Enoteca Roma, Wicker Park


he said:

It must be the place to have birthday dinners in Chicago. I’ve been to maybe 5 birthday dinners since I moved here, and Enoteca Roma was the site of two of them–the first one I’ve ever been to here, and my most recent, which was a few weeks ago.

The first time, I had no idea what to expect. This was back when the lady and I were still long-distance relationshipping, and I flew in from New York on a Friday when she had plans. There was nothing definite scheduled between us*, so I took a cab to meet her at her friend’s birthday party. At Enoteca Roma. I thought I’d be eating a cardboard burger at the airport, and I ended up with one of the best Italian meals I’ve ever had.

So when I found out we were going back, I couldn’t have been more excited.

*If you’ve ever made regular trips between Chicago and New York, you know why we didn’t clear our schedules. Seriously, like 75% of the time the flight is delayed.

The deal with Enoteca Roma, and the reason I think it’s such a hit with the birthday crowds, is the Mangia Mangia meal. It’s a never ending parade of deliciousness.  They cater the portions to the size of your party, though with the amount of food they bring out, I think they may have trouble counting. They could have fed a party twice our size.

I’ve also heard good things about the supposedly awesome back patio, though I’ve never eaten outside, and the connected bakery, Letizia’s, though I’ve never had room for dessert.

So, the food. You start with cheese, meat and bread.  And let me tell you, they had me with the smoked and cured meats. I could have put this course on an endless loop and died a smoked, cured and happy man.

Then comes the bruschetta and salad, which would be a highlight in most cases, but here, they’re surrounded by such greatness, you forget about them. I hope these dishes don’t mind, because we were good friends at the time, but by the time the end of the meal came, we’d grown apart.

After this course, it gets serious:

Mussels. Delicious, with plenty of bread to soak up the stew.

Polenta topped with a meat sauce. Kapow. But don’t fill up, we’re only halfway through.

Italian sausage. Tasty and moist, though a little outdone by the other courses.

And assorted pastas. Noodles, raviolis, white sauces, red sauces. It’s just one after the other, delicious dish after delicious dish.

I think that one more reason that this is such a popular birthday spot is that most people can only manage to enjoy this much good food once a year. This is some wonderful Italian food. I can’t wait for my next friend’s birthday party.

she said:

The Mangia Mangia meal is exactly what you should not be eating just weeks before you have to squeeze into a wedding dress.  I don’t care.  It was worth every creamy, cheesy, carb-laden calorie.

Unlike my guy, I am not a fickle friend to the bruschetta.  This wasn’t  bunch of diced tomato crap scooped onto bread.  Oh, no.  There were ten different kinds!  To name a few: black olive pate and capers, cannellini beans and red onions, strawberries with mascarpone and balsamic reduction, pear with honey and parmesan, brie and apple.  I couldn’t get enough of the stuff.  I will never forget you, sweet bruschetta.

Then came the tableside polenta.  Total one upper.  Like a messenger from the heavens, our waiter poured the warm cornmeal onto a slab of cool marble.  With loving precision, he topped it with spoonful after spoonful of sauce.  Since there were several vegetarians at the table, he covered ours in quattro formaggi, a creamy four-cheese medley that’s making my mouth water as I type.

And the pasta.  Oh, the pasta.  The orecchiette overflowed with garlicky, peppery flavor.  Nothing,  however, could have prepared me for the ecstasy that was the homemade pear ravioli, served in a walnut cream sauce.

I’m all for making dinner at Enoteca Roma a birthday tradition, but why limit it to birthdays when there are so many days that could be turned into perfectly good excuses to feast?  I mean, what’s wrong with Groundhog Day?  Nothing!  Or Pulaski Day?  Or how about Secretary’s Day?  Secretaries love spaghetti!  And don’t forget Flag Day! And Tax Day and Earth Day and Derby Day and Opposites Day…

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