web site remarks are about the buildings, not necessarily the individual businesses in them. Maholland said the idea never was that Sisto's restaurant had to move.

Sisto said if the city wants his restaurant moved, he would want a new location somewhere along the Fox River. The river is on the other side of First Street from his current location.

Sisto said, too, that he would have to keep operating in his current spot until any new location is completed.

"There's no way I could go out of business while I wait for it to be built," Sisto said.

The entrance to his restaurant is on the west side of First Street, just south of Main Street. And while he said he would prefer more space for his restaurant, Sisto can live without it.

"I'm OK, if they give me a little more space to put in a bar," he said.

Should the city want the restaurant out of its present location, it "would have to buy me out of my lease," Sisto said. "I am assuming the city would have to buy me out. I'd still have to agree."

The restaurant, although small, has gained a loyal following. It is the first of the ZaZa's restaurants. Today, Dino Sisto also operates a restaurant in Sycamore, while he expects to open an Italian steak house in Addison in April.

"It's one of the quality restaurants in town, there's no question about that," Hupp said Friday of Sisto's St. Charles location.

Sisto stressed that he has been loyal to St. Charles, noting he kept the restaurant open during the reconstruction of the Main Street bridge in 1997.

"I survived the bridge project," Sisto said. "I didn't just pack up and leave."