Lamb chop casserole from Macello (photo: Joseph Storch)
I realize the sheer number of Italian restaurants in our area makes this a somewhat daunting proposition. After last week's "overrated" edition, I'm turning to my top 5 this week, and all of these places have a few things in common: for one thing, they make pretty much everything - from the grissini and focaccia, to the pasta and desserts - from scratch. Second, the emphasis is on nuance - a hint of lemon here, a whisper of oregano there - rather than overwhelming you with white wine, garlic and tomato-vodka-cream sauce, then feeding you more food than you could ever possibly eat in one sitting (thus, requiring doggie bags).
Which brings me to my third point: these are Italian restaurants in the sense that the owners/chefs have either worked or lived in Italy for some time; they've trained there, they know about the lovely progression from antipasti to primi, then onto secondi and dolci. They don't push overpriced chianti and they don't brag about their tiramisu.
These are Italian restaurants that my friends from Bari would feel at home in as much as my college girlfriend who spent a semester in Rome would. Buon appetito!
1. Piccolo Sogno, 464 N. Halsted St., 312-421-0077
2. Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312 280-2750
3. Terragusto, 1851 W. Addison, 773-248-2777; 340 W. Armitage, 773-281-7200
4. Riccardo Trattoria, 2119 N. Clark, 773-549-0038
5. Pelago, 201 E. Delaware, 312-280-0700
Langoustines with risotto from Macello (photo: Joseph Storch)