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Carbonara and Tony Bennett at La Fontanella

s
Steve Sanders Jan 24, 2007 07:38 PM

La Fontanella, in the "other" Little Italy on South Oakley, is small, old-neighborhood and old-school in a genuine, unaffected way: worn wood floors, salmon-colored stucco walls, red- or green-checked tablecloths underneath the white butcher paper, cook-and-dishwasher sounds coming through an open door that leads back to the kitchen. And Tony Bennett (older Tony Bennett) on the speakers. You don't hear nearly enough Tony Bennett in Italian-American restaurants anymore, IMHO.

After snorkeling my way through some unforgivably bad "carbonara" a few weeks ago at La Vita in the "big" Little Italy (see http://www.chowhound.com/topics/359514), I was curious to try La Fontanella's version, based on a few favorable mentions on this board.

Most restaurants don't seem to realize that the basic ingredients of carbonara are simple, mainly eggs and pancetta (or bacon). Too often, restaurant carbonara is a cream-laden, pasty mess. (Rosebud describes their carbonara, which I haven't had, as featuring a "creamy parmesan sauce." I thought that's what Alfredo was.

)

Anyway, La Fontanella's was much closer to my understanding of good carbonara: a pile of spaghetti which has not been overcooked, coated with egg, no real sauce to speak of, just slippery enough to be twirlable on the fork, with a generous helping of pancetta thrown in.

I have to say I think the dish was on the bland side. There was nothing really objectionable about it, and it was probably a cut above as neighborhood places go. But my sense was that they probably use Sysco-grade pasta, pancetta, and parmesan, and that better-quality raw materials (and maybe some pecorino; and crisping up the pancetta first by browning it in a bit of good olive oil; a few grinds of black pepper; and more garlic, which I recognize is a controversial suggestion where carbonara is concerned) would have made for a more memorable dish, and one for which I'd return more often. La Fontanella does carbonara in a simpler, better style than most places; with a little extra effort, it could be outstanding.

The place was quiet, with only a couple of other diners late on a weeknight. Service was cordial and dignified. The Placido pinot grigio was simple but well-made, clean, and quaffable. The pasta, an appetizer (roasted red peppers with fresh mozzarella), two glasses of wine, and spumoni ran me $42 plus tip.