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Chicago Italian Epidemic


LAZ
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What's with all these new Italians? Pretty soon the city's going to be all trattorie and sushi bars.

Riccardo Trattoria (Northern Italian from the longtime chef at Bice, opened February in Lincoln Park)

Terragusto (BYOB with organic, fresh pastas, opened February in Roscoe Village)

Spacca Napoli (Neapolitan pizzas, opened February in Ravenswood)

Tony Rocco's (casual homestyle, with twists like Broasted chicken, opened February in River North)

Jay's Amore on Madison Ristorante & Lounge (February in the West Loop)

Timo (March Italian redo of Thyme on the Near West Side)

Frasca (Pizzeria/wine bar from the cousins behind Dunlays on the Square and Dunlays on Clark, May in West Lake View)

Rosebud Prime (Italian steakhouse at 1 S. Dearborn St., May)

Cafe Bionda (South Loop, from an ex-Rosebud chef, May)

Trattoria 31 (Bridgeport, May)

Erba (Lincoln Square, from the people behind Brioso, May)

Gruppo di Amici (Rogers Park, opening in June)

LAZ

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It's really bizarre that so many are popping up at once. It almost feels like a (perceived) void appeared in the market a while back and a bunch of folks all decided, at around the same time, to attempt to fill it.

Of course, it's also a bit bleak. Knowing what the overall odds of success are in the industry, you look at this list and you've got to figure that, even with the deep pockets behind some of them, with a year or so, half of them will probably have already been closed or reconcepted.

Tough, tough biz.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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It's really bizarre that so many are popping up at once.  It almost feels like a (perceived) void appeared in the market a while back and a bunch of folks all decided, at around the same time, to attempt to fill it.

Of course, it's also a bit bleak.  Knowing what the overall odds of success are in the industry, you look at this list and you've got to figure that, even with the deep pockets behind some of them, with a year or so, half of them will probably have already been closed or reconcepted.

Tough, tough biz.

=R=

I am relocating to chicago from NYC. I found it very difficult to find authentic italian food in NYC. any of these new (or old) italian places have food that is similar to food that you might actually find in italy? nice simple, fresh foods, pastas, classic sauces, simple small pieces of meat, cured meats, fruits, that kind of thing?

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I tend to agree w/you Ronnie. I doubt many of these will make it past a year or so. However, I have always thought there was a lack of mid-range, Italian restos in Chicago. I like the high-ends, but there are days when you just want a reasonably priced, mid-range place w/ a red checkered tablecloth and a raspy bottle of chianti.

When I was spending more time in NYC, I was always amazed at the number of Italian restos. Seemed like there were more of them than Chinese restos. Most of them would serve a decent bowl of pasta and get you on your way w/o you having to hit an ATM for more cash on you way out.

I'm sure that within the next month or so I'll have tried a coupleof thsese.

"the only thing we knew for sure about henry porter was that his name wasn't henry porter" : bob

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I have always thought there was a lack of mid-range, Italian restos in Chicago.  I like the high-ends, but there are days when you just want  a reasonably priced, mid-range place w/ a red checkered tablecloth and a raspy bottle of chianti.

When I was spending more time in NYC, I was always amazed at the number of Italian restos.  Seemed like there were more of them than Chinese restos.

I dunno. It seems to me that Chicago is chockablock with Italian restaurants. Not that it's definitive, but for example, Zagat lists 187 Chicago-area Italian restaurants to 16 Thai eateries and six German places.

Osnav, I don't know where you're located, but here are a few mid-priced places you might want to try.

Amici Ristorante

847/967-0606

7620 N. Milwaukee Ave., Niles

Cozy and old-fashioned.

Anna Maria Pasteria

773/929-6363

www.annamariapasteria.com

4400 N. Clark St., Chicago

Wide variety of nice, house-made pastas.

Joe & Giuseppe

847/259-6448

925 S. Arthur Ave. (off Central), Arlington Heights

Hole-in-the-wall successor to the original Joe & Giuseppe in Glenview. Try the escarole soup.

Joey Buona's Pizzeria & Restaurant

312/943-3337

www.joeybuonas.com

162 E. Superior St., Chicago

Owned by the Buona Beef family: an Italian beef stand on the ground floor and a second-floor restaurant serving Italian-American faves.

La Donna

773/561-9400

www.ladonnaitaly.com

5146 N. Clark St., Chicago

One of several local restaurants owned by various members of the Barbanente clan, who hail from Bari, Puglia, on the Adriatic. Don't miss the pumpkin ravioli in richly flavorful balsamic cream sauce. I always want to lick the plate.

Monastero's Ristorante

773/588-2515

www.monasteros.com

3935 W. Devon Ave., Chicago

Longtime family favorite in Pulaski Park serving Sicilian specialties. Try the arancini.

Quartino

312/698-5000

www.quartinochicago.com

626 N. State St., Chicago

Another new one, concentrating on small plates, with house-cured meats, inexpensive wine by the carafe and cheap valet parking. A bargain for its neighborhood.

Via Veneto

773/267-0888

viavenetochicago.com

6340 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago

Another Barbanente family restaurant. They have a nice hand with calamari, octopus and mussels.

Edited by LAZ (log)

LAZ

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Went there the other night....food was tasty, but they had one server on the floor and one cook in the kitchen. It took forever to get our order taken, and even longer to recieve our food, so I am in no hurry to return.

Graham Elliot

@grahamelliot

www.grahamelliot.com

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I've been to two of the new ones listed:

Terragusta is really good. Hard to get in for dinner, but lunch is pretty open. Very small place, tiny tiny kitchen. But the pasta is unvelievable. I guess they do make it every day, so they have been out of occasion...but wow.

I also tried the Pizza at Spacca Napoli; maybe they were new...but I just didn't get it. The pizza was bland, and the crust was raw in some places...burnt in others. We were told that's how the authentic pizza looks. Hmmm...

I'm excited to keep trying others though...

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Has anyone ever been to La Cucina di Donatella? Its right by the fish keg.

Yes, it can be very good. It can also be mediocre, depending on what you order. Service can be inconsistent (although extremely nice and knowledgable). They serve real Italian food - simple and fresh - for not too much money.

Ian

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Terragusta is really good.  Hard to get in for dinner, but lunch is pretty open.

We were there on a recent Thursday. I didn't realize they were closed on Tuesdays and called that day to get a reservation. An alarming recording said they were booked three weeks in advance, but I left a message anyway, in case they had a cancellation. We got a call back offering 5:30 or 6 p.m. on the Thursday and took the 6.

We walked into an all but empty restaurant and it was still more than half empty when we left at 7:45, nor did we see any early arrivals for 8 p.m. reservations.

So you can certainly get in there early on weeknights and it's probably worth a call even if you haven't booked in advance.

Terragusto

773/248-2777

1851 W. Addison St.

Chicago

LAZ

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