Somewhere on E Ontario St, in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, lies a new dining destination for those who need to grab a bite in-between shopping sprees this holiday season. The name of the restaurant is Vapiano, the ambiance is casual, and the food is fresh: give me a slice of their pizza, and I’m a happy camper! Recently I was invited to the grand opening of this new location (the second Vapiano location in downtown Chicago), and this is a review of my experience. It was a party which started early in the evening and ended around midnight, and we celebrated with balloons, red ribbons and lots of bubbly – and of course, plenty of food to go around 🙂
Vapiano is an international chain of restaurants which offers made-to-order Italian food in a relaxed atmosphere. Today there are close to 200 Vapiano locations in 32 countries spread on 5 continents. What makes Vapiano stand out is its commitment to freshness: pasta, pizzas, antipasti and salads are ordered directly from the chefs at the individual stations, who prepare the dishes in front of the guests, in accordance to their personal preferences and dietary needs. Favorite dishes are re-created, and then individually refined, and the guests can observe every step of the process and can suggest special touches to their heart’s content.
The Magnificent Mile location boasts great views from the second floor, as well as a spacious dining area and a bar. If you look closely at the pic below you’ll notice pots of fresh herbs (such as basil and rosemary) next to the guests’ tables. These are not just for decoration, but for the Vapiano chefs to add a touch of extra flavor to the dishes on the spot:
After sampling some antipasti my friend Marina and I went downstairs, where the chefs’ stations were located – just in time to capture their exuberance on camera. This may have been their usual ritual before service, or maybe it was something special they had prepared for this event. Either way, watching the chefs sing and dance was a lot of fun:
The food took awhile to arrive, but once it started coming, it was fresh and tasty and worth the wait. The pizza station attracted a high number of guests, for obvious reasons: seeing your pizza being made in front of you was a treat in itself!
These were the pizzas right before serving:
The pizza dough, sauces, dressings and pesto are all prepared in-house at Vapiano. I can vouch for the freshness of the pizzas, which had a crunchy thin crust and heaps of veggies on top. My favorite was the Rucola variety, with arugula, parmesan, tomato sauce and mozzarella. For someone like me, who struggles with morning/all-day sickness, this pizza truly was a godsend. The big chunks of tomatoes in particular were very refreshing, and overall this pizza made a nice change from the heavy and greasy pies I’d had at other restaurants recently:
Having tried Vapiano’s Pesto Basilico pasta dish, I can also vouch for the freshness of the pesto served at this location. The fusilli were drenched in basil pesto and served with toasted pine nuts (for texture) and a snow of parmesan on top, and they were delicious. My friend and I agreed to disagree on this dish: while she thought the pesto flavor was overwhelming, I thought the freshness of the pesto shining through the layers of fusilli made this dish one of a kind. I would have happily eaten a big bowl of it!
Vapiano represents a good addition to the Magnificent Mile dining scene, and offers fresh dishes at affordable prices. If you’re looking for reasonable lunch and dinner options in the heart of the city, then look no further. Solid food, friendly atmosphere, house-made pesto, pots of fresh basil and rosemary at your fingertips – what’s not to like? 🙂
*Disclaimer: While I received a complimentary tasting to facilitate this review, all opinions expressed here are my own.