Restaurants: Mangia, Mangia, April 16, 2009 | Restaurant Review | Chicago Reader

Restaurants: Mangia, Mangia, April 16, 2009 

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Restaurant listings are culled from the Reader Restaurant Finder, an online database of more than 4,200 Chicago-area restaurants. Restaurants are reviewed by staff, contributors, and (where noted) individual Reader Restaurant Raters. Though reviewers try to reflect the Raters' input, reviews should be considered one person's opinion; the Raters' collective opinions are best expressed in the numbers. Complete searchable listings, Raters' comments, and information on how to become a Rater are at chicagoreader.com/restaurantfinder.

Mangia, Mangia

Eleven more near-west-side Italian restaurants

Bacchanalia2413 S. Oakley | 773-254-6555

$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11 | Cash only

For me, it was love at first bite of lobster ravioli: hand-rolled, creamy, and transcending the cliche vodka sauce to achieve a fine balance of richness and acidity. "Seafood and Pasta" is a delicious dish of noodles, calamari, lobster, shrimp, and mussels, in a light but intensely flavorful tomato broth. The veal saltimbocca pleased with thin slices, particularly hammy prosciutto, fresh rosemary, and just a touch of cheese. The only weak link in the chain was Chicago's own chicken Vesuvio, but even it packed more flavor than you might find elsewhere. I liked the food here so much I literally busted a button on my trousers, a sad though strangely satisfying sensation. This is a cozy neighborhood place with a bar and booths up front and a big old room in back. The friendly owner was tending bar, and service was simpatico, making us feel like regulars though we'd never stepped in before. —David Hammond

Bari Foods1120 W. Grand | 312-666-0730

$monday-friday 8 AM-6:30 PM, saturday 8 am-6 pm, sunday 8 am-1 PM

A grocery and deli (takeout only) on that stretch between Ashland and the Kennedy where West Grand suddenly goes Italian, Bari Foods makes a mean sandwich. On the abbreviated menu are subs stuffed with corned beef, roast beef, Italian sausage, or Italian deli meats, but a favorite is the fresh mozzarella and prosciutto sub, which packs ultrathin slices of melt-in-your-mouth prosciutto and hunks of squeaky cheese between the halves of a loaf of French bread crisp from the ovens next door at D'Amato's Bakery, and dresses it up with shredded lettuce, onion, tomato, and a dash of oil and Italian seasoning. The deli case includes a choice of fish salad, antipasto, and a selection of olives and other delicacies like lupini beans and hand-canned giardiniera. For an easier side dish, ask for one of the monster dill pickles. —Martha Bayne

Bella Notte1374 W. Grand | 312-733-5136

$$$Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30

Bella Notte serves classically prepared southern Italian food in equally classic old-world style. Raters rave about the huge, shareable bowls of pasta—a half-order is enough to feed two ravenous eaters; a whole order is best reserved for family-style dining. The menu offers primarily pasta, veal, and chicken in any number of preparations. More than a dozen pasta offerings range from simple rigatoni with vodka cream sauce to zuppa di pesce—a monstrous bowl of pasta that overflows with squid, clams, mussels, fish, and octopus in a tangy marinara sauce. Appetizers include crispy bruschetta and steamed mussels served in either a red or white sauce. Side dishes of greens (rapini, broccoli, spinach) sauteed with olive oil and garlic are also large enough to share. Rich, creamy tiramisu is a popular dessert with Raters. The only sour note in the place is struck by the ubiquitous Sinatra tunes. —Martha Bayne

Corosh1072 N. Milwaukee | 773-235-0600

$$Lunch, dinner: Monday-Saturday | Sunday brunch | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 1, other nights till midnight

On a weekend night the garden courtyard at Corosh was a great place to be: large, nicely decorated, and hidden away from the Milwaukee Avenue noise. We quickly settled on the garlic cream sauce mussels and prosciutto with melon as starters and the seafood risotto and lobster ravioli as entrees; secondi include several grilled meats and a couple Vesuvio preparations. The quality of the ingredients was very good overall (hammy prosciutto, a flavorful pesto sauce with the ravioli), though the bread was average at best. —Torbjörn Törnqvist, Rater

Follia953 W. Fulton | 312-243-2888

F 7.5 | S 7.2 | A 6.8 | $$$ (5 reports)Dinner: Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Sunday, Monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11:30

Passersby may mistake this stylish storefront for a boutique or gallery: the mannequins perched in the front windows are all wearing haute couture, and the waitstaff is made up mostly of models. But the food is the real deal: a refreshingly straightforward menu using mostly imported Italian ingredients and fresh cheese and pasta. The mozzarella on the caprese salad is made in-house, fresh and creamy and drizzled with an aromatic herbed olive oil. The pizzas don't have any designer elements and don't need them; margherita, napoletana (anchovies and oregano), and quattro formaggi all come on a deliciously chewy crust. The rest of the menu changes daily, but on one visit there was an assortment of homemade pastas for the first course: tagliolini with fresh shrimp and zucchini, ziti with tomato sauce and ricotta, a rich but al dente risotto with porcini mushrooms and asparagus. The limited selection of entrees one night included scallopinialla lombarda (veal in lemon sauce, pounded thin and served with fresh parsley and mashed potatoes) and a sole dish with shrimp, tomato, and capers that would have had more appeal if it hadn't been served in the foil it was baked in. —Laura Levy Shatkin

La Luce1393 W. Lake | 312-850-1900

F 8.4 | S 8.3 | A 8.7 | $$ (6 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday, Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Based on the rave reports of Raters, I thought I'd found a hidden gem. And first appearances were promising: the setting for this neighborhood Italian place, underneath the el tracks and across from a roof-perched water tower, is classic Chicago. There are just 13 tables or so in the handsome Schlitz-style corner tap with an Italian staff, and they're almost always packed—more good portents, you'd think. But grit—and we're talking do-not-risk-without-dental-insurance grit—in seven out of nine baked clams quickly dampened my hopes. The best part of my pallid green salad was the anchovy I cadged from my friend's Caesar, and he'd had to specifically request them. None of the other dishes we sampled from the very standard menu was anything beyond edible: flank steak in bracciole with linguine was gristly and the pasta overcooked; a halibut special was likewise overdone. Given the praise others have for this place, part of me feels I should give it a second chance. Trouble is, you couldn't pay me to. —Kate Schmidt

Natalino's1523 W. Chicago | 312-997-3700

$$$$Dinner: Seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

The dark, spacious bar and dining room at this old-school Italian-American joint—all man-friendly leather and taupe—seem to have beamed down directly from some well-appointed suburb. Which makes sense if you consider the restaurant's lineage: owner Michael Genovise and chef Martine Perdomo come direct from Park Ridge's Piano Piano. But despite the swanky stock decor, the food is a cut above the norm. An appetizer of thinly sliced eggplant wrapped around fluffy ricotta was surprisingly light and fresh; my plate of "Chicken Joey" was equally satisfying: three tender, lemon-drenched cuts of grilled chicken breast over a garlicky tangle of rapini, white beans, and coarsely chopped tomatoes. The vast selection of pastas includes a toothsome bowl of eight-finger cavatelli in vodka cream sauce and "Rigatoni Johnny," baked with ricotta, spinach, and pine nuts. A linguine special with shrimp and scallops wasn't exactly what the server described (where'd that asparagus come from?) but was fresh and well seasoned nonetheless. On the down side, the "Martini Salad" suffered from underripe mangos and a bland mayo dressing, and the most interesting bottle on the wine list was out of stock. Though I live in the neighborhood, I'm probably never going to be a regular—but the next time my parents come to visit, you may find us in a comfy corner booth. —Martha Bayne

La Scarola721 W. Grand | 312-243-1740

F 6.4 | S 5.6 | A 7.0 | $$$ (5 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Monday-Saturday till 11

Soup or salad? The eternal quandary. But at La Scarola it's one easily resolved with an order of escarole soup, a tasty broth glistening with golden globules of garlic and tender, slightly bitter leaves. Or you might try the hearty pasta e fagioli, made with good Italian cheese. The clams Mondelli here were very meaty, with relatively light breading and a superb tomato sauce. Gamberi risotto—shrimp wrapped in prosciutto with artichoke hearts—was sprinkled with sun-dried tomatoes for a likable contrast to the lush risotto, and eggplant parmigiana was delicious. You can get veal here in several preparations, but with meat this good, less is more: the simple chop was outstanding. This is a fun restaurant, and they pack 'em in most nights of the week. —David Hammond

Tufano's Vernon Park Tap1073 W. Vernon Park | 312-733-3393

$$Lunch: Tuesday-Friday; Dinner: Sunday, Tuesday-Saturday | Closed Monday | Open late: Saturday till 11 | Reservations accepted for large groups only | Cash only

Serving the neighborhood since 1930, this bright and bustling landmark is one of the last morsels of the original Little Italy that UIC hasn't swallowed, spitting up a parking lot in its place. Many of the cliches of Italian-American red sauce joints are in evidence—autographed celeb headshots, wine in water glasses—but long-standing customer loyalties give the place a genuine feeling that the weary meatballerias on Taylor Street can't muster. Meals and wine can be ordered family style off blackboards on the walls, and though it'll never be mistaken for a Roman trattoria, if you prefer to pretend, a mound of lightly fried calamari makes a sapid antipasti, and huge pasta plates can be halved to accommodate meatier secondi like crispy lemon chicken, roasted and buried in a mountain of fried potatoes. The place is typically busy, but warhorse waitresses keep the throngs moving, and if you break the ice at the bar it can be one of the more convivial places around to wait for a table. —Mike Sula

Tuscany on Taylor1014 W. Taylor | 312-829-1990

F 8.6 | S 8.6 | A 6.9 | $$$ (7 reports)Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days | Open late: Friday & Saturday till 11

rrr Tuscany's got the ringing endorsement of a former leader of the free world and a lot of Raters to boot. Photos of President Clinton and Mayor Daley with owner Phil Stefani greet you as you walk into this Taylor Street favorite. The sepia-toned room features an exposed kitchen with copper pots hanging overhead; green-and-white-checked tablecloths covered with butcher paper fill the classy, comfy space. Savory bulbs of roasted garlic with bread, olive oil, and Parmesan appear as you sit down. The menu that follows is full of classic, impeccably rendered northern Italian fare. An appetizer of marinated and grilled baby octopus over radicchio is succulent but not greasy, and large enough for two. Pastas are rich and hearty. The ravioli pera alla giorgio—ravioli stuffed with pears and Parmesan, bathed in a decadent puree of walnuts, pine nuts, cashews, sun-dried tomatoes, mascarpone, and more pears—is a standout. Sorbets are imported from Italy; all other desserts are baked (or stuffed) on the premises. The wine list is extensive, and service is friendly and informative. —Martha Bayne

Viaggio Ristorante & Lounge1330 W. Madison | 312-829-3333

$$$$Dinner: sunday, tuesday-Saturday | Closed monday | Open late: Friday & Saturday till midnight, tuesday-Thursday till 11

From a distance, Viaggio seems to have lassoed all the cliches of a pricey southern Italian red-sauce joint, beginning with a limited menu of pastas and meats dominated by tomatoes, peppers, ricotta, and bitter greens. And I wasn't reassured when I walked in and found two mirrored disco balls hanging among the flat-screens. But chefs Anthony Risoli and Victor Perdue quickly disabused me of those assumptions, beginning with a plate of house-roasted sweet-hot peppers and a basket of Turano's bread to sop up the oil. Appetizers show a bold but deft touch where things could so easily go off the rails: fried calamari tossed in a San Marzano tomato sauce were sweetened with a drizzle of aged balsamic, and two tremendous, bready meatballs in red sauce provided a counterpoint to a pile of verdant romaine leaves. Both pastas we tried—the signature rigatoni in "Sunday" pork gravy with enormous chunks of tender pork and an ice cream scoop of ricotta and the linguine with fresh-shucked clams tossed with whole cloves of roasted garlic—were cooked perfectly al dente. Entrees like a gigantic pork chop and a sea bass Francese special of silky fish in lemon butter sauce and topped with spinach and jumbo lump crabmeat are big enough to feed two. The quality of these familiar dishes is so high (and the portions so huge) that everything seems more or less in less in line with what may seem at first to be an excessively high price point. All I'd ask for is a few more southern Italian reds on the wine list. —Mike Sula

Please submit new listings or updates (include phone numbers) to restaurants@chicagoreader.com or Restaurant Listings, Chicago Reader, 11 E. Illinois, Chicago 60611.

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