Warm Up At Viaggio

I’ve always looked at Italian cuisine as the global comfort food, and with this cold weather, Viaggio is my new chicken noodle soup. The Near West restaurant is a recent addition to the Chicago restaurant scene but it’s already got a solid following. On a Tuesday night the place was packed and I quickly understood why.

I went with my friend & roommate Mike Tipler the week of Thanksgiving. This man loves to eat, so he’s the perfect person to check out a restaurant, and it also helped that he’s friends with the manager. He and Steve Lyon had known each other for a decade in Florida, and randomly ran into each other a few weeks ago at Green Dolphin’s Boom Boom Room (just goes to show you how small this world is). Because of his connection and what I do for a living, we were given the royal treatment and we put our meal in Chef Anthony’s hands.

I knew we were in for a treat from the very first. Not because we were guaranteed to be taken care of well. Nope. It was the green pepper. I hate green pepper. It’s one of the few foods that I dislike. Well, Viaggio serves marinated green peppers with the bread. I wrinkled my nose, took a bite, and said “wow!” And continued to finish my half while we waited for our first dish.

Eggplant stackThe eggplant stack is lightly breaded thin slices of eggplant stacked with thick slices of mozzarella and tomato, topped with arugula and balsamic vinaigrette. The presentation was impressive and the taste was even better.

The next course was so good I can barely write about it because I’m getting cravings and they’re not open for lunch. It sounds odd: meatballs with romaine salad. But oh my. Sausage meatballs with a crust like you’ll find on the best meatloaf, served with a San Marzano tomato sauce and a salad of romaine, cucumbers, tomatoes, parmesan cheese, and a vinaigrette dressing. Later in the meal I heard a gentleman at another table say “wait til you do the meatballs, what are ya kiddin’ me?” I couldn’t agree more.

Next up: calamari. I know, I know, everyone does calamari, but instead of the normal presentation Viaggio’s is delicately fried and tossed with a sweet-hot pepper sauce, then drizzled with aged balsamic vinegar.

Our entree was a feature that night and is not available on the regular menu, but it should be. It was eight finger brajole topped with sopraset wrapped in thinly sliced beef, tossed with a San Marzano tomato sauce.

You might be wondering, as I was, what’s so special about San Marzano tomatoes? Steve informed me that they’re only grown on the side of Mt. Vesuvius and the volcanic ash reduces the acidity. Translation: delicious.

During dinner Mike had been drinking their housemade Limoncello. Another wow. It was so potent it lasted the entire dinner in spite of how delicious it was. I started off with a prosecco and let our server, Beth, select a red with dinner, and she chose perfectly. (Unfortunately I don’t know which one it was, so when you go you’ll just have to ask for their recommendation.)

TiramisuFor dessert, we simply had to try the tiramisu. I like the Italian restaurant standard, but until Angelina’s it’s not something I’d normally order. I’d always felt it was somewhat bland. Now I want to have a tiramisu taste-off. Not only was Viaggio’s enormous, but it was also light and flavorful.

That meal alone was fantastic and memorable, but having a roommate who’s friends with the manager is a bonus. He brought me a to-go container of pillow gnocchi stuffed with red pepper puree and tossed in a mushroom and spinach cream sauce. Holy cow – that dish probably has about five gazilion calories but I daresay it’s worth the extra notch on the belt.

If you’re looking for a restaurant that’ll provide great service, great food, and will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, try Viaggio. Or, to paraphrase that meatball-loving guest, “wait til you do Viaggio, what are ya kiddin’ me?”







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