Chef-owner's passion for Italian fare evident at Woodstock's new Mia Passione

  • The colorful chilled seafood salad features calamari, octopus and shrimp at Woodstock's Mia Passione.

      The colorful chilled seafood salad features calamari, octopus and shrimp at Woodstock's Mia Passione. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Chef-owner Michael Palmieri opened the second location of Mia Passione in March.

      Chef-owner Michael Palmieri opened the second location of Mia Passione in March. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • The tender eggplant parmigiana graces the menu at Michael Palmieri's Mia Passione in Woodstock.

      The tender eggplant parmigiana graces the menu at Michael Palmieri's Mia Passione in Woodstock. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • The classic veal Marsala was cooked with cremini mushrooms in a Marsala wine reduction at Mia Passione.

      The classic veal Marsala was cooked with cremini mushrooms in a Marsala wine reduction at Mia Passione. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • The chilled seafood salad at Woodstock's Mia Passione features calamari, octopus and shrimp.

      The chilled seafood salad at Woodstock's Mia Passione features calamari, octopus and shrimp. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • The dining room invites diners to linger at Mia Passione in Woodstock.

      The dining room invites diners to linger at Mia Passione in Woodstock. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Chef-owner Michael Palmieri, holding a plate of eggplant parmigiana, recently opened a second location of Mia Passione, this time in Woodstock.

      Chef-owner Michael Palmieri, holding a plate of eggplant parmigiana, recently opened a second location of Mia Passione, this time in Woodstock. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Mia Passione opened in Woodstock in early March.

      Mia Passione opened in Woodstock in early March. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

 
By Thomas Witom
Daily Herald Correspondent

Mia Passione, a newcomer on Woodstock's lively dining scene, is already making its presence felt.

Specializing in familiar Italian-American fare, the 140-seat downtown restaurant, has experienced sellout crowds.

"Word-of-mouth has gone well for us. We have basically sold out every weekend since we opened in early March," says chef-owner Michael Palmieri, who in 2014 also founded a much smaller Mia Passione in River Grove that his daughter Samantha now oversees.

Popular menu items include fresh seafood, 16-ounce bone-in pork chops and various chicken dishes (parmigiana, Marsala and Francese).

Mia Passione (Italian for "my passion") also offers brick-oven pizzas and a selection of pasta dishes including gluten-free for a $2 upcharge.

Expect to fork over $18 to $48 per entree and $12 to $17 for an antipasto.

James Halper, a longtime friend of Palmieri, keeps things humming as general manager at the Woodstock location where he also functions as front-of-the-house manager. I found the exuberant waitstaff provided efficient and knowledgeable service.

The Parmesan-crusted potato is available as a side item at Woodstock's Mia Passione.
  The Parmesan-crusted potato is available as a side item at Woodstock's Mia Passione. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer
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Customers are seated at tables or padded banquettes situated along the perimeter of the softly lit dining room. Lining the walls are framed posters relating to vintage films or iconic singers, while a soundtrack in the background featured Ella Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett, Louis Armstrong and others. I liked the tin ceiling and black tablecloths and napkins but found the numerous wall-mounted flat-screen TVs distracting.

A recent early Saturday night dinner at this family-friendly venue began with complementary garlicky flatbread accompanied by a tasty Parmesan-olive oil dip.

While deciding what to order, my tablemate and I sipped smooth, refreshing glasses of Tenuta di Nozzole chardonnay from Tuscany. Mia Passione's bar also dispenses specialty cocktails and assorted beers.

Start with baked clams at the newly opened Mia Passione in Woodstock.
  Start with baked clams at the newly opened Mia Passione in Woodstock. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer
                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Among starter options are baked clams, fresh homemade fried mozzarella, and sweet Italian sausage and peppers.

I recommend splitting the chilled seafood salad ($15.95). Prepared with a flavorful lemon vinaigrette, this well-conceived course featured calamari, octopus and shrimp.

The eggplant parmigiana entree, a comforting favorite of mine, didn't break any new ground -- nor did I expect it to. The basil-seasoned eggplant was tender, and the house-made mozzarella thoroughly enjoyable.

Tender eggplant comes topped with house-made mozzarella in the eggplant parmigiana at Woodstock's Mia Passione.
  Tender eggplant comes topped with house-made mozzarella in the eggplant parmigiana at Woodstock's Mia Passione. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

What wasn't so pleasing was the thin, dull tomato sauce that came with a side dish of rigatoni.

Meanwhile, the kitchen did a fine job with veal Marsala, a classic dish in which the meat was cooked with cremini mushrooms in a Marsala wine reduction. But an accompanying side of garlic spinach was barely warmed let alone sauteed.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Desserts follow a predictable script. During our visit the options were tiramisu or cannoli. The latter impressed with its crisp shell and lightly sweetened ricotta.

The cannoli's crisp shell and lightly sweetened ricotta impressed at Mia Passione.
  The cannoli's crisp shell and lightly sweetened ricotta impressed at Mia Passione. - Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

At present, Mia Passione serves dinner only. Management is considering adding lunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But the first order of business, Palmieri says, is to make sure the staff is fully trained and thoroughly familiar with the menu. Another high-priority item is to freshen the upstairs banquet room that will be able to accommodate crowds of up to 180.

Restaurant reviews are based on one anonymous visit. The Daily Herald does not publish reviews of restaurants it cannot recommend.

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