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Mystery Diner: Cotto A Legna’s pizza, wine bar concept flourishes

GENEVA – Cotto A Legna means cooked by wood in Italian, and the wine-bar infused restaurant is doing just that to make one of Napoli, Italy’s, famed foodie exports – pizza.

Wood-fired pizza joints that use a brick oven and are fit with a wine bar have become quite a trend in recent years. But despite their simplicity, it’s not always easy to navigate who does it well. Neo’s in St. Charles and Cotto A Legna in Geneva happen to beat out much of the competition.

Rusticity abounds when it comes to Cotto A Legna’s food and atmosphere. Dark wood floors with beige walls to complement the earthiness added by slate accent pillars, combine well with the gritty – yet vibrant – abstract images that adorn the walls. The restaurant’s sleek, lighter-wood tables are beset with minimalistic chocolate chairs, and a cushioned bench flanks an outer wall. Bar seating also swings around the brick oven, so diners can enjoy the pizza-making process during their experience.

Cotto’s cutesy patio fit with orange umbrellas and a pergola, provides a peaceful setting for al-fresco dining despite the train traffic across the street. (The restaurant is located across the street from the Geneva Metra station.)

Settling in at a two-top near the window, our friendly waitress provided excellent service throughout the entirety of our experience. Around noon it was mildly busy on a Monday, but grew busier around 1 p.m.

We started with the Shrimp Cornetti ($12), which consisted of five robust grilled shrimp brushed with garlic and – strangely – an orange sauce then wrapped in Pancetta. The tangy and sweet flavors of the orange glaze teaming with the saltiness of the garlic and Pancetta tasted good, but I would have liked the shrimp to be more of the star of the dish rather than the orange glaze that overpowered the other ingredients.

For my entree, I opted to keep it classic with the Neapolitan favorite Pizza Margherita ($10), a 12-inch pie with tomato sauce, fresh Mozzarella, olive oil and basil. Urban legend has it that the Pizza Margherita was created in the late 1800s in honor of Queen consort Margherita of Savoy by Neapolitan pizzamaker Raffaele Esposito, who used its ingredients to represent the Italian flag.

Despite the story’s frail legitimacy, when the pie arrived, its rich hues of red, white and green actually did remind me of the Italian flag. My pizza was a thing of beauty. The gently charred edges gave an aromatic richness to the flavors of the Mozzarella’s saltiness, tang of the tomato and freshness of the basil.

My dining companion ordered one of the pastas on a recommendation – the Pollo e Cavatappi with spinach, grilled chicken and Cavatappi noodles smothered in a rich, creamy garlic sauce ($14). The hearty portion size and richness of the dish ended in leftovers, which we enjoyed later that evening with a glass of wine that paired very nicely.

The restaurant’s wine bar has a boastful selection of varietals from Italy and beyond, sold mostly by the bottle, with a slightly more limited selection served by the glass. It also stocks Italian brews, such as Moretti & Moretti La Rossa and Menabrea Bionda.

I’ve been to Cotto a couple other times when I ordered wine with my meal, and it really does add to the flavor profiles. Order wine – no matter what time it is. Between noon and 1 p.m. on a Monday afternoon, nearly every diner was sipping wine while enjoying his or her meal. If everyone’s doing it (just in this case) you should do it, too. Or as they say in Italy, “When in Rome ... .”

• The Mystery Diner is a newsroom employee at the Kane County Chronicle. The diner’s identity is not revealed to the restaurant staff before or during the meal. The Mystery Diner visits a different restaurant each week and then reports on the experience. If the Mystery Diner cannot recommend the establishment, we will not publish a review.

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