Chef Gaetano di Benedetto is surely one of the top three or four Italian chefs in the entire Chicago area. I would absolutely prefer to have dinner at La Piazza than at any of the top-ranked Italian restaurants in the city. Although it can get crowded and noisy on weekends, the atmosphere is warm, the room not large, the walls painted with scenes appropriate for an Italian piazza.
Gaetano offers a "chef's choice," fixed-price meal, in which he comes to your table and asks you what you would like to eat:
choice of pastas? ravioli? beef? pork? fish? vegeterian? He then proceeds to the kitchen, and from appetizers through dessert, provides an outstanding feast. Warning: the restaurant has gotten so busy on weekends, that I don't recommend this option. I think the kitchen provides whatever on their standard menu for that evening most closely approximates what you want, and then practically throws dish after dish at you, so that it is more an experience of pressured gluttony than a meal to be savored.
Favorite Dish: Gaetano's ravioli, regardless of filling, is silky-smooth. On occasion, he will come by, at dessert time, with a tasting of vanilla ice cream topped with a quarter-teaspoon of exquisitely fine olive oil--outstanding!
About a month before we ate at the restaurant we had seen a show on our local PBS (Public Broadcasting System) station called "Check Please". This show had 3 people picking out places to eat which they all have dinner or lunch at and then coming back to the show and talking about their experiences at the restaurant.
The morning that we ate there we had decided to go into the City of Chicago and take a look at the church where our 2nd son was going to get married at and also to look at some places to hold the rehearsal dinner the night before. On our way back to Naperville (our home town) I suggest we stop for dinner here and take a walk around town.
Favorite Dish: I started out the meal with a very good and fruity sangria which is one of the better ones I've had. Sometimes restaurants skimp on the fruit and drink but that was not the case here.
I wasn't too hungry for dinner since we had a pizza not too many hours earlier in the day, so I opted for the Maya Caesar Salad with an addition of some pieces of oak grilled chicken. The salad had field greens topped with garlic croutons, Manchego cheese, cilantro and house made Caesar dressing.
Sue had the Camarones Mojo de Ajo which was grilled shrimp marinated in garlic then grilled and served with grilled zuchini, chayote, carrots, yellow squash, white rice and a Chipotle Mojo de Ajo with diced avocado and a watercress salad. The Chipotle Mojo de Ajo was not too spicy which was a good thing as Sue is not much into spicy food.
Atmosphere was casual. The night we were there the table next to us had a family of 5 with 3 young children while a few tables over was a "ladies night out" bunch. There were also several other parties of 4 and couples enjoying dinner on a Tuesday night.
This trip that my friend Mickey and I took was our birthday presents to each other. Instead of our usual gift giving, we decided to take a trip together and to make sure that one evening, we would eat in a really topnotch restaurant. Philander's Oak Park was that restaurant. It is located in the hotel where we stayed, The Carleton Oak Park.
This is a truly beautiful restaurant with is mellow wood tones, beautiful lighting fixtures, magnificent bar [where live music plays each night], and private "feel".
The menu is a joy to behold! It includes such appetizers as Macadamia Nut Crusted Shrimp, Maryland Crab Cake, and Seafood Platter. Or Soups such as Lobster Vanilla Bisque, Baked French Onion, or Soup of the Day. The Salad selections include Caesar, Strawberry & Orange, Warm Asparagus.
There is an entire section labeled Prime Aged Steaks which puts forth New York Strip au Poivre, Blackened Rib Eye [20 oz.], Beef Tenderloin, Porterhouse, Philander's Grill [amish blue cheese crusted beef tenderloin, pistachio encrusted rack of lamb, demi glace artichoke & crab crusted diver scallop, lobster-vanilla reduction]
Of course, they offer such Fresh Seafood as Australian Rock Lobster Tail, Dover Sole, Mahi Mahi, Diver Scallops, Tilapia, Surf & Turf.
Poultry was not forgotten with such choices as Amish Chicken Breast,
There's a seperate Wine Menu and Dessert Menu as well as After Dinner Drinks.
Favorite Dish: Mickey and I both have small appetites; thus, we ordered everything to share.
First, hot fresh bread was served to dip in Virgin Olive Oil with garlic.
We started off with wines and went straight to Lobster Vanilla Bisque [Maine lobster and balsamic drizzle] See Picture #5
Next, we had our Salad choice which was Grilled Granny Smith Apple & Asian Pear with fire-roasted walnuts, Amish blue cheese, sun-dried figs, and aged balsamic vinaigrette
See Picture #2
Our main course was Beef Tenderolin with Amish blue cheese crusted, carrot-garlic mashed potato [only Mickey ate the potatoes], mushroom, spinach, sun-dried tomato, red onion confit, bordelaise. We shared this so in Photo #1 note that the meat is 1/2 of the portion.
At the end of the meal, we shared Homemade Key Lime Pie See Picture #3 accompanied by decaf coffee. Whew...what a meal and what a lovely birthday present for both of us!
Don't miss the extra photos to see the outdoor eating area
Winberie's Restaurant & Bar is conveniently located in Scoville Square at the south west corner of Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street. Scoville Square Was built in 1905 by a prominent Oak Park family, the Scoville's. It has beautiful architectural detail. The building is one of the few examples of Prairie style architecture in a commercial building. This building was originally home to the Masons. It then was home to Gilmore's Department Store for 60 years. In 1980, it was restored by architect John Vinci to it original look.
Winberie's is an American Bistro that offers a HUGE menu. They have a wide variety of wines and a full bar. Mickey and I were attracted to its location and architecture and the fact that it was advertised as "classy, yet casual".
The menu includes Starters, Salads, Sandwiches, Specialties, Pasta, Side Dishes, and Desserts.
It has a large Wine menu, and you are able to order Half Bottles. That also offer Cocktails, bottled Beer and Draft Beer.
They are most famous for their Specialties such as Cedar Planked Salmon, Grilled Pork Tenderloin, Quiche of the Day, and Shrimp Linguini with lemon Herb Mascarpone.
Favorite Dish: Mickey and I were not real hungry, so when we visited Winberie's, we decided to share a nice salad. We had choices such as Beefsteak Tomato and Buffalo Mozzarella, Chopped Salad, Caesar Salad, Vegetarian Chili and Salad, Nicoise Salad, or Mediterranean Salad. It was unanimous; we both wanted the Mediterranean Salad. It was made with fresh greens tossed with the most mild and delicious balsamic vinagrette dressing and topped with vine ripe tomatoes, kalamata olives, pinenuts, and feta cheese. We paid $8.95 for this huge salad, and ate every morsel.
If you wanted, you could also order with the Mediterranean salad some grilled chicken for $4.00 more or Chilled shrimp for $5.00 more. We chose not to do that.
Winberie's is a very large restaurant that is divided into two rooms; the staff is very efficient, and the place is bright, beautiful, and clean.
Because Mickey and I liked the food so much at the Prairie Bread Kitchen, we ate here twice for lunch. This is a very informal place to eat. I think most people purchase food here and take it out. However, it does have seats both inside and outside [if weather permits].
The first day, we ate inside the restaurant; the second day, we chose to eat outside on a lovely summer day.
We found on both days that the girls who take orders and make the meals are very friendly, efficient, and helpful.
You look at the hand-written menu; you look over the counter and see before you the many choices; and then you watch as the meal is produced before your eyes.
The real plus for Prairie Bread Kitchen is the FRESH bread, meats, and cheeses.
It was a real pleasure to eat here.
Favorite Dish: The sandwiches are really excellent. The soups are delicious, and the desserts look great. They are known for their bagels, baked good, coffee drinks, and homemade breads.
Mickey had the shrimp bisque soup on the first day and just "raved" about it. She also had a tuna sandwich, which she certainly enjoyed. I tried the Turkey Breast Sandwich and one of their famous
Smoothies" [I chose fresh strawberry flavor]. The turkey was so good with lettuce and tomato [there is a list of condiments from which to choose]. The bread was outstanding. Needless to say, the Strawberry Smoothie was incredible.
The second time we were there, I had the Turkey Sandwich again because I liked it so much, but at least I tried a different kind of bread. This time I had a diet Coke instead of a Smoothie.
Mickey had a Ham Sandwich and a diet Coke.
All of the food was perfect. What a great place for breakfast, lunch, or a coffee break.
It's a tradition that wherever I travel, I make sure I try Ice Cream or Gelato. My visit to Oak Park was no exception. On the last day of our visit, Mickey and I decided that we needed the famed "ice cream break". We were in the Avenue Shopping Area, and close to the Oberweis Dairy; thus, we stopped to have our treats.
Now, I have been to Oberweis Dairy stores in my own area and would have preferred to have tried another brand. It's not my favorite ice cream because it seems to be whipped full of air. Even though it tastes good, it uses artificial flavors and is sweetened with corn syrup.
Another problem was with this specific store. When you walk in, it is not easy to read the huge signs...the signage is too crowded and confusing. We had to stand off to the side to peruse and then diligently study the menu. Mickey wanted a combination of caramel and hot fudge for toppings. She found what she needed in a brochure, not from the big menu. In addition, I was charged a $1.00 more because I was asked if I wanted nuts on my hot fudge sundae, and I said yes. Meanwhile, Mickey's "Turtle Sundae" [same size as mine] came with caramel, hot fudge, and nuts for $1.00 less!! This did not set well with me.
Favorite Dish: Even though I have real complaints about this ice cream shop, I must say that it was large, well lit, and the seats/tables were comfortable. There are many, many choices of ice cream flavors, toppings, etc. It seemed to be a busy place so most people must like the product.
Besides ice cream, they also sell Oberweis Milk, and other dairy products.j
Amarind is not exactly an Oak Park restaurant but it's across the street from Oak Park, in Elmwood Park. It's located on 6822 W. North Avenue. The dinning room is simple and comfortable though it can get a bit noisy when full. The restaurant offers wine and beer and will uncork your own bottles. The menu is imaginative. T They don't deliver but you can call for take out. The staff is friendly and the service is very good.
Favorite Dish: - Amarind Noodles is a creative dish of spinach infused rice noodles served with spicy seafood. It's the signature dish of the restaurant.
- Basil fried rice is a generous serving of rice stir fried with chopped veggies, large leaves of holy basil, and meat of your choice. I recommend chicken or beef and a generous helping of the red hot sauce, to enjoy this satisfying dish.
Spicy curry pork, is a flavorful and spicy dish. The pork is enhanced by dried shrimp thrown in the mix.
In terms of appetizers: the golden pouch is outstanding.
We started our visit to Oak Park off with some lunch at Petersen's, a diner and ice cream parlor that has been there since 1919. My lunch companion had fond memories of visiting there when she was young and it was close to where we wanted to start our walking tour.
Favorite Dish: The menu has burgers, sandwiches, salads and other entrees. I tried a french dip sandwich and my friend tried a patty melt. For the price (I think it was about $7.50) I was very disappointed in the sandwich which had so little meat that I discarded much of the bread.
The ice cream, on the other hand, was very good. I tried a petite hot fudge sundae which was a bit expensive at around $5 but very good. A better value was just a scoop of ice cream, my friend tried the rum egg nog and it was very good.
Oak Park seems to have more ice cream shops than any place I've been, we saw an Edy's, a Cold Stone Creamery and several other independent shops as we were walking around. But I'd rather eat at a place like Petersen's than one of the corporate places you can find anywhere.
So my recommendation is to skip the food but go for the ice cream!