Location – 1576 N. Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Damen, North intersection)
In one word – Reliable
Food – If you are looking for reliable Italian cuisine, you’ll find solace at FF. I came with my eating partner for lunch and after much debate, decided to go with the gnudi. FF’s gnudi is similar to gnocchi. The pasta is made with ricotta and spinach served in a light tomato sauce. I started eating, I started enjoying, and all of a sudden, my bowl was empty! It was the perfect portion for lunch, filling me up without making me feel too stuffed. My eating partner decided to go with the insalata con uova (salad with asparagus, fried egg, parmesan and white truffle oil). She finished it off almost as quickly as I finished the gnudi. All in all, very satisfied at Francesca’s Forno.
Drink – We stuck with water. But, on Mondays right now, there is a half priced wine bottle promotion.
Service – We came at lunch on a Monday, so the place was uncharacteristically empty. No line, no wait. We were allowed to sit and chat for as long as we wanted. Beware though, this is not the norm. If you come here for brunch or dinner on the weekends, get a reservation and be prepared to wait even with that reservation. Our server was attentive and was helpful with our questions, couldn’t ask for more.
Scene – The place has a casual, rustic feel to it. It fits in with the overall vibe of that part of Wicker Park. Being near the El, this restaurant attracts shoppers from around the city as well as Wicker Park locals.
Dress – You’ll be fine in the usual Wicker Park attire – quirky t-shirt and jeans. However, you won’t be out of place if you decide to dress it up a bit.
Cost – So I paid $12 for food, tax and tip. Pretty decent in my book.
If you like, try…La Luce
Location – 464 N. Halsted (Grand and Halsted)
In one word – Underdelivers
Food -This place was hyped up a lot. They were getting press all over the place, so I was expecting to be blown away by the food. I was not. Don’t get me wrong, the food was good, it just wasn’t outstanding. The upside to the place is that they get their produce locally at the Green City Market, so things are fresh. Our table shared the Bianca con Rucula pizza (a white pizza with parmesan, olive oil and argula). It’s a nice dish to share. I think I would have been overwhelmed by the olive oil had I chosen this as my main. Then we moved on to salads. I chose the Insalata di Pesche (pronounced “PESK-A,” as our server told us…twice), which was peaches with goat cheese. I would order this again. My eating partners dove into the Panzanella, veggies and bread in an olive oil marinade (worth getting!) and the caprese salad (pretty standard). Then we moved on to the main. The good thing about the pasta is that you can order an appetizer size, which proved to be the perfect portion for me. Our table ordered the meat lasagna, the spinach and ricotte gnocchi, the string cut spaghetti and paglia with a veal ragu. Nothing was notable, everything was just average. Our entire table had to uncharacteristically salt each dish because the sauces were bland. When the gnocchi came out, it was cold. That’s a mistake from Restaurant 101, we were not impressed.
Drink – I had the Soave white wine, which as the name says, was smooth.
Service – I am always a little bit accommodating towards a new restaurant, kinks have to be worked out. But our server stretched my accommodation threshold, he was straight up spastic. He said he didn’t know anything about the restaurant’s wine selection and requested that we order all our courses at once because “we are a new restaurant and are still figuring everything out.” When we were telling him the wine we were considering (and being very obvious about the price range we needed to stay in), he told us to get a bottle which was $20 more than what we wanted to spend. When we were ordering our food, he corrected our pronunciation of the Italian not once, but twice. And he did it in a really aggressive way. I’m all for correct pronunciation, but be tactful. And later in the meal, it comes out that he’s not actually Italian. His credibility was shot at that point. Overall, he was pushy and stood too close to us.
Scene – This is the old Thyme/Timo spot. Go when the weather is nice and request to sit on the patio, you really feel like you’re eating in a garden. Because the restaurant received so much press, it’s pretty busy. I was surprised to see it full on a Wednesday night.
Dress – While I did see an unfortunate soul wearing Crocks, most people seemed semi-stylish. Jeans are appropriate, but you need to look like you put a little effort into your look.
Cost – We each paid $45. For the amount of food, it’s seemed reasonable. For the caliber of food, it felt overpriced.
If you like, try…Anteprima
Location – 900 N. Michigan (Bloomingdale’s Mall)
In one word – Sufficient
Food – Lettuce Entertain You closed Tucci Bennuch…only to open another Italian restaurant in its stead. In Frankie’s Pizzeria, you can have pizza, antipasta, salads and a few pasta entrees. We shared a margharita pizza. For what it was, a pizza on Michigan Avenue, it wasn’t bad. However, I wouldn’t flock far and wide to get it. If you’re in the area and need a rest stop while shopping, this will suffice. At first I was a little turned off with the thick crust, but then I bit into it and was impressed by how soft it was. We also shared the arugula and fennel salad. It was fine, uneventful.
Drink – They have a wine list if you feel the need to inebriate yourself before walking into yet another Banana Republic along the Mag Mile. As it was just noon, I partook in a diet Coke.
Service – It’s fine, again nothing to report about.
Scene – This is a rest stop, not a destination. You really can come as you are (clothes-wise), no one will care. I always forget that the Mag Mile is filled with spoiled children carrying their overpriced American Girl dolls, so be prepared for that. We came at noon on a Saturday and it was relatively empty. When we were leaving around 1:30, the place was hopping.
Cost – For a pizza, a salad, a glass of wine (for my eating partner) and a diet Coke, we were charged $30. I had my handy Lettuce Entertain You gift certificate, knocking the price down to $15 not including the tip.
If you like, try…Foodlife, Wow Bao
Location – 620 N. State (State and Ontario)
In one word – Suprising
Food – Given its touristy location, my hopes weren’t high for this place. But, I was pleasantly surprised. You get traditional Italian fare with excellent service, what more could you ask for? All in all, I was satisfied with the food. I started with the baby argula salad. I thought it was a bit too salty, but luckily they kept the water flowing at my table. Then I moved to the butternut squash ravioli. I enjoyed it, but I was hoping the roasted sage on top would be slightly crispier (but that’s just my preference). My eating partner started with their speciality cheese. That went down fast, so I guess she liked it. Her entree was the penne pasta dish, which she dug. We ended the evening with the poached pear dessert. This was a relatively light dessert served with a shortbread cookie and a scoop of gelato. A couple of notes – At the front of the restaurant is Pizzeria via Stato, which is the pizzeria part of the place. It’s a more casual and cheaper option if you want it. Also, Osteria has a filling prix fixe menu. For $40, you get all the food you could ask for. If you’re a big eater, you might want to go this route.
Drink – Like its neighbor across the street, Osteria serves wine in quartinos (glasses and bottles are available too), which is both responsible and economical. Since it was a Wednesday, we chose this more mature option. We told our server that my eating partner loved reislings, so he brought out a comparable wine which we enjoyed very much.
Service – I really appreciate good service and tha,t is what we got at Osteria. And, I love it when a server’s recommendations are actually good (a rarity from my experience). He won on his recommendations for wine, cheese and dessert. That equals excellent tip. He was cute, too!
Scene – The inside of the place is covered with brick and wood, making the place feel relatively homey. We went on a Wednesday, so the restaurant was quiet and intimate. I think the vibe would be completely different on a weekend.
Dress – I wore jeans because that’s what I do. We were surrounded by other groups who chose to dress up slightly more, I think they were coming from work. I think jeans, khakis and dresses all work for this place. You’re trying too hard if you come here in a suit.
Cost – The total cost was about $85 for two. This included salad, cheese, two entrees, dessert and wine. All in all not bad. Here’s where we got our price saver, I joined the Lettuce Entertain You Frequent Diner program and have accrued more than my fair share of points (which is very easy to do in Chicago). So we used my $25 gift certificate, knocking our total meal to $60 for two. Not bad, eh?
If you like, try…Quartino, La Madia, A Mano
My previous awesome experience at Anteprima was completely tainted last night. We had to wait 30 minutes to be seated despite having a reservation. Our server was just plain rude and completely distracted from ensuring we had a pleasant dining experience. And, I found the tagliatelle to be a bit too salty and dry for my liking. My eating partners were very disappointed by the short ribs. The only thing that redeemed the trip was that they are still offering their $30 Restaurant Week menu to patrons.
Location – 5316 N. Clark (Clark and Summervale)
In one word – Compensating
Food – I felt like I had a true gastronomic experience at Anteprima! We started with a plate of appetizers brought out by the owner (more on why later): Roasted peppers with breadcrumbs (fab!), marinated olives, caponata, cannellini beans, faro, and sweet and sour onions. Then we sampled the most gourmet bread on a stick I’ve ever had–prosciutto and a salted breadstick. That was all to start! Some of my eating partners chose an additional starter to share. They said that the polenta, mussels and radicchio were all stunning. The cheese with the radicchio was especially notable. For my main, I chose a half order of ricotta and chard ravioli. I have to say that the brown butter and sage combination on top of the pasta made me euphoric. And the half portion was just right. One of my eating partners tried the braised beef. It was so tender that it flaked off like pulled pork! How my eating partners had space for dessert is beyond me. They had the apple fennel bread pudding and could only say good things.
Drink – We were reunioning, so it was a sort of celebration for my group. We chose a couple great bottles in the moderate price range and everyone was happy.
Service – So here’s the story. Our reservations were at 8:30. By 9:15, we were still waiting at the bar to be seated. One of my eating partners put up a huff. Here’s what I appreciated–the owner of the restaurant responded accordingly. He gave us complimentary appetizers, which showed me that he appreciated our patronage. I understand that unexpected problems come up when running a restaurant. All I ask is that restaurants are apologetic when mistakes happen and Anteprima did exactly that. Kudos to them!
Scene – The scene was super sociable here. All the couples/groups came to talk over great food and wine. Being in Andersonville, the vibe was casual.
Dress – We were all wearing jeans and sweaters and fit in perfectly.
Cost – For all of that food and wine (appetizers were comped), we each paid $58 including tax and tip. I thought it was such a deal!
If you like, try…Spacca Napoli
Location – 59 W. Grand (Grand and Dearborn)
In one word – Dominos
Food – Pizza and wine? Of course I was excited about coming to La Madia! Unfortunately it is another Spacca Napoli wannabe. We started with the toasted bruschetta, which was a highlight of the meal for me. For pizzas, we went with the classic margarita and the La Madia sausage, onion, pepper pizza. La Madia’s version of the margarita pizza was like a thin crust cheese pizza from Dominos. Sure I ate it, but I wasn’t impressed. I was much happier with the sausage pizza. We supplemented our meal with the organic mixed green salad. It was nothing to write home about. For dessert, my eating partners picked the chocolate tortino. I was too stuffed to try it, but they seemed satisfied with it.
Drink – We ordered a cheap bottle of pinot noir, Parker Station. It didn’t have much flavor. I would suggest another selection if you head over to La Madia.
Service – Because they’re a new restaurant, the manager came over twice to check that everything was going well with our meal (which it was). Our server didn’t seem to like us that much, but all in all it was fine.
Occasion – With the dark lights and the mod furniture, the place feels slick. I would say come here for a date or with a group of your girl friends. It did seem a little loud, so choose an eating partner who can project.
Cost – We paid about $30 each for the meal. I thought for the amount of food we ordered, that was appropriate.
If you like, try…Spacca Napoli, Quartino, A Mano
Location – 335 N. Dearborn (Dearborn and Kinzie)
In one word – Quartino-y
Food – To sum it up, this place is Quartino Jr. The concept is the same as Quartino. The menu is similar to Quartino. Perhaps the atmosphere is a bit more sophisticated than Quartino, but for now my preference is…Quartino. My eating partner and I decided to really sample the menu, so here’s the run-down: Mole Salame (actually one of my favorites of the night, the mole flavor really shines through), Roasted Peppers with Honey Goat Cheese (good but nothing new),Fatto a Mano Fennel Sausage Pizza (this was thin, but messy. I still prefer the Spacca Napoli pizza to this), Pappardelle with Braised Boar and Raisins (this was another highlight for me) and Rabiolo and Ricotta Cheesecake (we didn’t really dig this, very heavy). Overall it’s good and worth trying. Will it blow your culinary mind away? Not by a long shot.
Drink – I was happy with our selection. We both had the Cortaccia Pinot Nero and the Dolcetto. Red, bright and complimented our food.
Service – Off the bat, I was worried. When we walked in there were three hostesses, I was hoping that at least one of them would be civil towards us. But I understand that is a lot to ask. Luckily the restaurant redeemed itself. Our server was perfect. He knew the answers to our questions. Offered us samples of wines when we asked for recommendations and didn’t charge us for theunfulfilling dessert (because he recommended it to us). That experience gave me an overall positive experience of the place.
Dress – We went on a Friday night. The crowd was a bit older. A lot of 40, 50, 60-something couples. Also, a few groups of 30-something women, perhaps a “Girls Night Out?” I would advise not dressing super casual if you’re coming at night. Perhaps a simple dress or your best jeans with heels would work better.
Cost – For our meal (minus the dessert, plus a good tip), we each paid $40.07. Yes, it was pricey, but we indulged in a lot of food.
If you like, try…Do I even need to repeat it? Quartino
So recently I came to Frasca for brunch. I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of wait time and the actual cuisine. I ordered the oatmeal pancakes, which totally hit the spot! Bottomless mimosas are available (which sound great in theory, but I would assume bad in practice). Nevertheless, a nice new addition to the brunch rotation!
Location – 3358 N. Paulina (Paulina, Roscoe, Lincoln)
In one word – Leisurely
Food – Come for Italian small plates. We ordered a small plate of olives with oranges. It was pretty good, though my eating partner and I agreed that the olives at avec are better. We then shared the caponata pizza, with eggplant, artichokes, goat cheese and red peppers. It was enjoyable but a little too messy for my liking.
Drink – It was warm out, so we ate al fresco and drank white wine. Perfection! I had the pinot bianco. The wine list is impressive.
Service – Our server did not really know about white wine, but other than that, everything was fine. She recommended a chardonnay when we asked for a light white wine. Even I know that’s wrong. The manager came by to check on us during the meal, which I always appreciate. Without a reservation, we only had to wait 20 minutes to sit outside on a Friday night.
Occasion – You’ll see a mix of overly adorable West Lakeview families, dates and girls commiserating over not having dates.
Dress – Look cute, you could sport a dress. However, if you show up in jeans, you wouldn’t stand out.
Cost – For our shared appetizer, pizza and beverages, we each paid $30.
If you like, try…avec, Quartino
Location – 1406 W. Belmont (Belmont and Southport)
In one word – Cute
Food – If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love Neapolitan pizza. As a result, I was super excited about coming here. My eating partner and I shared one of the pizzas on special – it was abianca pizza with Italian sausage, carmelized onions, roasted red peppers and mozzerella. Delicioso! I truly enjoyed it and devoured my half of the pie. Then we decided to indulge in the gelato. I got mint chip and my eating partner got the chocolate hazelnut. It had been a while since I had good gelato , so I was worried I’d be disappointed. No worries people, it was fantastic. My eating partner lived in Rome for a while, so when she gave the thumbs up on it, I knew it was quality. The big question: Was it better than Spacca Napoli in Lincoln Square? The answer: No, however the food is still well worth trying.
Drink – BYOB so you’ll save on cost. There is a $5 corkage fee.
Service – I’m a fan of places where the owner and/or chef interacts with the clientele. Here, the owner is running around taking orders, busing tables, basically making sure your experience is excellent. At no point did I feel neglected by the staff during our meal. And we weren’t rushed to leave either.
Occasion – I saw a lot of families and twosomes (either dates or friend get-togethers). I wouldn’t come here with a big group because the space of the restaurant is small.
Dress – It’s a local Lakeview establishment, so you have a wide range of clothing options that you can get away with. I came straight from work and was fine. You also have children in their end of summer shorts. No one looked twice.
Cost – We paid $15 each for a shared pizza and two gelati. The BYOB aspect helps you save on cost.
If you like, try…Frasca, Spacca Napoli
Location – 2148 W. Chicago (Chicago and Leavitt)
In one word – Perfection
Food – I loved loved loved my experience at a tavola. They specialize in Northern Italian cuisine, but to me the cuisine could just be titled “delicious.” As our starter, we shared the gnocchi with brown sage butter and paremesan. I’m ready to make that an official food group in my diet, I loved it so much. It was fresh, light and so well flavored. Then for our entrees we took the roasted chicken with parmesan polenta and garlic spinach. I don’t typically enjoy chicken entrees, but I was cleaning the bone. I found that they managed to roast the bird in a way that still preserved its juiciness. My eating partner had the fish of the day, the escarole, with new potatoes and broccoli. She kept talking about how buttery it was (in a good way). We splurged and went for dessert afterwards. The panna cotta literally made me melt. I have never had a dessert that delicately fabulous…ever. We also had their honey and apple tart, nothing in comparison to the panna cotta, but still great.
Drink – They have an extensive wine list, but we decided to pass.
Service – The restaurant is small, so we didn’t have one specific waiter. The three sort of bounced around to all tables. I liked all of them, particularly because they had a sense of humor in such a potentially formal place.
Occasion – You could come here on a date, or when an aunt is in town. The atmosphere is intimate and quiet, so don’t come here with the frat brothers. The crowd is a bit older and there were a couple families, so act on your reasonably best behaviour.
Dress – It’s formal but not overly formal. You can get away with any outfit that shows you’re at least trying to make an effort.
Cost – For the shared pasta, an entree and a dessert plus sparkling water, I paid $47. For me it was an occasion, my best friend was in town. We thought that price was totally worth the experience.
If you like, try…Volare, West Town Tavern