Gino’s East – Magnificent Mile

Upstairs

Walls

Chicken thin crust

Meaty legend deep dish

**** (4 stars)

Gino’s has a great ambiance, mostly because of the graffiti. It’s everywhere. Well, not EVERYWHERE. The inside joke is that every surface at Gino’s is covered in graffiti except the restroom,s which are spotless.

Oh, and they have pizza. Deep dish pizza. So deep that I can even print the word for how deep it is. But it is as deep as that. It’s also pretty good. I admit I’m not a huge deep dish fan, but the crust here has cornmeal, which helps, and there is lots of good tasting filling. Be aware that it takes a good 45 minutes to cook your pizza.

Their thin crust pizza doesn’t take quite that long. The crust isn’t actually all that thin, though, just thinner.

The place is large and busy, so service isn’t super attentive, but it’s adequate. If you’ve always wanted to try deep dish pizza, I’d say this is your best bet.

Gino’s East – Magnificent Mile
162 E Superior St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 266-3337
https://www.yelp.com/biz/ginos-east-magnificent-mile-chicago

Gibsons Italia

View

Interior

Exterior

Chef’s Crudo Selection

Lettuce and herb salad with Meyer Lemon vinaigrette (off menu item)

New York Strip Bone-In

Grilled Romanesco

Grilled asparagus

Affogato

Good view, rain or shine

***** (5 stars)

The original Gibson’s is a good restaurant, but this one is a great restaurant. Every element of my meal was about as close to perfection as I can expect from a steakhouse. Of the dozens of steakhouses I’ve tried in Chicago, it was clearly the best.

Of course, there is the view, perhaps the best in the city, looking out at the junction of the Chicago River. And the room itself is also gorgeous. It’s on the third floor, with a bar on the floor below.

The service was also impressive. Not only were the waiters professional and friendly, but they were genuine hosts, with several of them stopping by to chat.

The menu includes the full range of Gibson’s branded prime steaks, and they are just as good as you would expect. But it’s the other dishes that impressed me most. The chef’s selection crudo was a wonderful starter: three sashimi preparations of tuna, kanpachi and fluke, with amazing and surprising accompaniments.

An off-menu salad of lettuce and herbs dressed in Meyer Lime vinaigrette was a perfect break before tackling the steak. For sides I couldn’t decide between the grilled romanesco and grilled asparagus, finally ordering the asparagus. To my surprise, my waiter also brought the romanesco so I could try it. Both were excellent.

I finished off with the affogato, which was served deconstructed, so you could add your own coffee to the ice cream. The coffee was laced with Averna, which imparted a delightful bitterness to offset the sweet ice cream. The homemade cookies that came with it were also amazing.

The wine list is also top notch. There’s a great variety, and some reasonable prices. The Morey Saint Denis I had was a gem.

I can’t ask for much more than the meal I had at Gibson’s, and it’s perhaps the first Chicago steakhouse I’ve been to that will keep drawing me back rather than always trying new ones. Highly recommended.

Gibsons Italia
233 N Canal St
Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 414-1100
https://www.yelp.com/biz/gibsons-italia-chicago-2

Rao’s – Los Angeles

Exterior

Interior

Seafood salad

Penne alla Vodka

Fiocchi

Lemon Chicken

Amazing cheesecake!

***** (5 stars)

Rao’s is tucked away on an unlikely side street in residential Hollywood. It has that magical and now rare ambiance of the red leather booth restaurants of the 1950s.

You’d be hard-pressed to find better Italian food in LA. The meatballs and the seafood salad were great starters, and the Penne alla Vodka was also very good.

But the standout was the Fiocchi, made of Beggar Purse Ravioli, with Ricotta and Bartlett Pear Filling, sauteed in Brown Butter, and dressed with Sage and Dried Cranberries. It was, simply put, the best pasta dish I’ve ever had.

Another number one ranking goes to the cheesecake, served New York style, but with an airy character, elevated by a hint of Amaretto. Amazing.

Our server, Jonathan, was a terrific host, and basically assembled this wonderful menu for us. A great new LA find!

Rao’s – Los Angeles
1006 Seward St
Los Angeles, CA 90038
(323) 962-7267
https://www.yelp.com/biz/raos-los-angeles-los-angeles

La Scala

Carpaccio

Lobster ravioli

La Scala chopped tuna salad

Halloween decor!

**** (4 stars)

If you like old school Italian, there’s no better example than La Scala. Since 1956 they’ve been doing it the same way. That’s both good and bad, because it means you’ll reliably get the same meal you would have had decades ago, but your expectations might have changed.

For example, the chopped tuna salad is chopped up lettuce, chickpeas and essentially canned tuna. That’s what all tuna salads were like in the 60’s, but might not be what you are expecting now.

La Scala was the first restaurant in LA to make their own pasta, and it’s still excellent, in all its forms. I particularly liked the lobster ravioli in brown butter.

There’s a nice little wine list, with some good wines by the glass and half bottle, a rarity these days.

Also note that they go all out in their holiday decorating. A visit in October is a particular treat, as the Halloween decorations are fun and EXTENSIVE.

La Scala
434 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 275-0579
https://www.yelp.com/biz/la-scala-beverly-hills-2

Via Alloro

Tira misu

Ravioli with burrata

Exterior

Interior

Neapolitan pizza

Carpaccio

**** (4 stars)

This is a good neighborhood restaurant with a nice outdoor seating area. The pastas are light and fresh, and the sauces flavorful. Caesar salad was a good starter, and the dressing had a nice anchovy flavor. The pizzas have a nice thin, crispy crust. Tira misu was one of the fluffiest I’ve encountered.

The wine list is fairly extensive, with a lot of good selections at average prices. Service was good.

Via Alloro
301 N Canon Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210
(310) 275-2900
https://www.yelp.com/biz/via-alloro-beverly-hills-2

George’s Gourmet Pizzeria

Mediterranean pizza (veggie)

Pepperoni and basil

Caesar salad

Patio

*** (3 stars)

George’s pizza serves a lot more than pizza, including pasta and other Italian standards. In fact the best item we had was the chicken Caesar salad, although I say that with qualifications. The chicken was actually quite tough, and the salad would have been better without it. But the bacon-like meat was good, the dressing was excellent, and the lettuce was nice and crisp.

I’m a fan of many styles of pizza, from thin crust to deep dish, New York style to Chicago style. George’s pizza isn’t really any of those. The crust is thicker than thin, and is a bit too tough and chewy. The result varies depending upon the pizza you order. In the case of pepperoni, it seemed like it was a frozen pizza, and was really not very good. But on the generously topped Mediterranean pizza (a veggie option) it worked fine, because the whole thing seemed more like a vegetable tart than a pizza.

It’s a quick serve concept where you order at a counter and they deliver to your table, but even so the water and menu service was friendly and attentive.

George’s Gourmet Pizzeria
15/1 Circa Boulevarde
Baulkham Hills, New South Wales 2153
+61 2 9836 2711
https://www.yelp.com/biz/georges-gourmet-pizzeria-baulkham-hills

Intermezzo Ristorante

Snapper and scampi

Pappardelle

Green olives, tomato, sourdough

Rocket, pear and reggiano

Front room

Exterior

Interior

**** (4 stars)

I think a lot of the reviews here are out of date, as they have changed chef and staff in the past two years. We had a great experience here.

The ambiance is upscale genuine Italian as you would find in Italy. There’s an extensive menu and an excellent wine list with a focus on Italian wines (of course) but plenty of other selections as well.

We enjoyed our green olives, tomato and sourdough bread starter, and the rocket, pear and reggiano salad was a nice palate cleanser.

The pappardelle with mushrooms was a lovely, light pasta dish, and the crispy skin snapper with prawns was perfectly cooked. I could have licked the plate to get off the last of the pureed peas!

Service was attentive, and they brought nice glassware and decanted our Amarone without being asked.

Pricing is not cheap, but not unreasonable for the expensive location.

Intermezzo Ristorante
1 Martin Pl
Sydney, New South Wales 2000
+61 2 9229 7788
https://www.yelp.com/biz/intermezzo-ristorante-sydney-3

Nonnina

Interior

Roasted cauliflower

Caesar salad

Meatballs

Shrimp fra Diavolo

Neopiltan

**** (4 stars)

Named after grandmothers’ cooking, Nonnina delivers traditional home-made Italian cuisine. The highlight here is the wide variety of house-made pasta. We started by sharing a special ravioli stuffed with cheese and served in a mushroom truffle sauce. It was excellent, the highlight of our meal.

Roasted cauliflower was a good, spicy dish that would work better as a side than a starter. Another good starter is the meatballs, which are large and savory. An appetizer portion is plenty, or you can have them on pasta as an entree.

The Caesar salad was traditional and good.

As an entree I had the Shrimp Fra Diavolo, which was not as spicy as some versions I’ve had. The shrimp had too much of a saffron flavor for my taste, but that’s just me. The pasta was squid ink infused, heavier than typical spaghetti, and appropriately al dente.

There’s a decent wine list with a nice selection of Italian reds, perhaps priced a bit better than other Chicago lists.

Service was pleasant and efficient, even though the place was full. Despite the crowd, it was easy to converse. And there’s a really nice outside seating area on the side of the building away from the traffic on Clark.

Nonnina
340 N Clark St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 822-0077
http://www.yelp.com/biz/nonnina-chicago

Pizzeria Via Stato

Exterior

Bar

Interior

Caesar salad

Pepperoni pizza

**** (4 stars)

Opening another pizza restaurant in Chicago is only slightly less redundant than opening another steakhouse. But Lettuce Entertain You rarely miscalculates, and this place is another winner.

If you like thin crust–and by thin, I mean wafer thin–pizza, then Pizzeria Via Stato is the place to go. This relatively small, casual but nice restaurant is making some of the best pizza in River North.

The crispy pepperoni with fresh basil was excellent, with a cracker crisp crust, and an excellent tomato sauce, and lots of (not actually all that crispy) pepperoni, and generous fresh basil.

I also really liked the “celery” Caesar salad, which was a normal Caesar with lots of tasty croutons and an extra crunch imparted by celery. Although served on a small plate, it was a deceptively large mound, ample for sharing.

Service was professional, and there are interesting beer and cocktail selections.

Pizzeria Via Stato
620 N State St
Chicago, IL 60654
(312) 642-8450
https://www.yelp.com/biz/pizzeria-via-stato-chicago

Francesca’s On Chestnut

Exterior

Interior

Caesar Salad

Anchovy and onion pizza (don’t judge me)

***** (5 stars)

This is the third Francesca’s I’ve been to, and it’s my favorite. I like the fact that, although it is a chain, it doesn’t feel like one. This space is light and airy, and feels like a European bistro.

The menu offers Italian standards, prepared in classical ways, some with a slight twist. For example, the Caesar salad is topped with a large pimiento.

Warm bread and a bowl of grated parmesan are presented at the start of the meal. I used the parmesan and olive oil to make myself cheese bread while I waited for my meal.

I created my own pizza, with anchovies and onions (don’t judge me) and really enjoyed it. The crust is thin (my preference), but has a bit of that cracker flavor I associate with Chicago style pizza.

My server, Linda, was truly excellent, as was the bussing service. Both really elevated this meal to a five-star experience.

Francesca’s On Chestnut
200 E Chestnut St
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 482-8800
http://www.yelp.com/biz/francescas-on-chestnut-chicago