Consistency is the key to everything when it comes to food. If the pizza is fantastic today, it better be the same delicious pie next week when I return with a bunch of friends that I've raved about it to. And, though I usually do, I'm trying not to judge a restaurant by my first chance encounter, which is easier said than done.
Thankfully, after my first two disastrous meals (though the staff was wonderful and after a few glasses of wine, I had talked the owner into letting me join the kitchen crew to learn how to make pizza dough) at Piazza Bella, I've walked past its cute-as-a-button, packed house enough times to finally break down (that decision was partly fueled by a $25 Restaurant.com gift certificate that someone had given me) and give this popular Roscoe Village Italian haunt another try. (The results were so spectacular and the pasta just what I'm always craving, I'm there at least once a week now.)
Roscoe Village has become such a noted dining destination over the past few years (Kaze Sushi, Turquoise Cafe, Volo and La Mora top my list), that you have to be completely shipshape and offer top-notch fare just to stay open. If not, savvy diners move on to the next place just down the block. After giving her another try, lovely Piazza Bella is right up at the top with the rest of my favorites now. The adorable exterior is outfitted with pretty flowers, comfortable tables and a light breeze, which makes it my favorite place to kick back at lunchtime (lunch is the truly budget way to go here, where almost all dishes fall well under the $10 range and the portion sizes are still big enough to share).
I usually start off with the Insalata de cannellini salad ($5.95), a beautiful mix of small, firm white beans, slivered onions, chunks of tomato and bits of arugula, topped off with big, juicy shrimp and a douse of lemon juice. The panzanella salad ($4.95), made with ruby-red tomatoes, crunchy cucumbers and paper-thin slices of onions is refreshingly light and the grilled croutons are soaked through with just enough olive oil; it feels like the bread just melts in your mouth from the heat of your tongue.
But the one dish I go back for every single time is the Tortelloni Al Burro e Salvia ($7.95). Though it sounds untouchably fancy, it's simply a giant bowl full of feather-like homemade tortelloni stuffed with creamy ricotta (very fresh and authentic and not at all like the curd-like ricotta you may be used to) and specks of bright green spinach. The ultimate capper is the heavenly sage and brown butter heavy cream sauce that the pasta is bathed in (it's a remarkable experience to taste it for the first time). I love to watch people's expressions when they take their first exquisite bite; it's like the bliss of an Italian countryside has just washed over their weary bones and they've finally relaxed into la dolce vita.
THE FINAL RAVE: Since I'm addicted to my favorite pasta dishes, I still haven't given the just okay pizza from previous experiences another chance. Stay smart and just stick with the pastas, there is no way to go wrong in that department.
KEEP IT GOING:
Read It: Little Italy Chicago
This thorough Web site offers intel (and links) from the best Italian restaurants, tiny grocers and artisan bakeries that Little Italy Chicago has to offer.
Drink It: The Tasting Room
Indulgence and sophistication soar through every fiber of this Randolph Street Wine bar. It's a good thing it offers more than 100 choices of wine for you to demolish that impression with; it's all about the buzz, you know?
Eat It: Santullo's Eatery
Forget Chicago-style pizza. If you want perfect, cracker-thin pizza just like the Italians (and NY'ers) do it, order up a gigantic slice at this late-night Wicker Park favorite. Sorry Italy, but don't forget to order a side of homemade ranch to dip it in. That's just damn good stuff.
Get Crazy With It: Cooking Classes in Italy
This site is packed with recreational cooking classes offered all over the breathtaking country of Italy. If you find one in Cinque Terre (five villages), you will have think you've died and gone to heaven.
Fatcake Misty Tosh explores back-alley eateries, holes-in-the-wall and seedy ethnic joints as she treks the city in search of the next raving dish. Join her in the quest.