a tavola – A ReviewPosted: January 20, 2011
a tavola is an Italian restaurant on W Chicago, in the Ukranian Village. The exterior is modest to the point of being difficult to identify from the street. Having eaten a few blocks away at Green Zebra (Shawn McClain’s vegetarian restaurant) the day before, I had taken note of the surrounding neighborhood. The whole area is an odd mishmash of trendy restaurants and wine bars, coupled with payday loan centers and coin-op laundromats. But a tavola carries a distinctly independent feel.
It’s the sort of place you could take anyone to. The atmosphere is understated and refined. It’s classic without being dated yet also immediately intimate, all the while projecting a sense of effortless comfort and ambiance. In contrast with some of the trendier restaurants nearby, the clientele at a tavola seems older, and there’s a greater sense of familiarity between diners. Another notable difference at a tavola is the lack of large bay windows overlooking the street and sidewalk, present in many of the neighborhood restaurants.
The menu is short and market inspired. We had the caprese salad and the shiitake and portabello mushrooms sauteed in olive oil to start. Both were simple and satisfying. I had the braised short rib on saffron risotto as my main, but I also sampled some of the brown butter sage gnocchi. I was very impressed with everything I tasted. When our main courses arrived, we ate for a few minutes in near silence. The food was close to perfect.
After finishing our plates, we felt content but for some reason ordered dessert. We went with the lemon tart (not my choice), which was not very good. The crust was much too hard and dense. It was the one menu item we did not consume entirely. Instead, formed the remaining half of the tart into a sad face to convey our displeasure to the overzealous waitress who was tending to us.
Overall, an excellent meal. Perhaps a cannolo would have made for a more fitting end to our dinner, but it’s hard to say.
Total cost per person – around $40