Allison Levitt, pastry chef at 312 Chicago, is dedicated to green causes. Â She studied environmental biology before realizing she didn’t want to work in a lab all day. Â As she switched to the Culinary Institute of America, she kept her eco-streak. Â Instrumental in making 312’s kitchen more efficient, she oversaw the installation of a faucet aerator (to reduce water waste), compact fluorescent light bulbs and LED exit lights.
Economy also defines her pastry philosophy. Â A veteran of top kitchens like North Pond and New York’s Gramercy Tavern, Levitt is no stranger to architecturally sculpted sweets replete with endless ingredients. Â Still, she prefers rustic presentations that celebrate seasonal ingredients. Â At 312, fresh raspberries pair simply with vanilla panna cotta and almond pizzelles. Â Orange flower water and orange zest enhance the citrus notes of her moscato sabayon. Â Subtle repetition of flavors and judicious restraint separate Levitt’s seemingly accessible desserts from home cooking.
Q. What do you wish you could change or pickle and preserve about the Chicago restaurant/ food scene?
A. A lot of the recent press has focused on molecular gastronomy and “experimental” cuisine. Â I wish there was more appreciation for simple, rustic food done well. Â Maybe some people feel that rustic food takes no skill or creativity, but I think it takes restraint not to mess with beautiful ingredients.
Q. What would your last meal be?
A. A leisurely Italian-style meal made at home with my husband: Â salumi, vegetable antipasti, homemade pasta, grilled fish and affogato (ice cream with espresso added) to finish.
Q. What Chicago chef would you be most willing to share a kitchen with?
A. My husband Robert (of Fiddlehead Cafe, 4600 N. Lincoln, formerly of Del Toro) and I would really like to open our own place one day. Â We share the same philosophies and tastes, and my desserts definitely match his savory food.
Q. What’s the can’t-miss pastry dish at 312 Chicago?
A. Our pistachio tart. Â It’s soft and chewy and comes with a super-dark chocolate gelato.
Q. What should we know about 312 Chicago that we probably don’t?
A. Our menu offers so much more than “red-sauce” Italian food. Â I think most of our customers are business people from the neighborhood and pre-theater diners (we are next to the Cadillac Palace), but I feel that we should be more of a destination restaurant. Â We source amazing products here, and our chef and sous chefs are very creative and talented.
312 Chicago; 136 North La Salle Street, Chicago (312) 696-2420