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I’m a tried and true kind of gal when it comes to food, but I’m also a let’s-try-the-newest-hotspot or let’s-go-somewhere-near-where-I-parked-my-car kind of lady. I’m not really the let’s-hit-up-the-Viagra-Triangle-on-a-Saturday-night type of woman. That is until I was reminded of Rush and Division staple, Carmines. Although it’s highly unnecessary to don your finest duds or wear your highest heels (you might very well be sitting next to a screaming child or a tourist in khaki cutoffs and Crocs), I wore them anyway and ventured into the Viagra Triangle on a Saturday night, I did. And I was pleasantly surprised.
You might feel like you’re walking into a tourist trap, but when you pass through Carmine’s front doors, you are transported to old school Chicago – the days of Frank Sinatra and Al Capone. I can see them now – sipping Negroni’s and dining on Veal Parmesan. It’s for the nostalgia (and surprisingly excellent albeit standard food) that you visit this Italian mecca.
We started with a few cocktails – all made perfectly to our liking. While imbibing, the typical Italian bread with olive oil and Parmesan arrived. Can’t complain. But what accompanied my Cosmpolitan even better than the crusty loaf was the assortment of appetizers. If they were any indication of the quality of the rest of the meal, we were off to a bellissima beginning. Skip the shrimp cocktail (they were a bit tough, which I rarely find) and order 72 of the Grigliato Misto (char-grilled shrimp, calamari and octopus with vinegar peppers in a zesty vinaigrette). This was one of my favorite dishes of the night (and came hardcore recommended by our very competent server). Although it was large enough to be an entrée, I could have ordered another one. The Steamed Mussels simmered in garlic and white wine was also a winner, especially when sopping up the leftover sauce with bread.
And although I was all prepared to order the Shrimp Francese in an attempt to keep my red meat intake down, I went ahead and ordered my childhood favorite Veal Limone (veal medallions sautéed and served with toasted pinenuts in lemon butter sauce). I did grow up with an Italian mother, so veal (Parmigiana, Marsala, Limone or Francese) is in my blood. I’m not sure if it was the nostalgia, my love for (and general lack of) veal or the perfectly prepared lemon butter sauce that sent me through the roof, but I’m pretty sure it was a combination of all three. Mama would have been proud.
The desserts are nothing to write home about, but that’s okay because I also downed an entire side of Capellini Marinara (pasta accompanies all entrees) – and let me tell you, the red sauce WAS something to write home about.
If you’re willing to give up your culinarily trendsetting ways for a Saturday night, remember that there are some oldies and goodies in our fine, ever-evolving city. Relish in a good old fashioned bottle of Pinot Grigio, pasta, veal and marinara. And if you’re lucky enough to score a window or patio seat, also relish in the views of the Viagra Triangle at its very finest. Nothing says Saturday night like your grandpa hanging out at Hotel Cedar across the street. The whole thing is classic Chicago, which is something I should remember we still have in these crazy, changing times.