Volare Restaurant has been a Chicago institution since it opened in Streeterville in 1997. If you've been there before you've probably experienced great Italian food, Italian-American staples, along with good service in a packed dining room. Well, recently the place shut down and received a major facelift. They expanded with more space- a second dining area with it's own bar and a more modern look. They kept the open kitchen where you can see chefs slinging your favorite dishes and managed to add more items like Neapolitan style pizza, charcuterie and additional hot & cold antipasti. Don't worry- their famous Insalata di Mare (seafood salad) is still there!
I had the chance to check out the place last week with my wife and here's my take:
The host staff greeted us promptly and we were seated by GM Marco Micheli, an old colleague and a great guy. I never can wait to look at the wine and drink menus, so I grabbed them and dove in. The cocktail list is fun with some simplistic and fresh concoctions, some made with Italian bitters like Amaro and Campari. The wine by the glass list is a bit below par and I'd like to see better selections, but the bottle list is full of great picks and value.
We put in a drink order along with a couple of starters: Vongole al Forno (baked clams) and Ravioli d'Aragosta (lobster ravioli). The clams were good as ever, topped with bread crumbs a white wine sauce, while the ravioli were fresh and topped with a cream sauce, peas and mushrooms. The pastas all looked great with quite a few of them made fresh in house, but we decided on the Filet Mignon medium rare for me and the Halibut for my wife.
Even with all the movement, music and talking we were able to converse and hear eachother without any problem- great atmosphere. There wasn't a spot unoccupied in either dining room, the outdoor patio or the bars, but the kitchen was working hard and getting everything out timely. Our dishes arrived and we were ready. Everything was fantastic- my filet was cooked perfectly and melted in my mouth like butter. It came with bordelaise sauce and potato croquettes which makes it seem very French, but the grilled fennel made me feel Italian again. My wife's halibut was extremely fresh and tasty, placed over parsnip puree and sauteed spinach. I'd get those dishes again. And again.
We did our best to save room for dessert and I already know the Tiramisu is top tier in this city, so we went a different direction- coconut cheesecake and baked chocolate pudding. I will start off by saying to steer clear of the chocolate pudding. It's extremely dry and no where near chocolatey enough. But dessert was redeemed by coconut goodness- the cheesecake was everything I thought it would be, on top of a graham cracker crust. Can't miss.
If you haven't had time to make it to Volare yet, I'll say where've you been? If you haven't been to the new Volare, I'll say what are you waiting for? Whatsamatta u!