New Year’s resolution #3: Dine out more! My Trattoria Gianni review


There is something truly fascinating about Italian comfort food classics made with passion and executed well. Can it be the thick sauce, cooked for hours and mastered to perfection? The quality ingredients that come together to create homemade delight, much like mamma used to make? The inspired pairing with regional wines, which join in with the food to epitomize a glorious dining experience? Maybe it’s one of these things – or maybe it’s all at the same time. What I do know, especially after having dined at Trattoria Gianni recently, is that one-of-a-kind culinary experiences must be replicated to keep one’s soul and belly happy, especially on the ever-changing, sometimes frigid Chicago weather 😉 That’s why I have decided to dine out more this year, and to try to strike a balance between my professional and family commitments, and my restaurant visits. Here’s resolution #3 – and here’s to a year full of great foodie discoveries and amazing eats!

I visited Trattoria Gianni one cold end-of-year night – such a difference from the sunny afternoon when I first stopped here for dinner, a couple of summers ago. I was shivering from walking to the restaurant, my hands were icy, and my eyes were watery from the blistering wind. Once I got inside however, relief was within reach. The wood-based retro interior decoration made me feel welcome immediately.

A special mention must be made about Trattoria Gianni’s “Wall of Fame” located next to the bar, which features impressive memorabilia from some of the restaurant’s most famous guests. I got very excited upon seeing a candid picture of the one and only, ever-so-fabulous John Malkovich. My restaurant experience could not have been off to a better start!

Dinner began with Arancini Siciliani – saffron risotto balls stuffed with bolognese, peas & scamorza cheese, fried and served with fresh marinara sauce. Once I sank my teeth into the arancini, I discovered the gooey deliciousness of the scamorza – and that made me very, very happy!

Speaking of happiness, would you agree with me that happiness is a bowl of meatballs? Don’t know about you, but I’m fascinated with Italian tomato sauces – the depth of flavor is just incredible! Lucky me, chef and owner Gianni Delisi allowed me to enter Trattoria Gianni’s kitchen to learn about the sauce making process…

…and the ingredients they use (authentic Italian!).

Upon visiting the kitchen, I gained a deeper understanding of Trattoria Gianni’s culinary repertoire, as well as an appreciation for its respectful depiction of traditional cooking techniques and flavors. My plate of delicate meatballs enveloped in a vibrant marinara sauce was a delight. Melt-in-your mouth meatballs, floral, wholesome notes of tomato goodness, fresh basil for good measure – what’s not to like?

There could only be one ending to my meatball saga: an empty plate πŸ™‚

Naturally, there is more than just arancini and meatballs on the menu at Trattoria Gianni, and everything I tried during my visit was delicious. From the shrimp stew-like dish bursting with fresh and marinated veggie flavors and aromas…

… to the delicate baby green salad topped with blue cheese and ethereal slices of pear heaven…

… and the perfectly cooked mussels…

… the mix of freshness, passion and tradition shining through in Trattoria Gianni’s dishes was a joy to behold and to savor. A special note must be made about Gianni’s pasta dishes, such as these Rigatoni alla Nocerina, featuring sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, and basil in a cream sauce. The sauce was packed-full of flavor, silky, and yet supple and light thanks to the inspired addition of the veggies. Along with the meatballs, this was one of the best dishes I tried during my visit.

Meanwhile, Trattoria Gianni’s fresh, housemade ravioli were some of the best I’ve ever had. Be they smothered in brown butter…

… or covered in thick tomato-based sauce goodness, the ravioli were wholesome, imbued with meaningful flavors, and delicious in their authentic simplicity. When traditional flavors are done right and there is no strange ingredient mysteriously popping up (with the secret goal to distract you from technical flaws or flavor misdirection), you know that you are witnessing tremendous cooking.

Be it summer, fall, winter or spring, a visit to Trattoria Gianni is a must for any Chicago foodie who appreciates classic Italian cooking done right. As for me, I arrived at Trattoria Gianni tired, cold (blame the strong wind!) and hungry, and I left with a happy soul and belly, and delighted with the dishes I had just experienced. Cooking is a state of joy, a canvas inviting creativity, and an attitude. At Trattoria Gianni, all of these definitions come together within a classic setting to take the message of authentic Italian cuisine further, and to create beautiful memories for anyone who gets through Gianni’s doors.

*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.

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