The Local Tourist dinner for two compliments of Osteria Trulli Cucina Pugliese.
We pull up into a strip mall parking lot on an obscure street in Arlington Heights. Toto, we aren’t in the city anymore… The neighborhood is quiet and very residential. Yet we are here for dinner, having traveled for better part of an hour. Mid strip we see an unassuming storefront that is our destination: Osteria Trulli Cucina Pugliese. This is the temple of all delicious things that hail from Italy’s region of Puglia, and we are one hundred percent here for it.
Osteria Trulli was once a city dweller, just like us. It resided in Lincoln Square first, then Evanston. Yet now the folks of Arlington Heights have the distinct advantage of dining on Pugliese specialties crafted by Chef Giovanni DeNigris. Recipes he uses have been passed through his family for generations. Grandma’s food is always the most delicious, and Giovanni’s Nonna is no exception.
The cozy dining room is warmed up by a wood burning oven in the open kitchen. Giovanni holds his post there, like the captain of the ship, looking out onto the tables. His presence is felt in everything here. The menu filled with family recipes beckons. But first, the wine list. We take a look. This list is truly a gem, with many obscure Pugliese varietals, both white and red, priced under $40 a bottle. Accustomed to city wine prices, we are speechless.
With a bottle of crisp white called Verdeca promptly ordered, the food gets our undivided attention. It is a large menu, brimming with specialties of the house. Seafood is the name of the game here, we are told, as well as anything cooked inside the oven hearth. Duly noted.
We select imported Pugliese burrata and beef carpaccio as our cold appetizers. Both delightful, the burrata creamy and rich, the carpaccio see-through thin and dressed with arugula and fennel. Next: oven roasted clams. Served in a screaming hot earthenware dish, these are small clams, cooked in plenty of butter and garlic and herbs. We burn our fingers on the shells, too impatient to get at the sweet clam morsels.
The pasta section is lengthy. But what grabs our attention is an unusual eggplant dish: Pugliese Style Melanzane Ripiene. It is the skin of the eggplant stuffed with scooped and chopped eggplant flesh, Pecorino cheese, breadcrumbs and parsley. The dish is roasted in the oven and served with a side of fresh fettuccine al pomodoro. The appearance isn’t flashy, but the eggplant is ethereal, almost souffle like in texture, surprisingly airy and flavorful. Must be a Nonna dish.
For main course we select a whole oven roasted branzino fish served with risotto of the day, on our visit a seafood one. Crispy charred skin is the thing of beauty! Another choice we make is the Pugliese-style veal scallopini, topped with Italian sausage, mozzarella, capers and wine sauce, served with our choice of sauteed rapini greens. It is a celebration of flavors and textures sure to make an impression.
Desserts arrive shortly after, accompanied by excellent espresso. We opt for one classic (tiramisu) and one unusual (walnut semifredo). And while both are well-made, our hearts are stolen by the semifredo: rich, cool, creamy perfection.
The staff at Osteria Trulli is almost familial. Our server entertains us with stories of the restaurant past, anecdotes about the family recipes, and jokes cracked as if we are at an Italian family table. She clearly loves this place and wants us to love it too. And we do.
Osteria Trulli will celebrate its 4th anniversary in this latest space with a very special wine dinner experience on December 19th. This exclusive meal will offer diners a five-course, family-style menu of traditional Pugliese preparations of seafood, roasted meats, pasta, and more. Beginning at 7 p.m., each course will be paired with wines exclusively from the region as well. Chef DeNigris will walk guests through the menu and share his insight into the beloved preparations as he celebrates the anniversary of his homeland’s cuisine being whole-heartedly embraced by local diners. Tickets are available by calling the restaurant.
Osteria Trulli is located at 1510 East Hintz Road in suburban Arlington Heights. Phone number is (224) 347-1010.