All I Want for Christmas...Is Pasta
Everyone has their own comfort food. For a Thai person, it might be a big bowl of pho, the savory broth of meat and vegetables that’s traditionally eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. For a Russian, it might be a steaming bowl of borscht; for a Mexican, perhaps a plate of birria, steamed meat, usually beef or goat, served with a little salsa and fresh tortillas.
For many of us, however, there is nothing more comforting than a big platter of pasta. Think of one of your first food loves from childhood; we’re guessing that, for many of you, it was mac n’ cheese.
Fortunately, in Chicago, we’re going through a pasta renaissance, when more and more restaurants are making their own pasta and serving it up expertly sauced.
Here are five of Chicago’s best restaurants, each serving excellent pasta, just what you want to comfort yourself on a cold and windy winter day.
Tortello. Handmade in the front window, the pasta at Tortello comes in many shapes and sizes, all delicious. The namesake tortello are plump pasta pillows filled with burrata and topped with crispy sage leaves, a preparation that showcases the natural beauty of the ingredients and the accomplished craftsmanship of the kitchen. There are a lot of fancier dishes, like bucatini with lobster, but if you’re bringing the kids to Tortello (and a lot of people do bring their little ones), there are specially prepared children’s pasta, which can be as simple as the excellent house made pasta with just butter and salt.
Monteverde. Sarah Grueneberg’s Monteverdi is a restaurant totally devoted to pasta. Having spent time at Spiaggia, one of Chicago’s finest Italian restaurants, Grueneberg opened her own place in the West Loop, making pasta throughout the day, with a long mirror positioned over the pasta-making tables so that customers would be able to appreciate the skill that goes into making even the simplest pasta noodles. In addition to traditional pasta dishes, Grueneberg experiments with new preparations, like Wok Fried Arrabbiata and Cacio Whey Pepe, which is prepared with ricotta whey and a dusting of four-peppercorn blend, a delicious variation on a classic.
Coco Pazzo. At Coco Pazzo, a fine dining Italian food landmark in River North, chef Federico Comaccio serves up a menu of Tuscan-inspired dishes that leverage high quality ingredients and superb kitchen skills. Some of the favorite dishes include gnochetti, small pillows of potato pasta, agnolotti, little ravioli-like pillows of ricotta and mushrooms, and pappardelle with wild boar ragu. With a Wine Spectator-award-winning wine list, Coco Pazzo makes sure you will find the perfect pairing for whatever pasta you choose.
Spiaggia. One of the very finest Italian restaurants in the city, Tony Mantuano’s Spiaggia, overlooking the holiday lights of Michigan Avenue, is the perfect place to get your Christmas pasta on. Fine dining touches elevate even the simplest dishes: traditional Spaghetti Pomodoro is enriched with bone marrow and perked with horseradish (!); Risotto alla Milanesa is upgraded with Wagyu beef and saffron; and Caramelle gets the pleasantly surprising addition of foie gras.
Italian Village. Since 1927, Italian Village has been interpreting Italian food for Chicagoans with such classic dishes as Veal Marsala and Chicken Parmigiana, as well as pasta dishes including manicotti, lasagna and spaghetti. There is no more magical dining room, at Christmas or any time of year, than the Village (one of three restaurants at this location); with its twinkling stars and Italian landscape, it’s like stepping into another world.