From the moment you pass under the ornate marquee reading "Chicago's oldest Italian restaurant," it's clear that minimalism is not on the menu. Vivere, the Jordan Moser-decorated space on the first floor of Italian Village, takes you to the inside of a giant caramel roll: spirals, swoops and golden-brown hues are simply everywhere. No surface has been left without ornamentation: Mirrors are flanked with stage curtains, mosaic tiles form swirling patterns on the floor and colorful paintings adorn the walls.
The menu shares the decor's flare for drama; lucky for us, showy ingredients include a saffron-infused white wine and cream sauce and a braised wild boar ragu. The tonno con pure di piselli pairs seared ahi tuna with a sweet pea puree and carrot-leek salad. Meat-and-potato types will love the veal chop seared on iron, served with a lemon-scented cannelloni bean puree.
If choosing only one of the menu's dishes ($14.50-$33.95) is simply too distressing, try the chef's five-course tasting menu for $70 per person. Whatever you eat, leave room for wine: The Italian Village restaurants have won the Wine Spectator Grand Award every year since 1984.
Average cost: $21-$30
Centerstage Reviewer: Jennifer Berg