Located in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center, the restaurant will bring its famous rustic, Italian cuisine to the 150 seat space. Restaurateur Scott Harris has opened over 20 Francesca’s Restaurants in the Chicago Area since 1992, and is excited to bring his concept to the west coast.
Mia Francesca features a large open patio, indoor trattoria style dining, and a 50 person private dining room. Chef Woody Benitez leads the kitchen, providing Francesca’s classic fare of zesty, earthy cuisine of Rome and the surrounding areas of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio. The wine list and cocktails are equally impressive in this new, one of a kind location.
About Mia Francesca
Chef Scott Harris: When Chef Scott Harris opened the doors to Mia Francesca on North Clark Street in 1992, he created a trend in the Chicago restaurant scene that has become a benchmark for urban dining. Mia Francesca, touted an immediate success by the press and patrons alike, was one of the first restaurants to encourage the lively art of dining with a contemporary, casually sophisticated trattoria ambiance. Featuring simple, rustic cooking, friendly service and fair prices, Mia Francesca won accolades from Chicago Magazine as “Critics’ Choice – Rookie of the Year.”
For Harris, Mia Francesca represented both a start and a finish. A veteran of many well-known Chicago restaurant kitchens including; The 95th, Ambria, Cucina Cucina, Harry’s Café, Sole Mio, and Petthany’s in St. Croix, Mia Francesca was the culmination of his years of experience and the desire to provide Chicagoans with a new style of dining. To open Mia Francesca, Harris partnered with Michael Noone and Terry Alexander, restaurant entrepreneurs in their own right, whose subsequent successes include Streetside, Mod, and Sonotheque.
“Mia Francesca was a departure from what was happening in the Chicago dining scene. We were purposely informal, but we didn’t compromise the quality of the food. We took away the pretentiousness of the restaurant scene and offered an exciting dining experience at a good price,” Harris says.
Harris has expanded his vision to include additional restaurants throughout the Chicagoland area, each time partnering with astute restaurant professionals and often including each chef as a partner. This managerial philosophy of building working partnerships, not just obtaining financial backers, has had a direct influence on the success of his restaurants. “We have really created a Family of Restaurants. Everyone has a vested interest in the restaurant’s success,” Harris notes.
Chef Massimo Salatino: A native Italian, Massimo Salatino’s career has spanned two decades, from kitchens in Italy to New York City, eventually settling in Chicago. As a youngster, Salatino worked at a friend’s restaurant, where his enthusiasm and thirst for culinary knowledge was rewarded as they encouraged him to become a chef.
He obtained a degree in culinary arts from Italy’s prestigious Scuola Alberghiera di Stresa, Lago Maggiore in 1982, and thus began his professional culinary career. Salatino worked in several celebrated Italian kitchens, including those of the Grande Hotel at the Regina Palace Hotel and at Harry’s Bar in Venice. In 1989, Salatino moved to NYC, where he worked as Executive Chef at Ciao Bella, Bellini and Cipriani restaurants.
Salatino followed his heart to Chicago in 1991 (he had met a woman in NYC who was a Chicagoan and would later become his wife), where he took the opening Executive Chef position at Vivo. After 7 years, he opened one sixty blue as Sous Chef and in 1999 took the position of Corporate Chef for the Francesca’s Restaurants group.
Salatino has been recognized in publications including Bon Appetit, Gourmet, and La Tavola and is involved in numerous charitable organizations to which he generously gives his time and expertise. His rustic, Northern-influenced Italian cooking focuses on fresh ingredients and simple techniques, and when asked what it is about cooking he enjoys best, would tell you that he still “learns something new each day.” He and his wife Holly live just outside of the city in Wheaton, Illinois and have two children.