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Dec 8, 2003 09:17 AM

Italian Village notes

  • l

Wanting a pre-Christmas market meal, we decided to try Italian Village -the one upstairs. We previously had drinks there (downstairs) and as mentioned here on the board, they do make a great martini. We had a 20 minute wait so we had a drink at the upstairs bar, which also has a cozy atmosphere and very friendly bartender who kindly opened a bottle of pellegrino for me and charged for a soda and kept refilling my glass. Hubby had the house chianti, which started tasting fine, but then oddly turned a bit sour.
We split the fried calamari, which was tasty- not greasy, not rubbery, maybe a bit underseasoned, but good with lemon squeezed on it. Hubby had the lasagne, which had a nice bechemel,and tomato sauce. The pasta was al dente, and overall well prepared. I had the linguine with red clam sauce. I didn't really like it -pasta was a bit overcooked and the sauce had an odd taste - it wasn't very tomatoey, and the clams were the pre chopped type without any real flavor. I prefer the linguine with red clam sauce at Jim and Petes in Elmwood park - pasta was cooked al dente and the sauce also had the pre chopped clams, but they tasted fresher and the sauce had a nice tomato/garlic flavor. I really enjoyed the atmosphere though at Italian village, and just wish I had enjoyed my entree more. With so many other Italian options, I am not sure I would go back for dinner, though I would go for drinks.

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  1. c
    Chicago Mike

    Italian Village is consistently the single most over-hyped, disappointing Italian place in Chicago. Please don't form any opinion of Chicago italian based on this joint.

    All those "hustling Captains" in their tuxes, pointing you this way and that in those cramped dining quarters with the canned tomato paste sauces.

    Such a dreadful place. For super high-end glamorous Italian, Spiaggia is everything this place isn't.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Chicago Mike

      I have to agree with Chicago Mike on his opinion.
      With Italian Village, I just don't get it. Maybe
      because for years there have been so few choices
      in the Loop at night.

      I think the food tastes like it's from a can. Everything is premade to the max too. I have
      gotten my food in less than 5 minutes every time
      I have eaten there.

      Seek Italian elsewhere

      Dave M

      1. re: Dave M
        Chicago Mike

        Italian Village is my vote for the WORST SCORE EXAGGERATION in Chicago Zagat. If you gave me a choice of Olive Garden or the IV, it's Olive Garden hands down.

        The food selection is truly fantastic. I doubt they cook one entree properly, however.

        They survive off the reputation of the wine selection.

        1. re: Chicago Mike

 tasted of freezer burn. Horrible.

        2. re: Dave M

          We have a new guy relocated from out of town in the office, so I've been taking him on a tour of some of the "old school" downtown restaurants for lunch. Had a sandwich at the bar at Berghoff last week, and lunch at IV today.

          Ate upstairs, and it was totally jammed. Got seated WAY in the back, I thought they were leading us to the alley as we squeezed our way past I don't know how many tables - I never knew this place was so big. Food was served boomboomboom, couldn't eat more than 4 spoons of soup and 3 forkfuls of salad before the entree was rolled out. I had a mediocre rolled chicken overwhelmed by sage that was obviously prepared long before, and lunchmate had a pasta with an alleged bolognese that was bright cherry red. He said it was good, but I think he was being polite.

          It was cheap, so youse gits whats you pay for I guess. I want to know who all the people were in there, must be out of town Xmas shoppers. But I do remember going often years ago for the Chicken Vesuvio, which used to be very tasty - takes half hour to prepare, so you know its made to order. I would have gotten it but was in a hurry.

          Go Blue!

      2. Exactly. Stunningly overpriced, rubbery, overcooked pasta, bad watery sauces, often creepy service. Every meal I've had there (forced, usually, for a work lunch) has been bad, unmitigated by the fanciful decor. I know it is sort of a Chicago institution and it has been there forever, but that's no excuse for horrible food.

        1. The other gentlemen are right, Italian Village is not the place to go for good Italian food. If you asked me to name the 30 or 40 best Italian restaurants in or near Chicago, Italian Village would not be on the list.

          However, if you're downtown at midnight, they usually serve that late, because they have an affiliation with Lyric Opera. It's nice to know that if all else fails, you can go there, and they'll serve you, and they don't have much of a dress code. I've never had a good plate of pasta there, the lasagna gave me horrible cramps years ago, but their pizza isn't bad.

          Also, if you need a glass of wine, their bar is dark and quiet, and they don't blast you with music until your eardrums ache. They've been there 50 or 60 years, and it's better than going to McDonald's or a Greek coffee shop if you're stuck downtown and need food.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Greg

            The Capatanini Family has been serving Chicago for over 75 a Lyric and CSO fan, the only real, late night, downtown options are "IV" and Miller's Pub(unless I cab it over to Triple Crown). Recently, they have hired a new chef for "the Village" and things seem to be moving in the right direction -- Of course this is not Spiaggia, though some of the recent specials have been close to inspired, such as "Strangole", a great Tuscan dish of large, very soft, dumplings of spinach and ricotta with just enough egg to bind the mixture, tossed with a bit of sage butter and a grating of reggiano. I've found that the pizza and roast chicken can be quite decent as is the calamari fritti. So stick with the basics.

            Nobody has mentioned the quite nice "regionally inspired" food served downstairs a Vivere (though they should update that menu as well.

            But....they do have well priced bottles that even Spiaggia would covet! Where else will you find so many verticals of Tuscan and Piemontese wines, the hottest new "IGT" wines AND mature Burgundy and Bordeaux -- not to mention "cultish", little gems from Oregon.

            And.....who doesn't remember "making out" in the secluded littles rooms (Il Convento is the naughtiest)on a college date.

            Lastly, the owners are lovely folks who have done much to elevate the world of Italian wine in Chicago.


            1. re: stirs-the-pot
              Mike McElliott

              Glad to see a balanced view of this place. Haven't been there in ages, don't plan to go soon, but am glad to know it's still there. The wine list is fabulous and, for the most part, has bargain prices. Comparing IV to Spiaggia is absurd--like swatting a flea with an anvil.

          2. I just went there recently, 10/2007. Lived in Chicago all my life and never been there so I thought I would go with my wife and my mother in law who both had fond memories of the place from 20+ years ago.

            I have to agree with all of the negative posts. The food does not compare to most of the comparable Italian restaurants in Chicago…the food was truly mediocre.

            I had pasta in meat sauce. The gravy was very basic with some meat chunks, pasta was a bit mushy and the only thing it had going for it was that there was a lot of it. Salad was your basic mix with some tomatoes and dressing. Bread was boring and very low grade olive oil on the table. Cannoli was good, crisp shell and all but sorta boring…my mother in law used to remember when they would bring a platter of cookies out after dinner…guess not anymore. My wife’s risotto was tasty but not creamy like it should be…it was more like a jambalaya / paella than a risotto.

            Wine list, although extensive, was very high priced, x2+ retail markup across the board…I like high end wines and better restaurants change lower markups for the higher end bottles. This was more like Morton’s pricing. Glasses sucked….if you are a glass snob like me ;-).

            Funniest part to me was the atmosphere.

            First, we made reservations arrived 15 minutes early, which to me is on time, were told to wait then 20 minutes later we were seated in the bar near the waiter stand…note to self… insist on the dinning room.

            Second you have the “good ole boy” network that I hate…I was standing in the lobby waiting for my wife to return from the washroom as we were leaving and I experienced this scene…Host to walk in….45 minute wait please take a seat in the bar….Host to another walk in that arrives a few minutes later…ahhh mr so and so…lets see what we can do…..ahhh here…we have a table right here for you. I hate that crap.

            2 Replies
            1. re: earl

              The Italian Village consists of three separate restaurants: the Village, the Cantina, and Vivere. Anyone reporting on the "Italian Village" really needs to specify which restaurant they're talking about. (The OP mentions the upstairs restaurant, but others weren't specific.) I've been to all three. The Village and the Cantina are indeed nothing great, as this four-year-old topic testifies. However, Vivere, the upscale restaurant downstairs, is absolutely wonderful. They serve a dish of braised short ribs over polenta that is to die for! (It's usually on the daily specials.) I highly recommend Vivere, and would avoid the other two restaurants in the complex.

              1. re: earl

                Nostalgia is a good reason to eat at Italian Village...we went their for prom in junior year of high would not be a reason to eat at Italian Village...the owners are a nice, River Forest family which is another reason to go...the food, not so much