Italian Restaurants in Chicago: Lunch at The Florentine

Italian Restaurants in Chicago: Lunch at The Florentine
Roasted Scallops Antipasti at Florentine.

With over 6000 Italian restaurants in Chicago from the West Randolph, Bucktown, and River North neighborhoods to Wicker Park and Little Italy, Chicago’s Italian restaurant landscape is hot…and trending.

There’s Bill and Giuliana’s, RPM Italian, Siena Tavern, Nellcote and Mario Batali’s Eataly—complete with 23 eateries—to name a few.

The menus tout the likes of CONIGLIO ALL AGRO (stewed rabbit) and FIORI DI ZUCCA (squash blossoms with cheese).

What ever happened to meatball sandwiches and spaghetti, you may ask?  Where are the red-and-white checkered tablecloths? You may still find some at Chicago's Italian Village—but mostly not in the trendy Italian eateries in the haute 'hoods.

Florentine Executive Chef Chris Macchia

Florentine Executive Chef Chris Macchia

The Florentine, located in the established financial/business corridor of Chicago and near the downtown theater district, may not be the first neighborhood that comes to mind when thinking trendy Italian--but, you may want to think again.  The restaurant has a solid reputation for classic Italian fare and a long line of repeat customers.

Current Executive Chef Chris Macchia arrived at the Florentine two years ago with impressive credentials.  Winning accolades during his eight year stint at Coco Pazzo, including a spot on Chicago Magazine's top 20 pizza list, Macchia's star is most definitely rising in Chicago.

At a media tasting at The Florentine on Friday, Macchia put together an impressive selection of some of his new creations along with restaurant favorites that have been on the menu since its inception.

This tasting was not about simple sustenance—nor was it your typical lunch.  Macchia's double-digit showcase of menu items sparkled with his artistry, presentation, creativity, versatility and imagination.

Here are some of my favorites:

For starters, the Antipasti entree of Roasted Scallops (pictured at the top of post) was served with grilled escarole, roasted peppers, caper berries and olive vinaigrette for $16.  It was magnifico.

Next up, the Insalata, a Tuscan Kale beauty--captured the flavors of the Florence/Tuscany region with its mix of roasted carrots, pancetta and percorino, topped with toasted bread crumbs and lemon for $14.

Of the seven pizzas listed on the menu, we tasted two. Both were excellent but the Prosciutto with black mission figs, gorgonzola dolce and honey was outstanding.

The panni and sandwich selections, all served with hand cut fries, featured a Soft Shell Crab sandwich. The sandwich with healthy chunks of crab, provolone, butter lettuce, red onion, tomato, lemon aioli on sourdough was a definite win at $16.

Tafliolini Neri--a shrimp, zucchini, cherry tomato, and white wine paste. Full order $26 or half-order $13

The Paste, Tafliolini Neri, pictured here, was amazing.  The beautifully presented dish showcased shrimp, zucchini, cherry tomato, and white wine.  Full order $26 or half-order $13.

florentinedessertAmong the desserts that we tasted, the creme-filled raspberry crepes were a standout for both their good looks and good taste.

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