Grazie, Via Ventuno!

Jerry Kleiner is one of the most familiar names in Chicago’s restaurant scene. His restaurants include Carnivale, Red Light, Opera and Gioco. Wednesday’s Chef’s Table was at the recently reopened Via Ventuno, and the insanely busy restaurateur spent some up close and personal time with us. He talked about his favorite restaurants, why the south side deserves more attention, and his new projects in Hinsdale and Old Town. He also regaled us with stories of the South Loop’s checkered past as the infamous Levee District.


Chef Jim Kilberg joined us after carving up a roasted suckling pig. We were also served a seemingly unlimited array of meatballs and bruschette. The most popular item was the arancini. These are breaded rice balls stuffed with mushrooms and tallegio. Another popular item was the mista terra, a selection of grilled vegetables including artichoke, asparagus, and red peppers. Our bartender Mercedes served us pomegranate martinis and manhattans made with macerated-peach Makers Mark.


Via Ventuno was formerly Room 21, but it was closed down and reinvented because, as a steakhouse, Kleiner felt the price point was too high for the neighborhood and for this economy. Via Ventuno offers more affordable Italian cuisine; Entrees average $20, but the pastas top out at $15. The rich arancini are only $3. While the prices are reasonable, it’s served in an opulent setting designed to invoke the Everleigh sisters’
infamous brothel and the building’s nefarious past as Capone’s brewery.


This month’s event was truly a Chef’s Table. We were shown a hidden passageway and walked up a narrow flight of stairs to a secret room that overlooks the kitchen. You can just imagine Capone and his cronies plotting their takeover of Chicago’s underworld over meatballs and a nice bottle of red.


Thanks again to Jerry Kleiner and Chef Jim for your hospitality, generosity, and the inside scoop on this historical location!









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