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TODAY

Saturday, June 15

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At first, Alex was reluctant to take us to the restaurant where his photographs were on display. He had visited the small, Wicker Park restaurant earlier in the week and was dismayed by the crowd it drew — he described it as mostly teenagers who looked like they were at some kind of punk night. That wasn't our scene either, but we wanted to see his photographs hanging on the restaurant walls, in person, so we convinced him to take us there. After much hemming and hawing, the four of us — Alex, Brenden, Mimi and myself — headed out to Tre Via Ristorante on a Friday night. Located in the Flat-Iron Building on Milwaukee Ave., Tre Via is an Italian restaurant infected with the tapas bug. The menu features hot and cold "small plates" — salads, pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and larger entrees of strip steak, sautéed chicken, and salmon and halibut. The waitress encouraged us to order several of the small plates or pastas, which could be upgraded to large plates, so that we could share and get a taste of several things on the menu. I'm not the biggest fan of tapas, finding myself pacified but usually underwhelmed by the menu options, but in this case everything sounded so good that we had a difficult time choosing. Finally we settled on the fried calamari, sliced chicken roulade, baked spinach ravioli, rigatoni Bolognese and stuffed mushroom caps, which the chef agreed to make without sausage for a fully vegetarian dish. We rounded off the order with a large carafe of red sangria.

As we waited for our food to arrive, we got up to get a closer view of the photographs. Hung on walls painted in autumn colors of sage, almond and brick, the black and white photos fit nicely with the restaurant's overall feeling. According to Alex, the restaurant will continue to hang local artists' work on a rotating basis, which I find an admirable and effective way to generate support for emerging artists. We slid back into our large booth, which could have easily fit six, and surveyed the rest of the room's decor. The wrought iron stands at the ends of the booths snaked in and around themselves, holding bottles of red wine in their curves. Our water glasses arched gracefully toward us, as if following the stem of a flower. The only thing we weren't entirely enamored of was the huge light above us which changed slowly from red, to amber, to green and back again. The change wasn't at all subtle and while the reds and ambers were nice, each time we were hit with the green light our conversation would stop because we had to comment on how everything looked so eerie under the green hue.

Even if we hadn't ended up with a large order of the rigatoni, which was the kitchen's mistake, we still would have had plenty of food to fill up the four of us. The fried calamari was delicately breaded and came with a tasty marinara sauce. "You can really bite through this," Mimi said, bemoaning calamari's usual rubbery texture. The stuffed chicken, which was made with white meat, was tender and was filled with spinach, provolone and roasted red peppers. The ravioli dish featured huge pieces of pasta stuffed with fresh mozzarella and spinach topped with the same marinara sauce as the calamari. The mushrooms, which were filled with spinach, mozzarella and red peppers, were substantial and meaty in texture, with a nice vinegar-marinated flavor throughout. My favorite was the Bolognese — thick tubes of pasta in a sauce with chunky bits of vegetables and pieces of beef and pancetta. The dish had a good spicy kick to it and a red wine flavor that lingered nicely.

"Alex, this is really nice," I said, happy that we'd convinced him to take us there. "I didn't expect this to be so delicious!" Brenden enthusiastically agreed. In fact, we were so satisfied with our experience at Tre Via that we wondered why the place wasn't more hoppin'. Given its location right at the North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection, the incredible food and the reasonable prices, it was surprising to see that only five other tables were occupied. Tre Via does offer events throughout the week, such as "live art" on Saturdays and bingo nights on Tuesdays, but for a regular evening of dining, Tre Via has a great food/cost value ratio. Desserts of tiramisu and cr&egrav;me brulee rounded out the meal and while the former was a big hit and the latter was not quite as much — though to be fair none of us had eaten cr&egrav;me brulee before and the texture we disliked was probably normal — we still left with positive feelings toward the restaurant. Good food and the opportunity to see some of the city's burgeoning talent always makes for a good Friday night.

Tre Via Ristorante is located at 1575 N. Milwaukee Ave. Closed on Sundays, Tre Via is open Mondays 10pm-2pm, Tuesdays and Wednesdays 6pm-12am, Thursdays and Fridays 6pm-2am, and Saturdays 6pm-3am. Call 773-227-7990 for more information.

More about Alex Segreti's photography can be found on his website.

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About the Author(s)

Fork It Over is written by members of the Gapers Block staff. This week's review was by Veronica Bond.

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