Pasta on (and off) Damen: Nando Milano Trattoria and Briciola

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Tagliatelle allamatriciana at Nando Milano
  • Sam Worley
  • Tagliatelle all'amatriciana at Nando Milano
The Delicata salad at Nando Milano Trattoria is something of a riot, for better or worse. The ingredients it comprises—arugula, carrot, pineapple, giardiniera, and grana cheese, with a drizzle of balsamic—taste about as beguiling as they sound: sort of a Rubik's Cube of flavors that, try though you might, you can't quite make to fit together. It'd be fair to call this restaurant a riot, period. It was unrelenting chaos on a recent Saturday night, with the waitstaff running—basically sprinting—back and forth on a loop, asking occasionally for a nod to indicate that the table was doing OK. (Was there another choice? And: Is that your server? Who could tell?)

Anyway, things don't really cohere. Two egg-size arancini had a nice crust and were pleasingly gooey in the middle, but they sat in a lackluster tomato sauce—and if you can't measure an Italian restaurant by its red sauce, I'm not sure what other shoe fits. The kitchen does best with house-made pastas, well cooked and toothsome, but not so much with what accompanies them: another weak-sauce tomato sauce in tagliatelle all'amatriciana, and a grainy, oversalted egg-based version in carbonara. Noise and chaos notwithstanding, Nando is cute—there's a patio out front, a little bar in the back, and exposed brick on two walls—but a mite too expensive for the quality of the food. A side of giardiniera, for instance, is $7 ($7!), and prices on wine and cocktails aren't really any friendlier.

2113 W. Division, 773-486-2636, nandomilano.com

Nice fuckin patio at Briciola
That all'amatriciana was advertised as "spicy," and the fact that my dining companion and I balked at the adjective led us to some self-reflection: Had we, a couple of hot-sauce hounds, lost the ability to appreciate the subtler things? Well, YES, probably, but hopefully not where food is concerned: I was happy a few days later to find a pasta in the neighborhood that did a much more aggressive job on the ol' spice receptors. It was the chitarra "sciue" "sciue" at Briciola, which is just down Division from Nando Milano and a little south on Damen; long noodles in a zesty red sauce, the dish contained a generous amount of shrimp, squid, and clam—and it was lovely. So, for that matter, was the rest of the meal: for instance, the juicy, height-of-the-season tomatoes in the bruschetta we got, gratis, soon after sitting down on the stone-lined patio. A starter of beef carpaccio, topped with celery and Parmesan, was cool and light; there are also two other carpacci on the menu—beet and octopus—and appetizers like a cannellini bean hummus, grilled polenta with portobello mushroom, and a couple different preparations of calamari. Pork chop Milanese and Florentine-style chicken top the "secondi" menu, but we stuck with pasta, and we just as happy for it: in my tagliatelle alla Bolognese, thick house-made noodles were strewn with a powerfully deep, earthy sauce that only hinted at tomato—it's just All Meat, is what I'm saying, and really very good. BYOB; the corkage fee is three bucks.

937 N. Damen, 773-772-0889, briciolachicago.com

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