Posts Tagged ‘organic’

Buon Appetito – Our Favorite Italian Restaurants

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

we say:

Supposedly, if you give a baby hundreds of toys to choose from, he’ll get totally overwhelmed and not play with a single one.  We, like spoiled rotten babies, have had a similar reaction to reviewing Chicago’s Italian restaurants.  Chicago is home to some of the best Italian cuisine in the country, but where do we begin when there are literally thousands of Italian restaurants, one on almost every corner?  And how can we compare a place like Spiaggia to a neighborhood osteria?  And what about pizza? Pizza!  And how many Italian restaurant reviews will you, our friends, read before you fall asleep or abandon us forever?  Life is so complicated; we’ll just do our best and hope you like us anyway.  Andiamo.

Our Top Five:

  1. Enoteca Roma (Wicker Park) – We love this small, somewhat low-key (for Wicker Park) eatery for its incredibly flavorful bruschettas, cheeses and pastas.  We love the family-style approach and the way they pour their polenta onto marble slabs.  We love their patio too.   Really though, there’s no trick to why they’re first on our list; the food is superior and that’s what matters.
  2. Rose Angelis (Lincoln Park) - We doubt you’ll find this one on many other Best Italian lists, but you should.  It’s hard to beat Rose Angelis’  huge portions of hearty, homemade pasta.   Formerly the first floor of a home, the cozy layout and setting will charm your pants off (they’ll already be unbuttoned to make room for your pasta baby).  As impossible as it may seem, try to leave room for one of their spectacular desserts.
  3. Piccolo Sogno (River West) – A “little dream” come true.  This upscale Northern Italian restaurant’s menu is as fabulous as its decor.  An impressive place to take out-of-towners, but make your reservation well in advance.  Their mozzarella cheese melts on the tongue and their wine list is impeccable.  They use authentic ingredients combined in wonderful ways, presented artfully.  If you go to their website, be prepared to rock out to some dramatic Italian crooning that starts off like a smooth jazz rendition of the theme song from St. Elmo’s Fire.
  4. Anteprima (Andersonville) - This one almost didn’t make the cut because one of us finds it underwhelming, but here it is, numero quattro, and nobody has to sleep on the couch.  Everyone’s a winner!  Anteprima serves rustic Italian dishes with local, seasonally-inspired ingredients.  The atmosphere is warm and cheerful and totally unpretentious.  They also make their own limoncello. Yum.
  5. Cibo Matto (Loop) and Pelago (Gold Coast) – Between these two, it’s toss up.  Both are trendy and oozing with swank.  Cibo Matto is located in the ultra-hip Wit hotel; Pelago in the boutique Raffaello Hotel.  Cibo Matto is over-the-top stylish while Pelago is more reserved and sophisticated.  Both serve Italian gourmet with a modern twist.  We suggest the Pollo a Griglia at Cibo Matto and the fettuccine with truffles at Pelago.

Our Favorites (In A League of Their Own):

Our Favorite Neapolitan-style (woodfire oven) PizzaAntica Pizzeria (Andersonville)

Our Favorite Italian Sandwiches – Narrowly beating out the neighborhood fave, Piatto Pronto (Edgewater) is L’Apetito Imported Italian Foods (Near North Side).   Check out this Italian deli and delicacy store and get an amazing sandwich to go.  Avoid the tourist trap in the Hancock and stop by the deli in the cathedral district. We suggest Il Parma. It’s topped with the best fresh mozzarella to squeeze it’s way between two slices of bread.

Our favorite Italian Chicagoan – This Guy:

We’re still in search of our favorite gelato.  Got tips?

If we missed one of your faves, use the comment section to let us know.  We’d love to try it …  or tell you why we omitted it (probably because of the weird smell and the cockroaches).  In the meantime, we’ll just be sitting here, staring at our toys and throwing temper tantrums.

Green Zebra, West Town

Friday, January 15th, 2010

he said:

Feeling a little full of toxins after our Christmas and New Years celebrating, my beautiful girlfriend and I wanted to go out to a healthy dinner. Also, we wanted it to be just the two of us. Holiday parties are fun and waist-expanding, but a little one-on-one time was needed as well.

So we chose Green Zebra based on the fact that it was vegetarian. Should be fairly healthy, right?

Not so green when you’re driving in circles

First things first, this place is really hard to find. My lovely and talented girlfriend had just gotten me an iPhone for Christmas, and we were using the map function to get us there, but that still didn’t help. We drove in circles looking for an unmarked door. If she hadn’t been there already and remembered what it looked like, we may never have found it.

Maybe a little valet would help, too. Not a lot of parking in the neighborhood.

So we finally find the spot, and I’m unimpressed as we walk in. The place looks like it’s an old set from Miami Vice. Too be fair, it doesn’t have as much neon.

Great vegetarian food

But once the food started coming out, I was happy. Being new to eating whole meals that do not include a slaughtered animal, I’m always a little concerned when I go to a place that has just vegetarian options. I need not worry, I always enjoy these restaurants.

And Green Zebra was very good. We started with a burrata cheese course that had tangerines, pumpernickel crumbs, and a salted cucumber that was the highlight of the meal. I don’t know the difference between salted cucumber and pickle, but it tasted different and it was delicious.

That first course was the highlight of the whole meal for me. I had a parsnip and leek soup that was great on a cold night and wonderfully creamy. The faro risotto was a little dry and too straightforward to be memorable.

And the last course I had was warm braised artichoke and beet salad. I thought I might be getting a salad, for some reason. But it was a pasta dish. Well, I get why the call it a salad, based on the ingredients, but it looked and tasted like pasta. I really liked it, though, and would definitely recommend it.

I don’t know if we accomplished our goal of eating smarter—we had a big meal. But I’m sure we ate healthier than we have been. And I know we ate very well at Green Zebra.

she said:

First, a confession. I ducked out on the parking fiasco. I was trying to look all cute for our date so I wore high heels, which is just plain stupid during the winter in Chicago. He dropped me off at the front door because he’s nice.

Green Zebra is, indeed, a mostly vegetarian restaurant, but by no means is it a restaurant designed to impress only vegetarians. The food is exquisite, artfully prepared and presented. It’s gourmet without pretense (and that goes for the service too). You’re encouraged to order 3-4 plates; the menu is visually separated into categories so you pick one dish per category. The plates are small (because small is big these days), but satisfying, and the food is mostly organic and locally grown. There are usually 1-2 meat options (chicken or fish), which, to me, feels like an unnecessary fail-safe against warding off skeptical vegephobics.

For my first dish, I ordered a shaved papaya and salted mango salad, which was good but not amazing, in part because the description created an expectation that the dish didn’t meet. The salad was mostly greens and if I hadn’t been told, I’d have had no idea papayas or mangos were present. I also had the sunchoke ravioli with a poached quail egg – yum – and the celery root crepe – double yum. Two thumbs up for creative approaches to winter vegetables.

I second Guy’s praise of the burrata cheese dish. The cheese was buttery and smooth with unique accompaniments. As for the decor, it’s not particularly appealing to me either. They’re going for super modern, but ended up with posh Floridian hotel lobby. You’ll get over it (if that’s necessary) with your first bite. Or your first sip. Though the cocktail selection didn’t jump off the page to either of us, the wine list is top notch.