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The Chicago Traveler

Little La Gondola Serves Big Flavor

by Matt B on July 16th, 2008

Last week, my mother-in-law was celebrating her birthday, so we decided to take her out to an Italian restaurant she had visited in Chicago ages ago. La Gondola had since changed locations to a tiny storefront in a strip mall, located between a hair salon and a popular tax preparation company office.

la gondolaI know what you're thinking… a strip mall? But get that doubting thought right out of your head. As soon as you walk in, you're transported to a charming dining room filled with the smells of Italian authenticity. The small room bears only six tables (5 four-tops and 1 table for two), so be sure to call ahead and make reservations.

I have to admit, our visit did not start out well. We made a reservation for 7 p.m. but a table was not yet ready when we arrived so we waited patiently. When a table finally did become available, the staff gave it to another party… who had showed up after we did. Um… excuse me? Trying to show patience, we waited as another table was being cleared. Unfortunately, a friend of the restaurant's family showed up, and as we were standing within earshot, one of the young waitresses suggested out loud that the host 'bump somebody [on the reservations list] down' so they could give a table to their friend. Needless to say, we were a bit annoyed. A word of advice to the staff: you may want to give table preference to those customers who are actually going to pay for their meal.

la gondolaOnce we were seated though, the experience was incredible. We nibbled on piping hot bread dipped in cheese and olive oil until our immense plate of antipasti arrived (Genoa salami, imported mortadella, provolone cheese, fresh-cut tomatoes and cucumbers, and kalamata olives), served on a bed of iceberg lettuce with vinaigrette. It was a good thing there were three of us; we may not have finished it otherwise. At another table, I saw an appetizing platter of fresh black mussels in marinara sauce.

Entr'es at our table included the tortellini panna (with imported prosciutto, mushrooms, and pecorino Romano in a light cream sauce), chicken vesuvio (half of a large chicken fried and baked with olive oil, fresh garlic, and rosemary, served with vesuvio potatoes), and a signature dish'the rigatoni boscaiola (with cream tomato sauce, fresh mushrooms and sage, and saut'ed Italian sausage). The waitresses and even the owner came to check on us several times so we were never left without bread or beverage. With incredible flavors and fresh ingredients, the three of us ate as much as we could and then some, to the point where we didn't think we'd be able to move out of our chairs.

la gondolaBut just when we'd had our fill, the restaurant treated our birthday girl to a good-sized piece of homemade tiramisu, complete with 'Happy Birthday' spelled out on the plate in chocolate. Mom-in-law was elated. I was happy too because she shared!

With stuffed bellies, we were barely able to walk to our car. It is no wonder the restaurant has received several awards and recommendations, along with a visit from Rachel Ray as part of her Tasty Travels series.

Photo credit: (c/o Flickr) polomex (1, 2, 3)

La Gondola ($$): 2914 N Ashland Ave; 773-248-4433
Daily: 4:00 p.m. ' 11:00 p.m.
Free parking lot
Public trans: Bus # 9, X9, 76

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POSTED IN: Pizza, Restaurants

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