Italian Village has existed longer than bubble gum, penicillin, Scotch tape, parking meters, canned beer, the ballpoint pen, color television, microwaves, cake mix and credit cards (just to name a few!). This space is located in the Loop and calls 71 West Monroe home. It boasts three restaurants in one location – The Village, Vivere and La Cantina. Each spot offers over 1,200 different selections of wine, all of which are curated by wine director, Jared Gelband and housed in their boundless wine cellar that holds over 30,000 bottles. Even more impressive is that this restaurant has remained a family owned empire since its inception in 1927.
When founder, Alfredo Capitanini came to Chicago from Italy he began working in a variety of restaurants as a dishwasher and eventually became a line cook. After three years of hard work he opened The Village. In the 1950’s the second generation took over, followed by the third generation in the early ‘90s. Owner Gina Capitanini and General Manager Joseph Deininger are proud to be a part of the third generation that operates Italian Village today.
The interior of The Village is kitschy in the best way possible. You can dine under the Tuscan stars or sit at their expansive circular bar — no matter which you choose it is a site to behold (I would have loved this as a child). With a traditional Italian menu, fresh bread and a wine list you could spend hours reading, it’s no surprise Al Capone is rumored to have dined here. The Village is a unique space that every Chicagoan should visit at least once. It’s a piece of history within the dining scene that showcases hearty Italian dishes Americans have come to know and love.
Stand Out Dish & Wine Pairing: Caprese Salad & Chianti Classico Riserva
Thick-cut slices of juicy tomato are sandwiched and layered between creamy, fluffy slices of Buffalo Mozzarella. The stack is sprinkled with salt, drizzled with balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil, and garnished with fresh basil. Pair the delectable Caprese Salad with the Chianti Classico Riserva. It is a staple in Tuscany and is bottle aged for a minimum of two years and three months. The Chianti enhances the flavor of the mozzarella and is one of the select wines at The Village that can be enjoyed by the glass.
Undoubtedly, Vivere is the most modern of the three restaurants in both aesthetic and taste albeit a little bit on the pricey side. The contemporary menu is seafood forward unlike its meat heavy counterparts. Located on the main floor, out of the three restaurants this one is my top pick. Enjoy a glass of wine and take yourself on an Italian tasting tour — there are dishes from every region of Italy on this menu.
Stand Out Dish & Wine Pairing: Capesante Con Prosciutto e Cavolfiore & Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds” Alto Adige Bianco
Pan seared diver scallops are the star of the plate. Accompanied by crispy pieces of prosciutto, pickled romanesco and a bright but slightly bitter purple cauliflower purée, its complex flavors do not overpower the scallops. Wash down the gluten free masterpiece with the Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds” Alto Adige Bianco. Made with the Chardonnay grape, it has a smoky quality with a deep finish that will make you fall in love indefinitely.
The setting is intimate and the food tastes like home. Housed on the basement level, it is designed to look like the interior of a wine cellar. The menu focuses on Italian classics that are served in large portions — you won’t go hungry here. I’m confident this is where Italian mob bosses once held secret meetings. It is not a spot to see and be seen. The whole experience is a very private affair.
Stand Out Dish & Wine Pairing: Chicken Parmigiana & Lavis L’Altro Manzoni Bianco
The Chicken Parmigiana is a quintessential Italian dish reminiscent of the setting. The farm-raised chicken is breaded and topped with gooey, melted mozzarella cheese. It is presented with tomato sauce made from scratch and a generous helping of mostaccioli. With portions this plentiful, resist the urge to wear anything tight fitting. Enjoy it with Lavis L’Altro Manzoni Bianco.
71 West Monroe Street, Chicago, IL 60603
Featured Photo by IMR