Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Pizza in Chicago

We were in Chicago recently and before catching our flight home we needed some lunch. We pretty much have a rule against eating in ANY Italian eatery in the US unless a) we've been there before and know they're good like Ca' Dario or Piatti in Santa Barbara or b)they've been recommended by someone we know who's been to Italy and knows good food.
We broke both of these rules after a quick web survey of what was available and close to our hotel. The pizza photo on was enough to get my attention and off we went to check it out. We perused the menu outside and noticed most of the Italian words were spelled correctly and they featured La Quercia prosciutto on one of the pizzas -- so far so good. We went in and told the waiter that although Chicago is famous for deep-dish pizza, we were looking for something more like they have in Italy. His response was "we do Roman-style pizza here" and it surprised me that they even knew the difference between Rome and Napoli styles! While Napoli style will always be our favorite, an authentic Roman-style pizza in the US would be just fine. First we asked about their caprese salad, having just enjoyed wonderful tomatoes from Vesuvius last week while in Viterbo. Our waiter tactfully explained that tomatoes that good were only available in late summer around Chicago and since it was December they baked the standard-issue pomodori a bit to give them some sort of flavor, but not to expect the taste we'd experienced last week. We liked his honesty and the seasonal idea, don't make something when the ingredients are not at their best just to have it on the menu - so we tried their version after lowering our expectations, along with a salad of celery, romaine, parmigiano-reggiano and a few croutons. Both were good as was the fresh bread that came with them. Next it was time to try the classic pizza margherita, they used San Marzano tomatoes since those are canned and easily available though pricey, along with fresh basil and some pretty decent mozzarella (as we'd sampled with the caprese) and we were pleasantly surprised -- crisp crust, wonderful tomato flavor and just the right amount of cheese.
Although they have a wondeful wine list with labels rarely seen in the US, Larry opted for a Peroni beer on tap. We couldn't stop with just one pizza so we tried another with radicchio and finocchio - no tomatoes or tomato sauce. This was even better than the first one, probably because the tomatoes on the margherita made the crust a bit soggy in the middle.
We finished with Illy espresso which was OK - they ran the water too long to fill the cups as too often happens in the US...why do folks think they're getting a better value when more water is run through the same amount of caffe? It just makes it bitter and watery! Overall we were pleasantly surprised and satisfied. If you find yourself in Chicago wanting a pizza, but not the deep dish variety, check out Pizzeria Via Stato, suprisingly enough on State Street 620 N 312 642 8450. Disclaimer: we received no compensation for this review.

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