The Italian noodle has evolved over millions of years, originating in Sicily as a little chimp noodle and eventually morphing into a variety of highly-developed forms (the full-on homo ravioli being one of the more sophisticated subspecies). Physical anthropologists and archeologists have tracked the noodle's immigration patterns from Italy across the world, identifying the many different physical attributes it adopted in order to survive the voyage. Gills (macaroni) brought the noodle to the New World, and wings (farfalle) helped it reach the Midwest and Evanston - where at Va Pensiero Italian restaurant the noodle has found a habitat in which to flourish. Adapting Italian classics to embrace the bounty of Midwestern meats and vegetables, Va Pensiero - located at 1566 Oak Ave. in Evanston - creates unforgettable cuisine in a pleasant dining environment. Today's deal - just $20 for a $50 Groupon - makes it easier than ever to give Va Pensiero a try.
Va Pensiero owner Jeff Muldrow has served as executive chef at a number of top-notch Chicago Italian restaurants. Using the best ingredients from local, predominantly organic farms (plus a few indispensably Italian ingredients imported from the motherland), he's assembled a creative menu that features sumptuous dishes like Lobster and Blue Crab Cake with Red Watercress (and horseradish aioli) - a perfect first course. The Carpaccio of Grass-Fed Beef Tenderloin with Sun-Dried Tomato Compote (and shaved Parmesan) is another sure bet (you can't even taste the grass!). Entrées are varied and impressive: Try the Herbed-Crusted Sea Scallops, Navel Orange, Couscous, Brandied Lobster Sauce, or - if you carry a petite purse, or don a petite helicopter beanie - the Petite Veal Chops "Milanese," with Sugar Snap Peas and Cherry Tomatoes (and lemon-garlic sauce). Wash it all down with a wine pairing from Va Pensiero's wine list, winner of the coveted Wine Spectator's Award of Excellence.
While Groupon doesn't support prejudice against wine spectators, we're aware that many of our readers have a profound distaste for them. But know this: Even the legendary Zagat, who has no eyes, nose or fingers with which to spectate, used his famous tongue to evaluate Va Pensiero and bestowed a 26 rating (that's really good). Yelpers give Va Pensiero an average of 4.5 out of 5 stars:
"Pure elegance is really the only way to describe Va Pensiero . . . Each mouthful is as savory as the next. Every dish looks like a work of art, I actually sat back and appreciated the presentation before diving in." - Nick M.
"I've had some REALLY outstanding meals in this place. Everything is solid to excellent, the duck & mushroom ravioli were sublime." - Marek L.
If you care about the environment, vote with your fork! Many of the local vegetables Va Pensiero uses are heirloom varietals, including those popular tomatoes with bulges and crevices that make them look like small, red pumpkins. (An unpopular heirloom: cauliflower shaped like a bust of Rodney Dangerfield.) Heirlooms varietals have been marginalized by the standardization of large-scale agro-business and supermarket chains, which are guilty of promoting an Aryan master race of genetically-modified vegetables with blond leaves and blue stems - determined by their marketing executives to sell better. What these executives fail to consider is that human dependency on homogeneous plant types puts entire vegetables at risk of being wiped out by disease, much like the homogeneous Aryans themselves were wiped about by a rare strain of pink eye.
Supporting plant diversity is not only pro-environmental - it's also pro-deliciousness. Diversity is beautiful, as evidenced by this music video for Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney's "Ebony and Ivory." Switch out Paul McCartney for a particularly bumpy and delicious zucchini, and eating at Va Pensiero is just like this video - except that it grooves a little harder. Not that Paul isn't bumpy or delicious.
Get your Groupon.