I'm usually the last person to try the new place that everyone else is raving about. I like to unearth little gems all on my own, and when there is mad talk about a trendy new restaurant, I quickly lose interest. So it's not too surprising that it's taken me a while to try Frasca Pizzeria & Wine Bar, 3358 N. Paulina.
Oh, I've walked past it a million times on my way to the gym and Whole Foods, and even peeking in the doors a couple of times when they were putting the finishing touches on the beautiful woodwork (all right, I full on scooted around the large dining room while the construction crew was on lunch break). But once all the glowing reviews poured in, the sense of discovery was shot and I avoided the joint like the plague...until last weekend, when Lisa and I could stand it no longer and had to see what all the talk was about (really, I was just dying for a nice glass of wine and we happened to be walking by).
When we strolled into the airy dining room, a friendly hostess immediately offered us our choice of open tables. We chose a large booth by the bright window and settled in for one of the most stimulating meals I've stumbled upon in 2006. I couldn't have been more stunned. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't tremendous portions, soul-satisfying flavors and a good solid buzz to go along with it all.
I started off with a wine flight ($12 for three ample portions) and now have a brand new favorite wine, a better-than-pinot-grigio white called Greco di Tufo. It was originally cultivated on the slopes of Greece but somehow made its way to the Campania region of Italy, where it blossomed with sublime sweetness.
We went a little buck wild, thinking the portions were going to be teensy to match the prices. No such luck. When our spunky waitress rolled out with our food, the table groaned with weight. We'd requested that she bring everything at once for fear that we'd get too full off a lone appetizer, so out poured a mess of food.
A huge pile of emerald green asparagus topped with chopped egg and big chunks of Parmesan cheese sat beside a perfectly cooked margarhita pizza. Things got crazy when she laid down the giant butchers platter, our choice of four samples from the Old World farmers table (man, they have the terminology down pat).
I guess I was expecting tiny bites of cheese and ham, not entire rinds and a whole side of sow. We'd also chosen some tasty brushcetta as part of our platter, and though the ricotta and honey was a smidge dry, the roasted eggplant and goat cheese was blissful. The fat round of warm, crunchy bread that came with the dish was perfect for creating little sandwiches of tangy prosciutto, creamy fontina cheese and smears of fig chutney.
photo: Misty Tosh
When we finally dove into the cracklin' pizza, it was loaded with extra shreds of basil and every bite was packed with petite tomatoes and loads of fresh mozzarella. We got a bit out of hand with the chutney, though and started smearing its sugary goodness all over the pizza crust.
Hell, I blame that wine flight for that bizarre yet delicious concoction. A couple of those will turn anybody into an inquisitive food scientist at the table.
The Final Rave: Though our bellies were swollen to the point of near bursting, we had to order a batch of the cinnamon donuts. Think soft, little munchkins dunked in golden honey and smothered with vanilla bean ice cream. You better believe I'll be back to this homey find.
Keep It Going:
Do it: Winezap.com This brilliant website compares prices for all your favorite new wines, lets you choose wines by regions and ever suggests food pairings. Once you find an agreeable price, you can link right to the seller's website. Where has this one been all my life?
Eat it: Taos
This soon-to-open Roscoe Village gem is already getting great buzz (uh-oh). Could it be the clever name, the delish sounding menu or the prime location? Watch out Piazza Bella!
Drink it: Volo
It offers a plethora of wine flights to go with its fresher-than-fresh food, but the price per portion is a little on the stingy side. Desserts are killer though, and so is the backyard patio.
Get crazy with it: Little Italy Festival
Head down to Clinton, Indiana, for a taste of Italy at this popular annual festival (Sept. 1-4). The pizza and spaghetti eating contests should be a riot, and you'll also learn the history of the gondola. Hey, 80,000 obsessed-with-Italy food lovers can't be wrong.