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 Italian fare and drinks at Via Veneto Ristorante Italiano.
Chef and owner Tony Barbanente masterfully infuses authentic Italian dishes with Chicago’s signature gusto. True to the restaurant’s family-run tradition, the lunch and dinner menus brim with appetizers, pastas, and meat-centric entrees that squeeze hunger away like the embrace of an overenthusiastic aunt. Antipasti teasers stoke main-attraction anticipation with fried calamari fritti ($13.95) or zucca ripiena ($11.95), which features stuffed acorn squash with a regal crown of goat cheese. An intimate 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). Secondi entrees tout hearty plates of veal with shiitake and portobello mushrooms ($23.95) and bistecca rib eye steak ($22.95).
As the dimmed overhead lights illuminate expressions of postmeal satisfaction, diners can consider authentic Italian desserts that include such delicacies as grilled peaches served with vanilla ice cream ($6.95). After the plates have been cleared, lift a glass of wine or grappa ($10) 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.