Most romantic of these 2 italian restaurants
Currently also deciding between Coco Pazzo and merlo on maple....Both appear to have their fans regarding cuisine, but atmosphere also important... Does anyone have an opinion on the ambience? Visiting from ohio and always like to take in the experience...especially since here the best restaurant is Mr. Steak..:)
If you feel like travelling a bit, go west on North Avenue until you're just a block short (east) of Harlem Ave, and go to Sparacino Ristorante. Small, intimate room, cozy bar, BIG fireplace, and just teriffic food. It's contemporary Italian- you can't find any red sauce in the place. And Mark Sparacino, the owner/chef, is the biggest extrovert east of the Mississippi, and if you let his sister, who handles FOH, know it's a special event for you, he will come out with each dish and make you feel like family. When we go there - we've known Mark for years - we just tell him to give us what he thinks is best that night. You should not miss the snails, though.
No offense to the prior poster, but no need to go east of Harlem Ave. for good italian. Both of your choices are good. Merlo on Maple is the more romantic atmosphere -- there are separate, small dining rooms with candles on the table. Merlo's pasta is handmade, and you can taste it (don't know about Coco Pazzo). Both are good, though.
Agree Merlo is more romantic, but be prepared - - the service is quite formal (in a weird way inappropriately formal) and I would say a little antiquated. There are several rooms at Merlo, each quite small, so it is very intimate. That being said, it may be too intimate as there are times where we have been the only couple in our room! I always find that I feel like I have to be super quiet at Merlo...it is quiet like a library. Has anyone else had this experience? That being said, the food is delicious as can be.
I've been to both. Food is average at each. Of the two, the interior design of Coco Pazzo and the crowd is more interesting. Another Italian option downtown for better food and more dynamic atmosphere is Follia www.folliachicago.com. Another great find is in Rogers Park: La Cucina Di Donatella. Service is uneven, but the food is exceptional.
You must have quite a discriminating palatte. Coco Pazzo is almost universally called one of the best Italian restaraunts in Chicago since it opened about ten years ago. A step below Spiaggia, but that's about it. I've been there many times and always had a great experience. Maybe you're thinking of Coco Pazzo Cafe in Streeterville which is more average, although still better than most.
Merlo is also quite good, although I'm not really a fan.
As far as atmosphere goes, CP is a big timber loft room just above street level. Seating for maybe 100-150? Despite this, the space is broken up with curtains and the wood columns, so I have always found it very intimate. Excellent service, a great Italian wine list, and in my opinion excellent food. A good choice for a special occasion.
Merlo is different - its a house that has been converted into a restaurant, and they kept all the original rooms. A cozy bar at the front, and you usually end up in a room with just a few other tables, which can be fun, but can also be a ltitle awkward depending on who else is sharing your room. There's no where to hide if you know what I mean.
They bring you your food on little carts with each plate covered with a big metal serving dome to keep it warm since they haul everything up from a kitchen in ground floor. Cute, although I kept expecting them to lift up the cover to reveal Thing from the Addams family (you know, the hand...) It was fun once, and the food isn't bad, but as a general rule I much prefer Coco Pazzo.
Never been to Folia, but I'll need to check it out some day.
I agree that the food at Follia is terrific -- especially the pasta. Not sure that I'd call the atmosphere "romantic," however. More "hip," but certainly part of the Chicago scene.