It was a perfect end-of-summer night. It was still light, there was a refreshing breeze and it wasn’t humid. And our party of four was celebrating 130 years--two of us turned 65 this summer. So we took the only trip to Italy we could afford, an evening at
The romantic setting, the floor-to-ceiling windows and Frank Sinatra's sensational voice crooning in the background got us off to a great start. And, as lovely as the restaurant was inside, we all want to come back and enjoy the spacious patio with it’s own bar, flat screen TVs, quaint sidewalk café and free parking next door.
Trattoria Isabella’s staff does hospitality just right. We were greeted by Maître d' Manager Paolo M. Capobianco whose restaurant career has taken him to some of New York’s finest restaurants where he met and entertained many famous celebs.
Paolo, our waiter Cesar and the entire wait staff gave us the same red carpet treatment as the VIPs.
Executive chef Michael Serratore has created a mouth-watering menu that brings the taste of traditional Italian cooking to Chicago’s Fulton river district. I dare you to read the menu without salivating. And, in a couple of weeks, their very own brick oven imported directly from Italy will be fired up for real, Italian-style (thin crust!) pizza.
We all had difficulty deciding what to order from that many-splendored menu.
When our food arrived, everything looked, tasted and smelled so delectable, we all shared each others food with the sampling plates our waiter Cesar thoughtfully provided.
Since there were four of us—Pat, Herb, Jeff and Tom--we ordered an assortment of appetizers, entrées and desserts which we coveted, shared, tasted, and savored. Jeff, a chef, helped me dish out our selections.
We started with crisp, warm, crusty Italian bread that we dipped in rosemary-garlic infused olive oil. This was the keynote of the meal. Fresh, delicious, harmonious, subtle flavors abounded. We were sorry when they took the bread away--we wanted to keep dipping it in all the remarkable sauces that followed.
Antipasti (appetizers) : Off to an eccezionale (exceptional) start
We got off to a great start with our appetizers—everyone raved about their choices. Luckily, all were willing to share so we could all weigh in. The portions, by the way, were generous enough to share, so everyone had a chance to get a good size sample.
Probably the biggest surprise was the Bruschetta Italiana, fresh tomatoes, basil and capers on crisp, crusty toast. Often, under the best of circumstances, the toast is mushy. Not this. It was perfect. Jeff added that the crisp but fresh bread was a tasty counterpoint to its chilled topping .
Polipo alla Griglia, grilled octopus with the Chef's special sauce was tender and flavorful. Jeff praised the balsamic reduction which was rich but not acidic or too sweet.
My Verdura alla Griglia, grilled vegetables—a beautiful array of peppers, seasonal squash and red onions with Parma vinaigrette, was so good I almost didn't want to share.
But I'm glad I did, so I could sample the Cozze Scoppiate, mussels sautéed in garlic, olive oil, fresh tomatoes and a touch of white wine served with a Marinara sauce. The huge mussels were succulent and the sauce, glistening red and abundantly flavorful, complemented them exquisitely. If only we could have dipped our bread in that sauce! I am not a fan of red sauce so it had to be outstanding for me to be so impressed with it.
Secundi (entrées): On to the squisito (exquisite) main courses
Herb ordered the special, a multi-colored, fresh, house made Pasta with Seafood, shrimp, clams and crab meat. Typically served with cream sauce, Herb asked instead for the house Marinara, the same scrumptious sauce on his mussels. We all thought the dish was excellent. Incidentally, the serving was large enough to split at least two ways.
My Salmone Genovese, grilled salmon with a champagne pesto sauce, was as beautiful as it was tasty. The salmon was done just right and oh! that champagne pesto sauce was divine, a taste sensation I won't soon forget! Jeff and I were surprised that the champagne and pesto were combined, but combined they were—deliciously!
Tom's Pollo alla Marsala, breast of chicken served with mushrooms and a Marsala wine sauce looked beautiful and he yummed after every bite. Later he confessed to his temptation to lick the plate. I think we all gave that idea a whirl. Jeff voted this dish his favorite overall. The sauce was done with such finesse and the tender chicken breast was scaloppini'd rather than flattened. The final dish was delectable.
Jeff's Filet Mignon (16 oz. Prime cut) perfectly matched with blue cheese and spinach was, according to Jeff, a great cut of meat cooked perfectly and served in an elegant Barolo wine sauce. It was truly a feast for at least two--there were two plump, succulent filets!
Dolce, (Dessert) : Sweet!
Our luscious dinner was a tough act to follow, but dessert at Trattoria Isabella was up to the challenge.
Tom and Jeff shared the lightly flavored, moist, house made Tiramisu. Jeff noted the distinct, well-balanced but subtle coffee and liquor flavors.
Herb chose the colorful, creamy Cannoli filled with almond-flavored, creamy mascarpone. The crust was remarkably crisp—not soggy—and flavorful.
I'm a gelato lover and Trattoria Isabella had my favorite flavor, Spumoni, so I couldn't resist. Ribbons of chocolaty, fruity, and nutty flavors, mine was served at just the right temperature and consistency--creamy but not soupy. Mmmm.
Our little trip to Italy was a taste of la dolce vita.
Trattoria Isabella is relaxed enough to be a nice neighborhood restaurant, cozy enough for a romantic dinner and delicious enough for special occasions. You could also close a big deal over one of these meals. Or have a very elegant private party here.
Trattoria Isabella’s business hours are:
Monday through Thursday - lunch and dinner open from 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Friday - lunch and dinner open from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Saturday - dinner open from 4:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Sunday - dinner open from 4:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Free parking in the lot at Fulton and Jefferson after 5 p.m. weekdays and all day on weekends.
Clinton Stop on the Green and Pink Lines
217 N Jefferson St
Chicago, IL 60661-1103
Photos: Trattoria Isabella and Herb Simms