My wife Jun and I recently went on a short trip to meet my parents in Chicago (my mother had a business trip in the city, and my father was tagging along). While Jun and I ended up helping out my mother a lot for her business trip on a fairly hectic schedule, we still had a very meaningful time my parents whom we don’t get to see that often as they live in Korea. Before our reunion, my mother asked that I arrange a dinner for our family and four of her business trip companions. Knowing that my father is an aficionado of Italian food, I looked up Monteverde, a leading Italian restaurant in the Windy City for its fresh take on Italian cuisine and superb pasta offerings. I was required to commit to a family style dinner that serves two snacks, two appetizers, two pastas, one main dish and two desserts, at $70 per person plus 22% mandatory “administrative fee” (i.e. gratuities). Not a friendly price tag, but I was more interested in making sure that my parents enjoy a good meal so decided to trust the accolade around the restaurant since its opening three years ago. It wasn’t a perfect meal, but there were some dishes that certainly deserve praise and that make Monteverde indeed a worthy restaurant to visit in Chicago.
I thought by family style, the portion would still be more or less manageable for eight people, but during the meal it almost felt like the kitchen thought they were preparing a meal for 12 or even 16 people! Not surprisingly, toward the end of the meal the entire dining party started to struggle with eating the gigantic piles of food. There were four females in the dining party (including my mother and Jun) so maybe the kitchen overestimated how much capacity we had in our stomachs? In any event, the snacks (“stuzzichini”) and appetizers (“piattini”) dishes Jun and I had ordered in advance of our meal were all very delicious, starting with the artichoke and sunchoke crostino where the addition of housemade ricotta and truffle made each bite wonderfully complex, as well as fried stuffed olives with a powerful mix of goat cheese and sausage inside. The stuffed cabbage had porcini mushroom Bolognese and crispy polenta inside for a spectacular effect on the overall flavor, and while if a restaurant in New York City serves skate schnitzel with wok-fried onion and peperoncino (hot chili peppers) this good, I think I will visit that place more often. The temperature and texture of the skate was spot-on, and the spicy kick from the peperoncino gave even more robustness to the dish.
The pasta menus at Monteverde are divided into to groups, “tipica” (i.e. traditional style) and “atipica” (“i.e. novel, unconventional style). Jun and I had ordered one dish each, and the one from atipica group turned out to be more successful. The pasta dish from the tipica group, campanelle with blistered cherry tomato, basil and za’atar, was surprisingly off in the flavor, which was a little too overpowering. Expecting a simple, soulful tomato-based pasta, Jun winced at how aggressive the flavor was and didn’t touch the dish much. On the other hand, the wok-fried arrabbiata from the atipica group was quite wonderful, with black and white tagliolini (think spaghetti-like thin noodles) and ground Texas Gulf shrimp working beautifully with garlic hot pepper oil to give a flavor that was powerful, interesting and addictively good.
As I mentioned above, by the time the pastas were done, everyone was very much stuffed and were startled to see two giant plates of Ragu alla Napoletana consisting of fusilli pasta, sausage, soppressata meatball and tomato braised pork shank. Jun and I felt terrible that both plates were barely touched, especially because all the different components in the dishes were delicious, especially the pork shank that was more or less perfectly braised. Only if our hotel had a microwave so that we could take the leftovers for a breakfast or lunch the next day… In any event, we still had desserts left, and this time the two dishes we had ordered came at a more reasonable portion. Jun and I enjoyed both warm chocolate ganache tart accompanied by hazelnut praline, banana caramel and vanilla ice cream (which had an attractively rustic quality) and butterscotch budino with buttered pecan and whipped mascarpone (with a bruleed top that you can crack with a spoon), and mustered whatever space in our stomachs we had left to savor these delightful desserts.
Monteverde is still a very popular restaurant in Chicago, and during our meal we saw that late diners were showing up at as late as 10 p.m. The dining space is not particularly big either so I highly suggest booking for a table in advance. There is full bar with heavily Italian wine list; my father ordered a bottle of Chianti Classico from the Tuscany region that everyone enjoyed to complement the meal. The casual and hip vibe of the restaurant makes it perhaps better suited for younger crowds, but the noise was not terribly overwhelming to make it uncomfortable for older diners like my parents. I don’t think Jun and I had had this much food in a single meal since our wedding, and wished the overall dining experience were not overshadowed by the portion issue and the resulting guilt that we had both felt for leaving too much food on the table. Next time we have an opportunity to visit Monteverde, we will stick to a group no larger than four people so we can sample enough number of dishes without killing ourselves. The flavor at Monteverde could be slightly more moderated for my and Jun’s taste, but there were still a lot of exciting dishes that I think makes this restaurant still one of the hottest tables in Chicago.
KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10)
- Creativity: 8.5/10
- Execution: 8.5/10
- Ingredients: 8.0/10
- Flavor: 8.0/10
- Texture: 8.5/10
- Value: 8.0/10
Address: 1020 West Madison Street, Chicago, IL 60607
Telephone: (312) 888-3041