My wife suggested we go to the Italian Village on W. Monroe (see map) when we were in Chicago last week. I had been there once, about 17 years ago, and don't remember much about it, other than I thought my meal - some sort of a tomato sauce based meal - was OK, but not outstanding.
Actually, the Italian Village is three restaurants under one roof. The Italian Village restaurant is the most famous of the three. It's located on the second floor of the business and is the biggest of the three. Started by the Capitanini family over 78 years ago, it features traditional Italian cuisine at moderate prices. They bill themselves as Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant. The grandson of the founder is running the three restaurants today.
Vivare is located on the ground level of the building. It's much more fancy and upscale than the Village with an extensive wine list and a menu that features more regional Italian favorites than the Italian Village upstairs. For years, it was the bar for the Italian Village - I had a couple of drinks in there in the late 80's one evening when we found out that the restaurant wasn't serving food after 10 p.m. Vivere opened in the early 90's and has won the acclaim of number of food and wine critics over the years.
In the lower level of the building is La Cantina. La Cantina has more of a Mediterranean theme than the other two restaurants. I've never eaten in La Cantina - which has been around for over 50 years. It looks interesting, though.
Cindy and I went to the Italian Village and both La Cantina and Vivere are closed, but the Village was open on the second floor. The wait with no reservation was about 20 minutes (it was the Monday after Christmas, but there was still a lot of people downtown).
The Village has a lot of neat homemade artwork on the walls and ceiling, trying to make it look like you're actually sitting in a small Italian Village under a star lit sky. The problem with the Village is that it's pretty cramped. We got a table along a busy walk way and it just seemed to be a little too loud and distracting while we were trying to relax and enjoy the moment.
We didn't do anything really special - Cindy got the Lemon Chicken and I opted for the Lemon Veal. We both had a salad and got a side of mostaciolli with their white cream sauce. Actually, the white cream sauce was very good. Almost too buttery and very rich, however. The lemon sauce was very good and my veal was tender and cooked perfectly. Cindy's chicken breast was also cooked perfectly - it was moist and tender and had a lot of good flavor to it.
For dessert, Cindy wanted a piece of the Italian Rum Cake. I wasn't up for dessert, but the waiter brought an extra fork for me to try to cake. It was very good. It was pretty rich and I only had about three bites.
I think our bill with tip came to just about $65. I didn't think that was too bad. Given the fact that the Italian Village has been around so long, it was worth it just going back and rediscovering a place that I wasn't too blown away by 17 years ago.
And I'm glad we went...