by Suzanne Graham
House Made Cavatelli in Chicago
On a cool autumn day in October, I walked down Chicago’s Michigan Avenue past rows of shops. I turned onto Ontario Street and headed a few blocks west of the busy and touristy shopping district towards State Street, where I would find Quartino.
This is one of many visits to this restaurant, but today is different – I am evaluating exactly what it is that keeps this particular restaurant near the very top of my list of favorites.
While it is located among condo buildings, several other restaurants and bars, and and shops, when I entered I was instantly transported to another place and time. With vintage decor and a charming, distincly European feel, it was easy to forget about the bustling city moving at a fast pace outside.
Smaller wooden tables are spaced just far enough apart to allow for maneuvering through the dining area. Walls are neutral; adorned with sports jerseys and large, vintage mirrors featuring the names of Italian distilleries and vineyards.
The restaurant features two floors, both with a similarly open floorplan yet somehow intimate feel. There is also a lively bar area and seasonal outdoor seating for those that want to enjoy the good weather while it lasts, along with a view of the busy streets of downtown Chicago.
The restaurant offers mainly Italian small plates. From Italian salumi and cheese to house made pasta, seafood, risotto, and Neapolitan style pizza, there is something on the menu for everyone.
Among my favorite parts of dining at Quartino is their extensive yet reasonably priced wine list, with light, medium, and full-bodied whites and reds, as well as a selection of sparkling. Wines here are served by the carafe, with all of them offered by the bottle and many offered by the quarter or half bottle.
If wine isn’t your style, a full bar with a selection of beer, apertifs, and liqueurs is also available. While I have my favorite dishes, I occasionally like to ask for a recommendation. Servers are genuine, professional, knowledgable, and happy to help.
After perusing the menu, I decided on a white bean and garlic spread, a shaved salad with fresh vegetables and light vinaigrette dressing, a house made cavatelli with tomato sauce, cheese and basil, and a half bottle of medium-bodied white wine.
Dishes are served as they are prepared, as your server will gladly explain, so it’s best to take some time out of your evening to fully take in the atmosphere. I arrived in the late afternoon during a typically quiet time for restaurants, but by the time 6pm came, it was noticeably more lively.
As I made my way through my meal, appreciating the freshness, crispness, and full flavors, I could hear a growing crowd of other happy, talkative diners, the occasional shuffling of plates and silverware, and loaves of bread being sliced.
If I hadn’t ordered so much already, I would have happily rounded out my meal with a coffee and an order of profiteroles, but that will have to wait for another day. The charm, professional service, lively atmosphere, reasonable prices, and unique menu keep myself as well as many other locals and tourists coming back.
I closed out my bill, which was presented with a vintage-style black and white restaurant postcard as a memory from one of my many visits, and went back outside to enjoy more of the beautiful city.