Friday morning my wife asked if we could go out that evening for Italian. Remembering the recent "Penny's Morsels" write-up and wanting to try something new, I gave Follia a call. I was surprised that I had my choice of times for that evening and grabbed a 7:30 reservation.
After rebuffing the hostess' offer of the two-top right next to her stand, we were soon seated in the back area of the restaurant. Here, the open kitchen is within full view and you can see -- and hear -- the pizza dough being pounded. The decor is minimalist, with lots of stainless steel, translucent chairs and tiling along the bar area. As the owners apparently are connected to the fashion industry, a few mannequins hang in the front windows and along the side wall.
The aforementioned small bar itself is unoccupied as Follia has yet to secure its liquor license. But never fear, the restaurant is connected to the Fulton Lounge. In addition to a pre- / post-dinner destination, you can also visit the lounge at other times, as needed, given that they share their restrooms with Follia.
Service was very attentive and personalized -- at least initially. After asking for our water preference (bottled or "Chicago tap"), uncorking the bottle of wine we brought and dropping off a tray of bread, the waiter walked through the menu. The menu's organization is similar to that you'd find at the much-discussed Fortunato or any traditional Italian restaurant. The only difference is that a column of pizza offerings is included among the anitpasti, primi and secondi. One interesting note is that the menu also first lists each item in Italian followed by the English translation (e.g., Scalappini ai carciofi ... veal with fresh artichokes served with masthed potatoes and carrots).
For starters, we bypassed the waiter's recommendation of the insalata caprese and instead had the antipasti rustico. Bad decision. The plate included a variety of bland vegetables (roasted pepeprs, marinated mushrooms, carmelized onions, olives), a few pieces of enjoyable prosciutto and melon, and a couple wedges of a medium-bodied cheese. Meanwhile, our eyes drifted to our neighbors who dived into their caprese, which was prepared with homemade mozzarella and ripe tomatoes.
Speaking of neighboring tables -- theyareclose. While they're not on top of each other as they are at Blackbird, you'll have no problem listening to conversations on all sides. And it is noisy in the restaurant. As the noise bounces off the bare white walls, we were forced to nearly scream during our conversation.
Luckily, the food only got better after the antipasti. We then split a pizza quattro stagioni, which was divine. Prepared with the standard olives, mushrooms, artichokes and ham, the fine ingredients and was perfectly baked in the wood oven. I was back in Italy. It was light, thin and ever-so flavorful. (If we only lived closer I could see us going to the bar for a couple Peronis and some pizza...)
For entrees I had the pappardelle with duck ragu. The large dish featured ribbons and ribbons of fresh pasta that was prepared only minutes ago. The ragu was a very flavorful tomato base mixed in with a good amount of fresh duck.
My wife seemed so excited about her pesce in cartoccio that she only shared a few spoonfuls with me. The dish, as Penny described in her "Morsel" write-up, is presented in the tin foil that was cooking in the oven only seconds earlier. After unwrapping the standard tin foil duck (wouldn't a fish be more appropriate?), you discover salmon, white fish, mussels and clams all surrounded with olives, tomatoes and a nice, light broth.
For a restaurant that had open availability with its reservation book, they have no problem with foot traffic thanks to the connecting lounge.
At this moment, a large table of 12 was seated in our vicinity. It was a sprawling group that took over much of the back area, and with it, the attention of our waiter. He gave his thoughts on the four dessert options and after minimal debate we went with the ananas spezaiato -- marinated pineapple served with coconut sorbet. Five minutes later a waiter came over with what we expected to be our dessert. Instead it was one of the pizzas. While I would have loved to dive in, we informed him that we were instead waiting for dessert. At that moment, another waiter carrying our dessert came from the opposite direction. She, too, it seems, had gotten lost and had to backtrack to our table. Luckily, the sorbet hadn't melted. The dish was nicely prepared and the flavors worked well together.
While I would have liked for dessert to be accompanied by the cappuccino I ordered, it was not to be. While taking away the empty dessert dish, our waiter apologized for not bringing my cappuccino and asked if I still wanted it. No thanks, I said.
In all, we'd return to Follia once they secure their liquor license ("Mayor Daley was in last week and said he'd help our," said the waiter) and tighten up their service. Unfortunatey, once the Tribune review comes out and the foodies start flocking, we won't be able to make that same-day weekend reservation.
953 West Fulton Ave.