Eighteen Chicago restaurants honored with special Italian seal

03/23/2011 10:00 PM

Contributing Reporter

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Juan Leveno works away in the kitchen at the Village at Italian Village, 71 W. Monroe St.
Photos by J. GEIL/Staff Photographer

Italian Village

Italy turned 150, and 18 Chicago-area restaurants were granted a special Italian seal of approval for their cuisine at an awards dinner March 17 held at the Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame, 1431 W. Taylor St.

The “Ospitalita Italiana” seal was given to the restaurants by the Italian government, certifying them as authentically Italian, and was part of the 150th anniversary celebration of the unification of Italy. The awards dinner was co-sponsored by the Italian-American Chamber of Commerce and the Milan Committee of Chicago Sister Cities International.

Each restaurant had to meet 10 criteria, including having a menu written in proper Italian, having one staff member who could speak to guests in Italian, and employing a head chef who had trained in Italy for six months. The restaurants must reapply for their seals in 12 to 18 months. Six hundred restaurants worldwide were given the honor.

John Coletta, the head chef at Quartino, 626 N. State St., said the award was a special distinction.

“It allows us to have validation, and to continue to grow,” Coletta said. “We were very, very pleased about this. It is a tribute to our staff and to everyone who works in the restaurant, to their commitment and dedication to what we are trying to do.”

Coletta said the five-year-old restaurant had to submit a list of ingredients used in its recipes that they purchased from Italy.

“We don’t use ordinary olive oil, we use oil from a certain region in Italy. Italian products are part of our DNA as a restaurant.” Coletta said.

“The same holds true,” he continued, “for tomatoes, our mozzarella (which arrives weekly from Italy) and our olives — you wouldn’t use Greek olives in an Italian restaurant. Guests can rest assured that here, you’re going to get as close to a preparation as you would find in Italy.”

Pamella Capitanini, whose family runs the three Italian Village restaurants on Monroe Street — The Village, Vivere and La Cantina — said the seal was a true honor.

“All three restaurants were given the award,” Capitanini said. “My grandfather came here in 1927 from Italy, so we are true Italians. It is wonderful for us.”

For Laura Fiasche, whose parents, Agostino and Anna, have run Ristorante Agostino at 2817 Harlem Ave., since 1986, said the award was validation for her family.

“My mom and dad do most of the cooking, and I grew up cooking with them,” Fiasche said. “The first thing I remember making was Neapolitan-style pizza in a wood burning oven in our backyard.”

Fiasche, who works in the restaurant six days a week, said Italy was more than just a country or cuisine; it was a way of life.

“We speak Italian and live Italian,” Fiasche said. “Italy comes not only through our food, but through the welcoming atmosphere you get here. Most of our customers have been customers since the first day our doors opened 25 years ago.”

Fiasche said her family visits Italy once or twice a year to reconnect with family members who still live there.

“My mom came to America when she was 15 years old,” Fiasche said. “Even though my grandfather owned two fruit markets in Italy, they moved here for a better life in America. My mom has six brothers and sisters, and they are all chefs.”

The family tradition carries on during bi-annual visits, when Fiasche’s grandparents travel to Chicago.

“When my grandfather visited from Calabria last year, he taught us how to make our own Italian wine, and he made it in our kitchen,” Fiasche said. “Our family is always cooking; we have always been familiar with food.”

The homemade wine, which Fiasche said helped to carry on an old-school family tradition, is now being served to guests.

Paula Waters, the chairperson of the Milan Committee for Chicago Sister Cities International, said that events like this are a good way to connect with Italy’s past.

“To taste our food is to taste our history,” Waters said. “All of the influences, invaders, and blessings of nature that made up Italy a mere 150 years ago are present in our cuisine. Every bite is a history lesson.”

5 Comments - Add Your Comment

By FatEater from West Loop
Posted: 04/01/2011 3:59 PM

Many of the restaurants named are quite good. Some good ones that are very Italian were left off the list. I wonder how the list was really made. Is it like selections from the aristocracy of the International Olympic Committee? To be more blunt: a straight cash bribe, or something more subtle?

By Michelle from Little Italy
Posted: 03/29/2011 10:56 PM

Wow, no Rosebud, Tufano's, or any other Italian Restaurant near the hall of fame.? Interesting...I guess having deep pockets like Spiaggia will do it, if you want over priced Italian food in small portions!

By Eric from River North
Posted: 03/28/2011 9:43 AM

I was surprised not to see Prosecco on the list. I don't know if Chef Mark has trained in Italy or not, but their menu is in Italian, they have Italians on staff, they use Italian ingredients and they make a proper risotto. Coco Pazzo, on the other hand, has terrible risotto - theirs is more like a rice ball than risotto. Personally, I find this list a little hard to take seriously.

By Rick from Chicago
Posted: 03/25/2011 9:25 PM

It is awesome to Italian

By KASAllen from Lincoln
Posted: 03/25/2011 6:59 PM

I was expecting to see Volare's name on that list. I catch myself thinking about their Chicken Cacciatore. If you haven't had it yet, your taste buds are missing out on a meal worth savoring! Eat it slow and enjoy!