Unfortunately, Nero is remembered as the callous emperor who watched Rome burn from his palace tower, not the enlightened gastronome whose vision was to reinvent the city as a giant brick oven for pizza. Adopt a flavor first outlook with today's Groupon: for $20, you get $40 worth of upscale Italian cuisine and drinks at Via Veneto Ristorante Italiano.
Chef and owner Tony Barbanente masterfully infuses authentic Italian dishes with Chicago’s signature gusto. A lunch menu borrowed from Grandma’s prized recipe book features such old-country treats as orecchiette carrettiera, a half-shell pasta that shares a ceramic bed with sautéed broccoli, garlic, parmigiano, and cream ($12.95). Navigate a Venetian gondola over waves of marinara sauce with the spaghetti pescatore, a seafood specialty that enlightens taste buds with a symphonic coupling of clams and mussels ($17.95). True to the restaurant’s family-run tradition, the dinner menu squeezes hunger away like the embrace of an overenthusiastic aunt. A romantic evening in the restaurant’s brick-walled dining room pairs exquisitely with the homemade potato dumplings of the gnocchi al filo di pomodore ($16.95) or the meaty lasagna di carne ($14.95).
As the dimmed overhead lights illuminate expressions of postmeal satisfaction, diners can order from a menu of authentic Italian desserts that includes such delicacies as grilled peaches served with vanilla ice cream ($6.95). After the plates have been cleared, lift a glass of wine to toast to the grape-strewn fields of southern Italy and the earth's second moon.
Via Veneto Ristorante Italiano
For more than 20 years, Chef Tony Barbanente has adapted recipes from his childhood in an Italian fishing village to form a menu of simple yet delectable seafood dishes that earned him accolades from ABC 7's Hungry Hound. Chefs construct made-to-order veal, stuffed squid, and house-made pastas to slake hunger pangs or at least make them sing baritone during a medley of Pavarotti's greatest hits. The aromas of fresh cooking weave through the bright dining room, which features exposed brick and walls lined with black-and-white photos. The house language instructor, from Bari, Italy, educates curious diners about Italian cuisine and etiquette, including what to do when a pie-shaped moon hits the eye for just a little too long.