Hungry for some good Italian food on a recent trip into Chicago, I was looking for places to eat not far from my hotel in Des Plaines. I found a review on a restaurant on the northwest side of Chicago that I was not familiar with - Pasta D'Arte. Doing some more on-line searches on the place, it sounded like it was perfect for what I was looking for food that evening. Here's the lowdown on my visit to Pasta D'Arte.
Mark Giannini was a precocious child whose mother felt that he needed to be kept busy from getting into trouble. So, at the age of 8 she took Mark to her brother's restaurant - Via Veneto (click here to see the Road Tips entry on Via Veneto) - where she also worked. His uncle, Tony Barbanente, immediately put him to work drying silverware and glasses. After awhile, he got into the food prep in the kitchen. His specialty was chopping garlic and mincing the cloves so fine and thin that it would literally melt into garlic oil in skillets.
Giannini loved food prep work in the kitchen, but by the age of 16, Giannini was bussing tables at his uncle's restaurant. Then he moved up to front of house management and seating patrons about the time he was graduating from high school.
Pictured at right - Mark Giannini. Photo courtesy Pasta d'Arte Facebook page.
Mark Giannini's brother John and the Giannini's cousin Steve Marti opened Nonna Silvia's in Park Ridge in 2000. By this time, Mark Giannini - now a seasoned restaurant veteran at the age of 21 - knew that he wanted to run his own place.
In October of 2002 at the age of 23, Giannini opened Pasta D'Arte - it literally means the Art of Pasta - in what was a former seafood location along N. Milwaukee Ave. on Chicago's far northwest side. The first year was tough for Giannini as many people who came into his restaurant expecting to eat at The Shrimp Shop were surprised to find it was now an Italian restaurant. Still he was able to persevere and business steadily improved. In early 2016, Pasta D'Arte expanded its kitchen and added over 100 seats (including a private party room) when they took over the space next door that was a mortgage company when Pasta D'Arte first opened, then later became a dentist's office, then a skin care business.
I was able to find parking along Milwaukee Ave. when I pulled up to Pasta D'Arte located near the corner of where Milwaukee, Devon and Nagle avenues meet up. (see map) Walking into the restaurant just inside the door was the kitchen with a small open counter area. I was greeted at the hostess stand who took me to a table in the dining room and she gave me a menu to look over.
The dining room is small and cozy with subdued lighting. Linen tablecloths were on the tables and it was definitely an intimate atmosphere. There was a small bar in the back of the place and the new-ish dining room off to the side was closed up that night as it was a slow night.
As I was taking a look at the menu, one of the employees - a young man by the name of Eric (he may have been a manager the way he was whirling around the restaurant checking on customers and helping the servers) - came over to greet me. "Just yourself tonight? We'll do our best to take care of you." He asked me what I'd like to drink and I saw on their wine list that they had a Santa Julia Reserva malbec available by the glass. I ordered that and he said, "I'll get that right out to you!"
Another young man brought out a basket of fresh baked Italian bread with parmesan cheese, olive oil and a vegetable giardiniera. I don't think I'd ever had a giardiniera served with bread before. It was a nice little touch to the meal.
The food served at Pasta D'Arte is more of a Mediterranean/Italian a mix of seafood and traditional Italian dishes. They had a number of risotto and pasta dishes, as well as veal, salmon, tilapia, beef and chicken entrees. They also had a couple of pizzas available on the menu. There were also a number of antipasti appetizers such as grilled marinated calamari, grilled octopus on a bed of spinach leaves, and fresh mussels cooked to order in a choice of either garlic/olive oil, spicy tomato, or regular tomato sauce, and served with a garlic-rubbed crostini bread.
Eric took it upon himself to personally wait on me that evening and he made me feel welcome and comfortable - two things that single diners always look for in their dining experience. I started out with a house salad with the balsamic vinaigrette dressing. It featured fresh greens topped with julienne carrots. Cucumber slices and fresh cherry tomatoes were also part of the salad. I added some of the giardiniera to the salad to give it a little zip to the taste.
I was torn between two things - a spicy lasagna special that Eric did a great job of selling to me, or the Tortellini al Forno which consisted of a choice of beef or cheese filled tortellini pasta shells, sautéed in a creamy tomato sauce with ricotta cheese and sliced fresh mushrooms, then layered with mozzarella and baked in the oven. I literally did a mental coin flip and ended up getting the Tortellini al Forno with the beef-filled tortellini.
I'm usually not big on a creamy tomato sauce, but the sauce on the Tortellini al Forno was delicious. It was light and tangy with a nice mixture of the cream with the tomato sauce. And it was fresh mozzarella that was baked on the top of the beef-filled tortellini giving it sort of a stringy cheesy texture each time I dug in with my fork. The mushrooms were very fresh and earthy, and the ricotta cheese mixed in with the tortellini shells gave it an even more creamy consistency. This was a large portion of food, as well. Although the sauce was a light cream/tomato mixture, the ricotta and fresh mozzarella cheese in the dish made it rich. I ate about two-thirds of the dish before I threw in the towel. Even though I thought I would have liked the spicy lasagna more than what I had ordered, I thought the beef-filled Tortellini al Forno was simply outstanding on its own.
Chicago has a number of great little family-owned Italian restaurants. I love finding the cozy little places that have their own unique character with signature dishes on the menu. Pasta D'Arte was one of those very places. The Tortellini al Forno was excellent, the service was equally as good - if not better - as I was made to feel comfortable and welcomed as a single diner, and the atmosphere was cozy and laid-back. Pasta D'Arte may have climbed to the top of my "go-to" Italian places on the northwest side of Chicago.