Earlier this week, I had the chance to pop in to a great little Italian place in my neighborhood, Trattoria Gianni, for a much-needed family-style dinner. This place has been flourishing for the past nearly 30 years, establishing itself as a hidden gem that’s actually very hidden.
On any given night, the Steppenwolf and Royal George theatergoers look to Gianni for a quick bite before or after a show. But you could actually stay for hours. No matter how many Italian restaurants you frequent, each one seems to have something so special about it. For me, Trattoria Gianni seemed like I was walking into someone’s home. I love the ambiance of small venues, especially in the Italian culture, because you actually become a member of the family.
With this group, we needed to try everything. The Arancini Siciliani saffron risotto balls kicked off our dinner; a perfectly fried blend of Bolognese and peas. We tried the calamari that had a nice initial zesty lemon flavor to offset the octopus and shrimp combination.
It seems like beets are all the rage lately. People love beets, and I want to latch onto whatever train beets are operating. I cannot get enough. These red and golden beets are roasted and paired with arugula, crumbled blue cheese and an orange-balsamic vinaigrette that breaks down the lettuce nicely.
We had truffle-accented Pappardelle with garlic, wild mushrooms and speck, which was incredibly lighter than I had originally anticipated. I imagined someone’s Nonna in the back making the Gnocchi della Nonna, stuffing each piece with ricotta, and topping it with homemade tomato sauce and a little bit of love. The simplicity of this dish is a testament to old-world Italian feasts, and as soon as I took a bite I was taken back to holidays with my family where we had pasta for days.
By the time the secondo piatti — or main course — came out, there was little room left in my stomach. But, how do you pass on this? Saltimbocca, Spiedini and duck — I just cannot say no to these. The grilled duck breast dish featured Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes and pan-seared polenta, which I’m also currently binging on, and was the most tender, flavorful duck I’ve had in a long time.
This cultivated dinner could have gone on all night, and I would have been happy to indulge until closing time. But I suppose it had to come to an end sometime, and it did with the embodiment of Italian desserts — the almighty cannoli. Pistachios are the traditional topping for this sweet ricotta and chocolate chip-filled dessert, and it was just the perfect finish.
All in all, I enjoyed being a part of this extended family for a night. And an old saying kept creeping into my head when I was walking home: Mangia bene, ridi spesso, ama molto. Eat well, laugh often, love much.