UPDATE: This restaurant has closed.
Now that fall is here and the weather has cooled down, I really need my carbs to keep me warm and full. Whole wheat bread sandwiches, risotto, potato stew, pasta – they’re on the menu these days for one simple reason: they’re energy-packed. I can’t get through my day without a healthy dose of carbs as an early lunch, washed down by a big cup of hot English breakfast tea and complemented by a few European biscuits for dessert. Yes, I really like my continental tea and specialty biscuits – I guess old habits die hard 🙂
Coming from Europe, I am a big believer in traditional culinary techniques and products from the “old continent,” yet I am also aware that the key to success lies in reinterpreting glorious traditions to make them appealing to the present. How do you reconcile the old with the new? Can they ever work in harmony? I’ve always been interested to explore these questions, and as such I was very excited when I got an invitation to attend a special “pasta and pizza night” at Osteria La Madia. Named after an Italian cabinet traditionally used to knead dough and store bread, this trendy restaurant in downtown Chicago upholds a respectful understanding of Italian cuisine and traditions.
Osteria La Madia is currently running a half-price pasta promotion for diners seated after 9 p.m., and they invited local food bloggers to sample their made fresh in-house pastas and pizzas and to spread the word. It was an offer my husband and I simply could not refuse.
If I were to use two words to characterize the pastas I tried at Osteria La Madia, these would be: flavorful rusticity. My favorite pasta, the scarpinocc, reminded me of life in the bucolic Italian countryside. This pasta variety, whose birthplace is Bergamo, came in irregular shapes which were filled with a delicious sweetcorn&cheese concoction and made to swim in a brown butter and sweetcorn decadent sauce. Luckily, the addition of the citrus zest and paprika conferred suppleness to the dish, making it flavorful and light – an explosion of unadulterated, yet bearable pleasure.
We tried many other pastas and were impressed with the quality of the ingredients used. From spaghetti frutti di mare featuring mussels right off the coast of Maine, Virginia clams and a bold arrabiata sauce, to orecchiette with chicken sausage, roasted eggplant and castelvetrano olives, and to the much-praised spaghetti cacio e pepe, which exhibited an impressive pecorino romano and pepper simplicity – the pasta dishes were flavorful, well-thought-out, and very satisfying.
No authentic Italian dining experience is complete without pizza, and our Osteria La Madia dinner made no exception. We sampled a variety of piping hot, fresh pies, and our favorite by far was the triple pepperoni. According to General Manager Brooke Walton, this is Osteria La Madia’s biggest selling pizza – and now I know why. Enriched with dashes of white truffle oil, this pie brought an explosion of flavors in my mouth. The slightly chewy crust, the burst of pepperoni, the satisfying cheese, the alluring truffle oil, like a well-executed finishing touch – all of the elements in this pizza worked in harmony and made me reach for another slice, again, and again, and again…
The pizza oven was in full swing throughout our dinner, and La Madia’s pizza experts were getting out pizza after pizza. Wild mushrooms with smoked mozzarella, shishito peppers with peas and house-made guanciale – what’s not to like about these topping combos? Mmmmmm…
We left Osteria La Madia as satisfied customers and very pleased with our culinary discoveries. It’s not often that you get the chance to see culinary traditions skillfully reinvented so as to engage a cosmopolitan customer base, which craves innovation but also authenticity. As I delved into the cold night and allowed the crisp air to caress my face, I knew for a fact that I would come back to Osteria La Madia for another charming culinary encounter – an encounter between food past and present, an encounter like no other.
Disclaimer: Osteria La Madia offered me a complimentary tasting of their products to facilitate this review. All opinions expressed here are my own.