October 23, 2010

La Gondola @ Chicago

La Gondola was a restaurant that my cousin recommended. While a suburban strip mall may be the last place one expects to find a great restaurant, La Gondola turns out to be quite a hidden (and tiny) gem. (And strip mall = free parking! Yay!) The entire dining area only had four tables, so it would have been virtually impossible to get a table without a reservation. Luckily, I am always prepared, and we were swiftly seated upon arrival. While we studied the menu, fresh bread was served. The bread was comfortingly warm, soft in the inside and crispy on the outside, just the way I like it.
My cousin had previously declared the Fried Calamari, served with house cocktail sauce and lemon wedges, the best she's had in the city. A self-proclaimed calamari lover, I wouldn't miss it for the world. However, I didn't think it met my expectations. I did like how the calamari was cut up into big chunks, and that the batter wasn't overly thick. However, there was something lacking in the flavour, and I've had better fried calamari back in Toronto. Perhaps we were just there on an off night. On the other hand, bonus points for the generous portion!
I don't know what compelled us to order a salad, as I usually just get them as sides. We felt instantly overwhelmed by the monstrous La Gondola Salad: crisp romaine lettuce, gorgonzola cheese, Belgian endive, fresh tomatoes and kalamata olives, tossed in olive oil with balsamic on the side. I think I had three bites in total before turning to the pasta.
Rigatoni Boscaiola: tomato cream sauce, fresh mushrooms, and sautéed Italian sausage and fresh sage. This was La Gondola's signature pasta dish. In theory, it was everything I love- tomato cream sauce, rigatoni, and Italian sausage. However, I thought this pasta was a little undercooked and too "al dente". Nevertheless, the flavour was excellent, and I still enjoyed it immensely.
The Caesar side salad came in a more reasonable portion. It resembled a dwarf next to the La Gondola Salad. 
While I was in the washroom, my sister went ahead and ordered the Tartufo, a type of Italian ice cream dessert. To me, it simply tasted like a ball of chocolate ice cream, so I was not entirely happy with my lack of input in the decision making process. Although I did appreciate the pretty flowers that someone took the care to draw on the plate with chocolate syrup.
Thankfully, there were four of us, and we could afford to order a second dessert. The Homemade Tiramisu, made with disaronno amaretto, was a much better choice that satisfied my sweet tooth. And yes, I am a sucker for pretty plating.
On the whole, the meal was satisfying, although I felt that the execution on certain dishes missed the mark. Nevertheless, I love Italian food, and when tiramisu is involved, I'm sold.

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