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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Tuesday, July 5

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I've discovered a neighborhood gem two weeks before moving out of the neighborhood. My timing couldn't have been more off.

It's little wonder why it took me so long to venture into Lakeview's La Tavernetta: This tiny, subterranean restaurant is almost invisible from street level, nestled between a gigantic CVS and a smarmy sports bar that I often scurry past on my way down Broadway. I had observed people sitting outside in its simple -- rather mangy, in fact -- street-side patio, but I always assumed the patio was part of the aforementioned sports bar. It wasn't until I started hearing neighbors and friends speak highly of the food and service at this Italian spot that I realized there were wondrous things happening underground.

The interior of La Tavernetta is dark and cozy, with exposed brick and tea candles. There are only about 10 tables in the whole place, allowing for quite an intimate dining experience. Upon arriving, my guest and I were immediately shown to a table in the front of the restaurant (this place is usually crowded on the weekends, but as it was 8:30 on a weekday night, the place was only about half full).

After we were seated, our server came over and asked us if we would care for anything to drink. I handed him a bottle of wine (La Tavernetta is BYOB), and he immediately opened it and left to find wine glasses. Ten minutes later, we were still without glasses. Water had been poured and bread had been brought to the table during our wait, but we couldn't help being annoyed at this major inconvenience. [UPDATE 9/14/05: the restaurant is no longer BYOB]

Despite this bumpy start, the remainder of the meal turned out to be a smooth and pleasant experience. The complimentary bread was fairly standard, but dunked in a particularly tasty olive oil with a definite spicy kick, it proved an adequate jumpstart to our dinner. We split the portabella mushroom appetizer, one of the specials that evening, and were both thrilled with our choice. Tender mushroom caps were smothered in gorgonzola cheese; roasted red peppers and a light balsamic vinaigrette were the perfect garnishes for this dish.

Small salads, which came free with our entrees, were fresh and satisfactory. The dressing selection is on the sparse side -- only ranch, bleu cheese, and vinaigrette are available -- but non-picky eaters like myself won't feel slighted. Plus, who can complain about a complimentary salad?

For her main course, my dining companion ordered the saltimbocca alla romana (veal wrapped in proscuitto) -- a fantastic meal. The thin pieces of veal were a touch overcooked and the proscuitto wasn't as salty as I'm used to, but the white wine sauce with sage, butter and garlic was heavenly and more than made up for these minor criticisms. The dish was served with a side of eggy bread -- we asked for the server to identify it, but we couldn't understand what he was saying even after asking him to repeat it three times. The bread came in handy by the end of the meal -- she used it to sop up the wonderful sauce -- and served as the perfect carbohydrate accompaniment in an otherwise protein-rich meal.

The homemade gnocchi was truly excellent. I groaned in disbelief when the server brought my dinner to the table, as it was an enormous portion of potato pasta, fresh melted mozzarella cheese, and creamy tomato sauce; I hate wasting food and was sure I would be stuck with leftovers for days. However, La Tavernetta's version was light and airy -- definitely not your typical gnocchi dish. I expected the pasta and sauce to be heavy, but before I knew it, I had finished more than half and still had room for dessert.

For dessert we opted for the cannoli filled with ricotta cheese filling and chocolate chips. This was good, albeit pretty standard -- a bit of a disappointment after the delicious meal we had just consumed. Next time, I'll try the tiramisu.

La Tavernetta serves fairly standard Italian fare. It definitely won't win any creativity points, but the quality of the food and the attentiveness of the staff (at most times) make it one of the more standout mid-priced restaurants in this area. Plus, the prices aren't too high, especially considering the generous portions: Most of the entrees range from $10.95-$16.95. It is a great choice for a quiet dinner for two or an intimate meal with a few friends.

Just when I thought I'd be leaving this neighborhood behind for good, I found a new reason to go back again and again.

La Tavernetta is located at 3023 N. Broadway.

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About the Author(s)

Kim Conte loves to write and eat, and dreams that one day someone will pay her a lot to do both.

If you feel the need to get in touch with her directly, do so at .

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