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Restaurants & Bars 1

La Donna - report (longish)

MrBarolo | Nov 4, 200303:01 PM

First, a tenuous connection disclosure: La Donna generously supplied food for a couple of special events at Live Bait Theater, where I was appearing for the last 5 months. Having enjoyed what they sent us, the cast decided to go there on closing weekend, on our own dime, as a kind of 'thank you.'

Second - a mild, pre-meal disappointment: As we were all going out 'en famille' for a celebratory goodbye dinner, we thought it would be nice to pre-order a meal to be served family style to all, rather than fussing with menus and individual orders and divvying up the check at the end, etc.

When I first spoke to them in Sept., our group was about 12, and they said they would be happy to work with us to design a meal at virtually any price point per person we cared to name.

When I called them a week ago to get the ball rolling and told them that we would be 8, they made it clear that they really didn't want to do it that way, and normally only did family style service for groups of 20 or so.

While this didn't materially affect our plans or ultimately our enjoyment, it was a bit disappointing, and it wasn't clear to me why, logistically or financially, they wouldn't want to accomodate us.

On to the food. (It's been a few days, and I was celebrating, not note-taking, so there may be a bit of fuzziness in the account.)

Appetizers: 1. What they called "crostini" of polenta topped with leeks and gorgonzola. Very tasty. (I love polenta in almost any form.) The leeks added the touch of sweetness you'd expect. The gorg. was very friendly (i.e. bland) for the cheese-phobic, but I was surprised at the lack of presence. I didn't know you could get gorg. that was that genteel. I think the sharp contrast of a more traditionally assertive gorgonzola would have improved things, but it was still a very nice app.

2. Marinated portabello's. Pretty much the usual treatment. Balsamic marinade. Some roasted red pepper pieces. Nothing wrong with it. No surprises. (Except that I really did not feel the portion justified the $10 price. I have had virtually the identical dish at a much better value.)

3. Grilled calamari. Fairly large squid (4"-5" bodies) served whole (as opposed to rings or pieces). Toothsome, agreeably chewy, but well on the right side of rubbery. Nice grill flavor and brushed with slightly flavored olive oil and served with lemon wedges. In contrast to the polenta, this seemed like excellent value for money.

"Tortellini al' Americana" - just what you'd expect from something so named. Meat or cheese tortellini (meat, in our case) in a creamy tomato sauce, covered with cheese and baked. Good, in a VERY Ital./American way. Whatever subtlety might have existed in the meat filling was completely smothered by cheese (nicely browned, like a good NY pizza slice) and tomato sauce.

Once can't complain, as the name and menu description made it amply clear what was coming. Two of us ordered it, not because that's what we most wanted, but because we really wanted to drink some big red wine, and, interestingly, the menu is fairly light on dishes that make sense with big wines.

Lots of seafood, and some chicken and veal, but given that they have a fairly serious wine list which includes $200-$440 bottles of Gaja, there seem to be holes in the menu when it comes to putting wine and food together. Specifically, there are huge, expensive, alluring Piedmontese wines on the list and virtually nothing on the menu to match them with.

We also had the pumpkin ravioli in a reduced balsamic sauce. This was quite interesting. I'm used to the sage/butter treatment for pumpkin rav. This was intense and intensely sweet in an altogether surprising way. The combination of the squash's sweetness with the balsamic produced notes of maple syrup, sweet sherry, and vin santo. One bite was mouth-filling, intense, surprising and very sensual. But by bite #3 the palate was just overwhelmed. Ultimately, everyone agreed that this was more like a warm bread pudding dessert than a main dish. It might have worked best either as an appetizer, or as a component - a single piece served as a complement to something savory like game.

A linguini with clams was pronounced excellent by the scion of a family that used to own a Taylor St. restaurant.

One nice note: when asked if they would do Puttanesca, though it was not on the menu, they obliged happily with a very solid version.

Presentations were all handsome but not fussy. Service was fine.

We didn't do dessert.

Corkage was $10 per bottle, allowing us to bring interesting things of our own, and also allowing poor actors to drink for about $3 per person instead of $7.50/glass.

Speaking of wine: one bottle was Brusco dei Barbi. A very light, bright sangiovese wine from the Brunello producer, Barbi. It's chianti-esque but made using the "governo" process - essentially a secondary fermentation involving a carbon-dioxide environment which softens and produces a very fragrant wine. Used to be used in Chianti, but no longer. This is a very friendly, lip-smacking red - perfect for antipasto, picnics, parties etc. Generally it's about $12-$15, but Binny's was selling it for about $7 bucks a couple of weeks ago. At that price, it's a real steal.

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