Alpana Singh knew she wanted to be in the restaurant business since she was a little girl. Growing up in Monterey, California, her father was a professional chef, and her mother, a server. “Truth be told, I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s in my blood,” she says. At the age of 15, she was working in her first restaurant; by 23, she had remarkably landed a sommelier position at Chicago’s four-star gem Everest; and by 26, she became the youngest female to ever pass the Master Sommelier Exam.
Other opportunities soon followed, like once hosting the long-time PBS dining review series, “Check, Please!” and then opening her first dining establishment in 2012 where she has really found a niche. Though, after the success of wine-inspired Boarding House and the American spinoff Seven Lions in Chicago, Singh chose to move north for her latest venture. Called Terra & Vine, the Italian hot spot opened in the fall with a menu of braised dishes, pastas, pizettes, and a wood rotisserie. It’s also notable for featuring one of the largest private dining options in town, with nearly 60 percent of the space devoted to meetings and events. “It’s a big focus of ours,” she promises.
ILM+E: Why did you choose Evanston this time around?
AP: I used to live in Rogers Park 10 years ago and would often dine in Evanston. I feel like sometimes people want to be able to eat in their backyard and have that big city experience but don’t want to go all the way downtown. One of the lessons I learned from doing “Check, Please!” is that people want good food wherever they are, it’s not relegated to just River North.
ILM+E: What other “Check, Please!” lessons did you use in becoming a restaurateur?
AP: One thing I learned consistently was that the element people were looking for most was service. Good food of course, too, but what made a place a favorite was the culture of service and hospitality. And that is more important than ever in Evanston with such a close-knit community.
ILM+E: Italian food and culture is also notable for bringing people together around the table. What group dining options are at Terra & Vine?
AP: We are going big with private dining. There are four distinct spaces—the smallest option is the Capri Room, a cozy nook for 10-12 people, but the piece de resistance is the 140-seat room in the back. It’s very modular and adaptable with air walls. We have menus with multiple courses, reception-style packages and buffets. Because we’re not open for lunch yet, we can offer meeting spaces as well and breakout activities like blind wine tastings. We’re also putting together options for nonprofits that can fit their budgets.” terraandvine.com; 847.563.4333