I'm heading to Chicago for the first time next week. One night I have to go for a Steakhouse (I'm going with Chophouse) and one night I have to find some great Italian. I had preliminarily picked Osteria via Stato, before I found this website. We're staying at The Drake, and it would be nice to stay within 1 mile, but I see alot of references to Bruna and Bacchanalia in my searches, and they sound like they're wortth the cab fare, but the reviews seem to be a couple of years old.
Any comments are welcomed
Baccanalia is in a quaint neighborhood, if you can appreciate it, but I too agree that it is kind of out-of-the-way for a tourist. The food is the best Italian that I've had and you can order off-menu items. It really is outstanding, and they keep filling your water glass even after you've paid the bill. Bruna's on the other hand, has awesome dessert (Tiramisu).
Please let us know where you decide...
Bruna's is a very good neighborhood restaurant, with particularly good pasta (at least it was the last time we were there) at a good price. But I'm not too sure it's worth a detour for someone who's had previous experience with "great Italian" food. If you're willing to pay a bit more for restaurants a little bit closer to downtown (and easily accessible by cab), here's a couple of names, more Italian than Italian-American, to google or to search on this site:
Coco Pazzo is also at this level.
A little bit less costly, but still good Italian food in the downtown area:
Volare and the already mentioned Coco Pazzo Cafe and Spiaggia Cafe.
I have had an excellent meal at Cafe Spiaggia, although I found the service a little snooty. Coco Pazzo is my standby which I love. I would highly recommend one of those two.
Merlo can be very good, if a little inconsistent. I've been there four times. Two excellent, one good, and one disappointing. There are two of them. The branch on Maple ('Merlo on Maple') is a close walk from the Drake.
I tired Gioco once and had a horrible meal, bland sauce, overcooked pasta, slow service, etc., but others seem to have had more luck there.
I ate at Bruna recently for the first time & the food was very good and I would go back but the restaurant doesn't have much atmosphere and I wouldn't recommend it to someone from out of town. I have to agree with others also that the neighborhood isn't much to see. I would highly recommend the Little Italy restaurants for locals but not if I was on vacation. Try Calo in Andersonville for old school italian in a fun neighborhood with lots to see.
For the OP's benefit, we really should clarify that Chicago has 2 "Little Italy" areas, although I've never heard anyone from here call them that. Brunas is on Oakley St., which is the smaller one, and further from the tourist spots. The larger one, which is more familiar to visitors, is Taylor St. on the near West Side, fairly close to the Loop, in the area of the UIC campus. There are a larger number of restaurants there, a number of which have a more upscale atmosphere -- Francesca's on Taylor, Tuscany, etc.
Bacchanalia is a nice change from other Italian-American places at a similar price recommended dish.
Having said that, it is still Italian-American. You say that you'd like to find some great Italian. Consider Spiaggia or Cafe Spiaggia depending on your budget. I'd also like to steer you to some of the stronger points of the Chicago restaurant flaura, such as the _great_ Thai restaurants e.g. Sticky Rice and Spoon Thai.
980 N Michigan Ave # 2
Chicago, IL 60611
4018 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60618
4608 N Western Ave
Chicago, IL 60625
I recommend Spiaggia and Cafe Spiaggia as well. Both are right across the street from the Drake; no need for a cab! Spiaggia is fine dining, one of the top restaurants in town (with prices to match) whereas Cafe Spiaggia is not as expensive and still an excellent choice for great Italian food. www.levyrestaurants.com
Spiaggia's pricing is "enjoyment prohibitive" for us. Cafe Spiaggia is a possibility and walking distance. However, the idea of seeing little Italy has some appeal. Am I heading in the wrong direction. We'll be there from Friday morning through Tuesday afternoon. I was going to try Mccormick and Schmick one night, but I can do Italian 2 or 3 times.
I think Baccanalia is a fine choice, just make cab plans. And I don't know about American-Italian, the original owners from the 1970s speak only italian and now their son and daughter run it. Maybe they have americanized it some, I don't know, but they are definitely born and bred in Italy.
Cafe Spiaggia is excellent, as is Coco Pazzo (a short cab ride away). I also like Osteria via Stato, which has a more lively atmosphere than the other two, but the food isn't quite as good.
Little Italy can be fun and has some very good food, but there isn't really that much to see there. If you are looking to go to interesting, ethnic neighborhoods, Chicago has much better ones to visit.
I like McCormick & Schmick, but its a chain, and not unique to Chicago. I think there are a lot of other places in Chicago worth trying.
Again, good advice from SuzMiCo.
As another choice, Coco Pazzo has a slightly less expensive sister restaurant called Coco Pazzo Cafe, which is also closer to the Drake than Coco Pazzo itself.
If you are considering McCormick and Schmick because you would like great seafood while you are here, I would recommend one of the following:
Hugo's is just a long block or so away from the Drake. Shaw's is about 3/4 mile and Fulton's is just over a mile, so both are either a longish walk or a short cab ride.
I just ate at Bacchanalia on Sunday. I had the cappellini marinara. It is an extremely simple dish but they way they make it with the sauce and cheese it is simply delicious. I had the bruschetta as an appetizer and their bruschetta is also the best I have tasted. The toppings are almost more like a sauce so pieces are not falling off the bread as you eat it which is my pet peeve. My friend had the Chicken parmigan which he said was outstanding. Problem is that it is hard to get a return cab from that area. I would definitely set that up in advance. Also Bacchanalia is cash only but they do have an ATM in there.
The cappelini is actually economical enough to get as an appetizer and I would recommend that.