« Tank Restaurant | Main | The Pasta Primers - Prologue »

January 08, 2007

La Bocca Della Verità

Dominic Armato
Italian restaurants in Chicago have always caused me some consternation.

If, god forbid, I were ever subjected to the horrible (and rather unlikely) fate of having to choose one subcuisine to sustain me for the rest of my life, "Italian trattoria" would escape my lips without a moment's hesitation. To me, there's nothing more simple, elegant and satisfying that I could eat day in and day out than assorted antipasti, pastas that utilize four or five ingredients, the occasional bit of simply prepared meat or fish, some quaffable wine and a bit of potent coffee or a digestivo. Visiting Italy is absurdly pleasurable in this fashion. Fall into any of the ubiquitous corner trattorie, and odds are the food is going to be delicious. The beauty of the Italian trattoria is that it isn't rocket science. This is simple food. But that only makes my inability to find a place I'm happy with at home more frustrating.

Dominic Armato
First, you have the whole Italian/Italian-American schism. While I love the saucy, meaty, tomatoey, Goodfellas-ey Italian-American for what it is, it's so pervasive in this town that it also creeps into the more traditional Italian restaurants with frustrating regularity. Secondly, if there's one thing I cook a ton of, it's pasta. As such, while I long for a little place I can fall into a couple times a week, I leave most establishments feeling that I could've done a better job staying home and doing it myself. Third, for reasons I'll never understand, most of the places that serve authentic Italian in Chicago are skewed heavily towards the upscale end of the spectrum. If you want casual, authentic Mexican, Thai or Polish, you can throw a stone and probably hit a pretty decent place. But authentic Italian requires business casual and a $50 per person commitment. La Bocca Della Verità, on the other hand, requires no such commitments, and it's clearly striving to be exactly the kind of spot for which I've been searching.

Dominic Armato
La Bocca spans three storefronts in Lincoln Square, a casual little joint that successfully covers the bases by offering a dimly-lit room to couples and a more boisterous room to families. The menu is dead-on trattoria fare, with about 20 simple salads and antipasti, a dozen or so pastas, and a handful of fish and meat dishes. Unfortunately, I've found that it's something of a hit-or-miss affair. Tonight, we sampled a couple of antipasti as well as three pastas. The Mozzarella di Bufala was right on the money: a delicious creamy, tart round of cheese accompanied by slices of Granny Smith apple and baby arugula, simply dressed with olive oil and lemon. The Calamari Affogati, on the other hand, was disappointing. I thought the house marinara was a little too heavy for the squid, which was too tough and pushing rubbery territory. What's more, I'm all for gnarly seafoody flavor, but I thought this dish was overly abundant in the fishy category. Calamari can be wonderfully light and clean, but it wasn't here.

Dominic Armato
The pastas displayed the same kind of inconsistency. I've had their Spaghetti alla Carbonara before and adored it in the past, but it seemed a little off tonight. I salute them for keeping their carbonara cream-free, the way it absolutely should be, and the house-cured guanciale is a stellar exercise in crispy, smoky, porky goodness... it's really exceptional and justifies the dish no matter what they do with the rest of it. But the balance felt off tonight. Light on the egg, heavy on the wine? And more frustrating, the pasta was a little overdone. It wasn't so overcooked as to be offensive, but it clearly went a bit too far which is something that should really never happen in a place like this. In any case, this is a dish that I know can excel, even if it wasn't quite there tonight. The Gnocchi al Pomodoro, however, were just flat. They weren't nearly as light and fluffy as I'd like, and the tomato sauce had a certain one-dimensional quality that I couldn't quite put a finger on. I'm leaning towards not enough olive oil, but in truth, I'm not sure.

Dominic Armato
The one special we tried, however, definitely impressed... doubly so since it's one of my favorite pastas. The Pappardelle sull'Anatra had a beautiful flavor and bite, with a duck ragu that kept things simple and avoided drowning the bird in other flavors. It was a little oily, a little buttery, cheesed just a touch, and the duck was delicious. Interestingly, while such a ragu is usually a little wetter with ground or shredded duck, La Bocca's bird was barely sauced and very finely diced. It was a nice little textural twist that I thought worked great. Hands-down winner of the night, and if they consistently turned out dishes of this quality, I'd be a happy fellow. Desserts were simple and tasty, but the espresso was a bit dirty tasting, only furthering the theme for the evening. In the end, I came away feeling the same as I have the other times we've stopped in. La Bocca does some things very well, and they're good enough to tantalize me and make me pine for the kind of trattoria perfection that they fall a little short of attaining, even if their heart's in the right place. That said, they're still much, much closer than most of the other joints I've tried in this burg. And yet, the quest continues.

La Bocca Della Verità
4618 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60625
Sun - Thu5:00 PM - 10:00 PM
Fri - Sat5:00 PM - 11:00 PM


Hooray! I look forward to walking to this establishment from my new apartment on many an evening when I do not feel like cooking at home. :-)

So fond of La Bocca. I lived around the corner from it for years, and I've celebrated many birthdays there, as well as my engagement. The food is more often fantastic than not, and it's so well-priced and the atmosphere is so relaxed. Did you try the panna cotta or coviglio desserts?

Also, did you ever try Campagnola in Evanston before it morphed into Bistro Campagne/closed/reopened as Campagnola/closed again?

The comments to this entry are closed.