Hours: Lunch: Saturday-Sunday; dinner: seven days
Open late: every night till 11
Old-school Italian restaurant in the former Joey's Brickhouse.
It's somehow comforting that even in a restaurant scene as sophisticated as Chicago's, a place like La Gondola can not only survive but thrive. The second location of this unapologetically old-school Italian joint, in the former Joey's Brickhouse space on Belmont, brings in pictures of Venice, a Rat-Pack soundtrack, and red linens to showcase the Italian-American comfort food—pasta, pizza, veal, chicken. Despite the dim lighting and sports on TV, this is a family-friendly restaurant, especially when you come on the early side. And portions are generous—our order of a dozen stuffed clams came with a few extra to make up for the fact that they were tiny that day. Too bad the breading was disappointingly dry. It's generally best to stick to the classics, such as wonderfully soft gnocchi stuffed with ricotta and served with a creamy pesto that packed a garlicky punch without drowning the delicious little packets, and chicken piccata with moist and tender meat and the familiar flavors of mushrooms and white wine. In Italy dishes like a mixed seafood grill, served with only garlic butter and lemon, are intended to highlight the freshness of the ingredients; but slightly rubbery octopus, shrimp, and calamari demonstrated only that the creatures were either overcooked or not very fresh—though the tilapia was flaky and delicious. The vibe is very "mangia, mangia," and our server even sent us home with complimentary tiramisu.
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