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Sunday, July 3

Gapers Block

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Have you ever noticed the dreamy look that comes over people's faces when you tell them you had dinner at Rose Angelis?

Do you know what I mean? I told a co-worker that I went to Rose Angelis last week and his eyes glazed over, a stupid grin spread across his face, and he actually cooed: "That place is SOOO romantic."

Romantic? I suppose that the dim lighting, lace curtains, hardwood floors, and a maze of small, cozy rooms make this neighborhood Italian spot in Lincoln Park noticeably endearing. But it baffles me when I hear it described time and time again as one of the most romantic restaurants in the city. I am confounded by the fact that I have been to Rose Angelis on no less than three first dates (each time it was my date -- not I -- who suggested it). And I never cease to be perplexed when people go ga-ga at the mere mention of this place.

Don't get me wrong: I think Rose Angelis is lovely. But I also think it is one of the most overrated restaurants in the city.

For starters, this place doesn't take reservations; I don't know about you, but to me, being informed that there is a two hour wait for the first available table is something of a buzz kill no matter how hot my date may be. On a weeknight the wait is much more reasonable, but come Friday or Saturday, you'd better be prepared to entertain yourselves for a long, long time.

This wouldn't be so bad if Rose Angelis had a bar to accommodate patrons while they waited, but the front room, albeit darling, is so cramped that I find spending a mere five minutes in the space painful. A better idea is to stop in at one of the neighboring bars -- Tavish, Maeve or the shiny new Thirsty McCarthy's, perhaps -- and pass the time with an appetizer and a drink (or five depending on how badly the date is going). I don't necessarily think that leaving a restaurant to guzzle beers next door until a table opens is romantic, but at least it'll give you something to do.

Once you do manage to wrangle a table, you'd better keep an eye on your watch because whether you like it or not, the staff is paying close attention to how long you've been there. The bottom of the menu reads, "Please respect those waiting by limiting your stay after dinner," and the servers will, in fact, ask you to leave if they think you have been idling too long. Now, I realize I just complained about the long wait and this request is intended for those rude customers who stay on for hours and hours; but after waiting two hours for a table, I refuse to chug half of my bottle of wine just so they can squeeze in one more table before the kitchen closes. Believe me, I did this once and it wasn't pretty (or romantic).

The food at Rose Angelis is actually quite good and decently priced (most entrees range from $11-$16). The menu features creative rustic Italian options and is mostly vegetarian (although a few poultry and fish dishes are available). The last time I was there I had an amazing duck-filled tortellone that was overloaded with spinach, tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, and huge chunks of fresh mozzarella all swimming in a light wine reduction sauce. My dining companion enjoyed his portobello con pollo dish as well -- layers and layers of portobello slices, grilled chicken and spinach doused in a balsamic vinegar and red wine cream sauce. Other stellar options include ravioli in a sun-dried tomato cream sauce and spinach pasta stuffed with ricotta and pesto in a brown butter sauce.

Although I find Rose Angelis' entrees to be quite delicious, the food is so hearty, that I'm pretty sure it won't put you in a romantic mood -- unless, of course, you think passing out on the couch in front of Saturday Night Live is sexy. The portions are so gigantic that I've never been able to finish, let alone order dessert (tiramisu, bread pudding and chocolate-chip espresso cheesecake are just some of the things I've missed out on). Also, if you do happen to be going out after dinner, it is cumbersome to lug around a doggie-bag; unfortunately, much of the food goes to waste.

Despite all of my complaining, I probably will never stop going to Rose Angelis. The toothsome food and cute atmosphere are too good to pass up. I simply refuse to make it a part of my next romantic evening. What can I say? I'm hard to please.

Rose Angelis is located at 1314 W. Wrightwood. Visit them online at

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anne / June 28, 2004 1:35 PM

Rose Angelis is right down the alley from my old apartment, and I think it's one of the few, if only, things I miss from that neighborhood. You're right about the long wait, but that's really a weekend evening thing, and you can avoid it any other night of the week, if you hit the place around 6pm, instead of 8 or 9pm. I've never finished a full entree there, but then again, I love leftovers as well, and friends of mine have been known to make the Rose Angelis lazagna serving last for not 1 but 2 meals after dining there. Also, the desserts, are amazing, and are just as generous a portion as the entrees and appetizers. I love this place, it's just not somewhere I go on a Friday night.

Gordon / June 29, 2004 7:57 AM

I think passing out on the couch in front of the TV is totally sexy. Sunday morning sexy, not Saturday day night sexy, but still. Perhaps that's just me.

Yasir / June 29, 2004 9:04 AM

Your entire review of this lovely restaurant is based on the criteria of whether or not it passes muster for a "romantic" date. Perhaps not everyone's experience of this restaurant, or any for that matter, is soley for the purpose of wooing a prospective mate. Perhaps some of us have been with our mates a long time, perhaps long enough to have kids at home whom we wish to escape at least for a few hours, in which case a hearty meal in a romantic setting (with leftovers to bring home) is a what constitutes a great date.

As for the large crowds waiting for a table, can we really blame the restaurant for that? Ask any owner of one and I'm sure he'll tell you that he'd much prefer a large crowd waiting to none at all, and of course, he'd say that was a testament to the great dining experience the place offers.

Naz / June 29, 2004 9:30 AM

Yasir - it certainly wasn't a bad review of the food and I thought quite balanced. It was put into context well and gives you a good sense of the place. The food sounds really good and that is what a restaurant should offer first and foremost. But after that, atmosphere is important.

Again, it's a review from one person's experience, and I'm glad you commented with your experience too. Which gives everyone a different view of the place and perfect to comment about.

The large crowds, if nothing else, are a testament to what I'm sure is some really good eats.


Jonathan / June 29, 2004 10:20 AM

I thought it was five drinks if the date was going well.

Vinny / June 29, 2004 11:37 AM

Of course, if they would just *take reservations* it would be a great place. I don't get why treating your customers with contempt is considered good practice in the restaurant business. Heck, they could even take a deposit if they wanted.

Pete / June 29, 2004 12:19 PM

Great food, moderately priced, cozy atmosphere. Sure there's no reservations or a decently-sized waiting area, but just get there early and you'll get in pretty promptly. One of my favorite places in the city--I proposed to my wife there, and to my pleasant surprise she said yes.

Scott Harris / July 6, 2004 12:43 PM

I'll be honest...last fall my wife and I and a friend had an awful meal there. Three completely different meals, the same absolutely bad tomato sauce. Crowded, with parents who found it delightful to let the little prince or princess run around like it was their private rumpus room (I have children, so I am not preternaturally inclined to hate them). Cheerful and inattentive waitress. I can say that I liked the hostess very much, but you couldn't pay me to go back.


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