Walking around La Tavola Trattoria in Niles at its grand opening last week, Carlos Montiel was all smiles as he greeted guests.
Co-owners Mario Montiel and Mark Kroh were also on hand to welcome diners during the crowded evening. A third Montiel brother, the French-trained Chef Eddy, is one of the restaurant's two chefs; the other is Chef Sergio.
"I recommend to be daring when you come to La Tavola," Carlos Montiel said. "Get half and half dishes--like half veal, half pasta. Indulge. The Veal Carlos is terrific."
All of the pasta is homemade, he said, describing that as part of the restaurant's philosophy of serving gourmet Italian food that is priced as a good value for the money.
It's worked before. Montiel opened his first restaurant in 1985, and his partnership owns Carlos and Carlos Restaurants in Arlington Heights, Guatemala and the Montiel brothers' native Costa Rica. They also own in Northfield.
"We also own coffee farms and macademia farms in Guatemala," said Carlos Montiel.
As an entrepreneur, he takes note of sites he likes, and he liked the 8808 N. Milwaukee Avenue site in Niles when he first saw it about 20 years ago.
"I saw a charismatic, busy place," he said. "I came a few times, then drifted away.
After Rossini's closed and then Kalyva, which at one point changed its name to Elia, closed, he came to see it again, describing it as dark and "like a sick child."
"I talked to Mark and Mario and said, 'I feel the same way today (about this place) as I felt 25 years ago when I opened my first restaurant in Chicago."
They needed some convincing, but Carlos Montiel said he urged them to look at the place's potential.
"Everyone wants to take the best looking girl," he said. "This was a beautiful girl, she just needed a haircut."
A contractor was brought in to give the "girl" a new look, with warm colors and woodwork, in a contemporary Mediterranean style.
"I see a need for something like this--something full of life, with great service and food," Montiel said.