In Via Roma's deep, narrow space in downtown Des Plaines, chef Alessandro Forti (formerly of La Strada and La Donna) and his wife Lisa Leslie have achieved something that's ostensibly uncomplicated, yet rarely achieved simple, delicious Italian food.
Via Roma is far from fancy. The walls are cream, the tables uncovered. There's no wine list; you bring your own. But for about a year now, the storefront restaurant on Lee Street has been wowing what appears to be a prevalence of Italian guests. And making their magic look easy.
Via RomaVia Roma 686 Lee St., Des Plaines, (847) 768-7461 Via Roma
686 Lee St., Des Plaines, (847) 768-7461
Setting: Downtown Des Plaines storefront with an affable Italian patronage
Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Lunch only Monday through Wednesday.
Cuisine: Italian Setting: Downtown Des Plaines storefront with an affable Italian patronage Entrees: $6-$14 Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. Lunch only Monday through Wednesday.
There was soft bread to dip into the olive oil. There were entrees at or around the $8 mark (more for specials), almost too affordable to be real. And there was everything else wonderful dishes made from scratch, including most of the pastas.
The menu is straightforward: a handful of appetizers like bruschetta, a few pasta dishes, salads, pizza and the mandatory veal.
A simple mixed greens salad, with chopped Romano tomatoes and a whole mint-braised artichoke lying regally like a scepter, completely transcended the sum of its parts. The carpaccio bresaola an Italian air-cured beef over a bed of chunky grated Parmesan and arugula with olive oil was a perfect pairing of meat, bread and cheese.
A black chalkboard featured the night's specials, whose availability at about 8 p.m. on a Saturday night started disappearing. First, the mussels, then the veal, after that the clams.
A prosciutto pizza, however, quickly warded off any food stress. It was extra thin, equally crunchy across its diameter, with an oregano sway that just burst through the melted cheese. The prosciutto, added after cooking, seemed a bit thicker than necessary.
The cannelloni with the chef's special meat sauce was home cooking you wish your mama did. Two super fresh, soft pasta sheets were rolled around a combination of pork and beef covered in the lightest, most delicate ruby-red tomato sauce we have tasted in a long while.
The spaghetti vongole lived up to expectations and then some. Two dozen exceptionally fresh clams were served over an understated lemon butter sauce and thick, plump spaghetti.
An already delicious meal got even better when a soft, spongy limoncello cake prepared that morning made its way to the table, alongside a hazelnut gelato that tasted like Nutella on a spoon.
By that point, the chef had come out from the kitchen, greeted his patrons and sat down at a table merrily conversing in Italian.
At Via Roma, simplicity becomes something special.