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Thursday, June 30

Gapers Block

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The low carb/no carb diet fad is quickly becoming one of my biggest pet peeves. Of course, I understand the chemistry behind Atkins and South Beach that makes them so successful for dieters, but to me it seems unnatural to completely shun an entire food group no matter how much weight comes off. And it really gets under my skin to watch a co-worker dump two ramekins full of ranch dressing (not the low-fat kind, I might add) over a salad piled high with fried chicken, cheddar cheese and hard-boiled eggs. That's just gross.

The tragic result of this dieting craze is simply this: People are hating on grains. Eating pasta or, god forbid, a bagel has become totally uncool, and I've actually witnessed servers asking customers if they want their burger without or without the bun. It's frightening that the term "complex carbohydrate" now connotes so much death and destruction.

Last week, to protest The War on Carbs, I visited Angelina Ristorante in Wrigleyville, one of my favorite little neighborhood Italian restaurants. This intimate, two-room trattoria serves up rustic Italian pastas and entrees made with fresh ingredients and homemade sauces. The patrons sitting near me were savoring Chicken Vesuvio (minus the garlic mashed potatoes) and Italian sausage (with veggies substituted for the side a pasta), yet I was determined to fill up on pasta, bread, dessert, and whatever other food the server could suggest that would leave me content and sleepy at the end of the meal. Sure, it's not healthy to eat like this every day, but once in while? Grains are just too good to pass up all of the time.

The carbo-loading started as soon as we sat down; the server immediately brought my friend and I soft, fresh bread to dip in a plate of herbed olive oil. Next, he suggested his favorite appetizer: strips of roasted eggplant, diced kalamata olives, and capers doused in a tangy red wine vinaigrette and spread on thick garlic crustinis. This dish was an amazing start to the meal; the vegetables had a rich, earthy flavor that was further enhanced by a glass of pinot noir.

For the main course we bypassed the protein-laden braised duck, crusted catfish, and seared pork tenderloin entrees in favor of more starchy options. Pumpkin ravioli and fusilli pasta with chicken in a vodka cream sauce looked tempting, but my friend finally decided on a huge and heavenly piece of spinach lasagna. Layers of pasta, fresh spinach, ricotta and provolone cheese were covered by a hearty, sweet marinara sauce; the sauce had a very full taste -- you could tell it had been made in-house using fresh tomatoes. Fresh parmesan cheese sprinkled over top brought our enjoyment (not to mention the calorie count) to a new height.

I ordered my favorite dish -- Linguini Mare -- feeling certain that I would be taking leftovers home, as this dish is usually heavy on the pasta and spicy tomato sauce and light on the seafood topping. This time, however, I was surprised to see that the chef had changed the proportions: An avalanche of mussels, calamari, and shrimp hid a small amount of pasta from view. This dish was every bit as good as I remembered and I cleaned my plate, yet I was shocked (and a bit disappointed) to see Angelina conforming ever so slightly to the low-carb rage.

No matter, we would make up for lost net carbs with dessert: a huge wedge of tiramisu dusted with cocoa powder. Some restaurants tend to go overboard with the rum flavor on this Italian delicacy, but Angelina's version is the perfect ratio of alcohol, moist cake, and creamy frosting -- a real masterpiece, especially when paired with a hot cappuccino.

After the last bite had disappeared, my friend and I sat back and assessed the damage. We figured that we had probably gained upwards of five pounds from that meal, yet our satisfaction was as high as our caloric intake. Angelina is an informal, cozy spot that would impress any date, and if you play your cards right, you might even be able to wrangle one of the charming two-person window seats. The meat entrees are a bit pricey for such a casual restaurant ($18-$20), but the pastas ($11-$13) are quite reasonable -- just one more reason to show the starches some love.

But if you are still scared away by thoughts of malicious carbs and evil grains, then fine. That just means more for me.

Angelina Ristorante is located at 3561 N. Broadway. I would suggest making reservations as this place gets crowded on the weekends.

GB store


Naz / May 9, 2004 11:34 PM

I pass Angelina's every other day when I make my way to the Jewel next door which is my local grocer's. It's a mere two blocks away and yet I've never walked in or found a good reason to. Your review makes me want to though.

On another note, have you ever been to the Pasta Bowl on Clark close to Fullerton?

Kim / May 10, 2004 10:24 AM

I used to live right around the corner from the Pasta Bowl and would go there all the time for a quick meal. Their pasta was pretty decent and SO CHEAP: only $5-$6 for a ton of food. Recently, though, they've raised all their prices a buck or two. I'll still order from there once in a while, but it's not the same. :(

Naz / May 10, 2004 10:30 AM

That's a shame. I used to love going there especially for their Frutti di Mare and the Clams dish. Sad to hear the prices have gone up though. Your review reminded me that I hadn't been there in a while...

Andrew / May 10, 2004 10:33 AM

Angelina's claims to have the best tiramisu in the city, and I'm inclined to agree with them. As you note, many places douse the dessert with booze, and others have tiramisu that tastes like it's fresh from the store.

Emily / May 11, 2004 8:08 AM

Also check out Fornello's on Irving at Sheridan. It's got some incredibly good food and they never hurry you thru a meal. Ever. We spent 3 hours there once and all they did is ask if we'd like more to eat or drink periodically. I highly recommend it as well.

Maureen / May 11, 2004 9:35 AM

I live just a stone's throw away from Angelina's, but my starving artist lifestyle keeps me from enjoying it very often. But the asparagus and sundried tomatoes pasta is *the best.* Same goes for the roasted baby vegetables side dish. And the servers there are always totally nice. One unfortunate thing is if you go there during winter, make sure not to sit within a 10 foot radius of the door, or you'll wind up wearing your coat throughout the meal. But it's still my fav Italian place in the city.

mmm / May 13, 2004 10:45 AM

Angelina's is definitely up in the top 3 italian restaurants in the city (ymmv). For those of us on a budget, they have Neighborhood Discount night every Wednesday....I think you can get 15 or 20% off. Its a good deal.


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