Put away your Atkins books. October 17 is National Pasta Day. In case you aren't pasta'd out from the Chicago Marathon this past weekend, now would be a good time to visit some of Chicago's top spots for pasta. Specifically, there are numerous places turning out top-notch housemade pastas that merit your attention and your appetite. Make plans for some of these pasta spots this week.
Nellcote is a veritable pasta palace, going above and beyond the call of carb duty to make their own pasta and turn out some exceptional seasonal dishes. The restaurant is unique in Chicago in that they actually mill their own flour in-house, using Midwestern wheat and a pristine flour mill nestled in the basement. Adroit executive chef Jared Van Camp embraces his inner Italian Nonna for hearty pasta creations featuring a wide range of shapes, sizes, sauces, and accoutrements. Preparations change through the seasons, but examples include linguine strewn with artichokes and snow peas, chilled squid ink strozzapreti, minty potato gnocchi, sweet corn agnolotti, and macaroni enhanced with heirloom pork. Diners can also opt to keep things simple with bowls full of egg noodles, fresh herbs, and Parmigiano.
Housemade pastas are an important piece of the authentic Italian puzzle at Piccolo Sogno, Tony Priolo's "little dream" come true on the edge of West Town. The chef strives for traditional Italian preparations and flavors in every way, shape, and form, and that means making everything in-house by hand on a daily basis. Of course, pasta is a vital element in the Italian kitchen, so expect copious amounts of housemade pastas at Piccolo Sogno. A few varieties change seasonally, but several pastas remain staples throughout the year. The signature ravioli Piccolo Sogno features four cheese-stuffed pasta pockets enrobed in butter and Marsala glaze. Farro flour pasta triangles comprise the stracci di farro, interspersed with asparagus, mushrooms, garlic, and truffle oil. Paglia e fieno con vitello contains "straw and hay" green and white ribbon noodles immersed in veal ragu. One fall favorite is the cappellacci di zucca, pasta stuffed with local pumpkin and amaretti cookies, served with brown butter, walnuts, and sage.
(Housemade macaroni at Nellcote)
At West Town pasta shop Pasta Puttana, noodles go farm-to-bowl. The longtime farmers' market favorite set up a brick-and-mortar shop of its own a couple years ago, featuring the vibrant seasonal wares prepared by pasta-maker Jessica Volpe. Her hand-crafted pastas come in a plethora of colors, flavors, and shapes, from ramp pasta in the spring to fiery chile-laced noodles and white wine pasta that just begs to be paired with a glass of vino. Pastas are available to-go, to be cooked at home, and the shop also supplies an assortment of pasta-friendly accompaniments and provisions to help pimp out your pending meal.
For a soulful bowlful of Italian Americana, head to Centro. The longtime red sauce-heavy restaurant that shuttered in 2001 and re-opened this year is once again brimming with all sorts of housemade pastas heaped in gigantic portions and served by waiters who look like they could be extras on the set of a mobster movie. Ahh good times. The restaurant definitely treads in the classics, crafting its own pastas for homey fare such as spaghetti and meatballs, spaghetti bolognese, mostaccioli marinara, baked cavatelli, ricotta-filled ravioli, and loads more.
(Ravioli at Vivo)
Vivo recently appointed a new executive chef, Alessandro Nalbone, who just so happens to be from Italy. So you know what that means. The man knows his way around a bowl of pasta. The revered Restaurant Row staple has been churning out housemade pasta for years, but the menu is only poised to get better under the tutelage of the new chef. Housemade pastas are a large part of the menu at Vivo, made fresh daily in-house. Spring for ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach in a brown butter-sage sauce, or clam-laced spaghetti in white wine reduction. Tagliatelle takes a spicy turn with homemade bacon, onions, and a fiery tomato sauce, while mascarpone and black truffles serve to enrich a plate of cavatelli.