Monday, May 26, 2008

Volare: Windy City Done Right

Never judge a book by its cover, or a restaurant by its website.

Volare Restaurant- Chicago

So it was a recent weekend road trip that found us in The Windy City, one of the few food capitals of the U.S., and the world even, so I am told.

The problem with dining with a large group of people is that everyone has their own ideas, opinions and notions about certain things, and it makes for a frustrating experience when everyone can't decide on the right place.

We had some suggestions from a globetrotting friend, who dines with the elite...although the majority of those selections were shot down by our local expert, we were adventurous and took the advice of our trusty concierge, who recommended this place according to our specific needs- affordable, good Italian food.

Queue VOLARE- an almost hole-in-the-wall-ish type place, was quite close to our hotel located in the downtown district, that we didn't even need a cab.

I always try to go into each restaurant with NO expectations whatsoever, so that I can be wowed thoroughly. If I have even the slightest inkling of hope for something to expect- I always get let down. So I don't even bother to listen to any one's recommendations, I just go in hoping for the best. And for the most part- I still get let down. Apparently- I'm a very picky eater, according to my girlfriend.

For the record, I'm not a picky eater at all- I just hate when restaurants cut corners and think we don't know. Oh, we know.

Okay back to Volare. So we were all apprehensive about this place since we weren't confidant in the selector's choice, but hey, always have an open mind. Most of us, I think, wanted it to be a flop just so that we could prove our instincts right. But we were waaaaay off. This place really surprised us.

Upon entrance we already had a reservation for 9pm. We arrived at about 10 past 9 and this place was rammed. Good sign number 1. We didn't have to wait long at all as it seemed we were supposed to be seated outside, or on Volare's make-shift patio. This was an interesting concept. So we traveled to a nice, quaint- and by quaint I mean minner, patio. But since it was May and still cold (Windy City cold), their patio was enclosed by a plastic shower curtain type thing. Odd, but still, with the outdoor patio heaters, it gave us an intimate, almost cruise-like atmosphere.

So we're not off to a great start, our table of 7 was not the biggest, and we were bumping elbows with each other in an already crowded indoor/outdoor area.

Our waitress was nice and knowledgeable, but when asked what the specials were, she responded "there are none". Okay. What does that mean- you're out of the specials or you don't have any? Either way, this was not looking good. After up selling us on a softball-team size order of Calamari, that apparently only feeds 3-4...We were also up sold on 2 bottles of wine. Yes, we ordered two of the same bottles of wine for some reason...

To the menu...This thing was huge. This was your classic pasta house, so the standard one page-full dedicated to pastas, a meat and seafood section, and of course pizza.

We all carefully selected our meals and crossed our fingers. The calamari arrived and was good, lightly battered, seasoned well, and cooked to perfection. Not rubbery like you would expect, that you get you know- anywhere. This was good sign number two. So far we're tied 2-2. The meal would be the winning tally.

Let's just say, the food was amazing. I ordered the Risotto with chicken, peas, and asparagus...this was cooked to perfection. Not mushy, not raw...just right. The flavour exhumed Italy in my mouth, and I was very excite. The balance of seasoning, fresh parsley and chicken stock told me the guys in the back knew what they were doing. Not to mention the four cheeses, really made my tongue tingle.

I think every one's meal was superb. I didn't hear one complaint. In fact I didn't really hear one word from anyone as we all devoured our huge portioned meals. Not one of use even dented our plates, as the portions were definitely Italian style. Other meals consumed included:

Penne Arrabiatta: Spicy Vodka sauce- I should have got that it was damn good

Fettucine with Pesto: Also very good.

We all finished our meals (partially) with big grins on our faces. This had been one of the best meal's I'd had in a really, really long time. I will definitely recommend this place to anyone heading to Chi-town.

Every plate was decently priced, and all meals came home with us. Now, meal sizes in the US are fairly larger than those here north of the border, but still, value was great here.

I paid $50, including my main, split app, and 1 and bit glass of wine, and tip. And we tipped well. To me, that's a good deal. For food that good, I would have paid more, and been happy about it.

Overall, the decor was bush, the service was decent, the price was fair, but the food was amazing. And in all honesty, even though I always critique based on the overall experience, this time around the food made up for anything lacking, which wasn't much, mind you.

For a tourist, expectations are usually not that high as you already are spending a lot while in travel status. And that's what made Volare such a good experience, as it was cheap, but great. And I always say, good food does not have to be pricey. The best food should be found in the dumps, hole-in-the-walls, and back alleys.

So let this be a lesson to all of you, never judge a restaurant by their website, their ghetto patio, or their weird server. Give them a chance. The worst that can happen- It'll be bush and show up on this website.


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