Upon arrival, one may get drawn in by the medieval doors flanked by Roman style columns. Once inside one can not help to feel transported due to the charming interior and decorative, art colored walls. The recently remodeled trattoria combines old world Italy with modern times to form an eclectic New York style Italian bistro situated on bustling Milwaukee Avenue.
Pasta D’arte literally and figuratively translates into “The Art of Pasta”, as chef/owner Mark Giannini offers a regional Italian menu specializing in homemade pastas and featuring Abruzzese-inspired meat dishes as well as Barese-influenced fish entrees. Chef Mark’s passion manifests itself into a rare form of fine Italian cuisine that is certain to please even the most discriminating of palates. Chef Mark uses only the finest and freshest quality ingredients on menu items such as Scaloppine alla Valdostana (tender veal medallions in a mixed mushroom and homemade demiglace) or Petto di Pollo Balsamico (marinated chicken breast in a semi-sweet Italian vinegar and wine reduction) along with various risotto preparations. Daily specials that capture the changing seasons are also offered.
The wine list is nicely balanced in terms of selection and price range. Comprised mainly of Italian and Californian wines, the list also includes wines of other ethnic origins; places like Argentina, Australia and New Zealand to name a few.
Anyone in the mood for a cocktail can order the beverage of their choice from Pasta D’arte’s full bar which comes stocked with a very distinguishing martini list as well as lists for aperitifs, cordials, grappas, scotches, bourbons and cognacs. Last, but certainly not least, save room for one of Mark’s homemade seasonal dessert specials such as pumpkin cheesecake or crocantino semifreddo.
The unique set up of the restaurant offers three separate rooms for dining including an enclosed courtyard with a retractable roof that opens during the spring, summer and fall seasons. The sit-down, granite top bar and cocktail lounge is located towards the rear of the building and showcases a custom built 300 bottle wine rack which certainly catches the eye. With an unparalleled combination of simplicity and elegance in all aspects of the dining experience, Pasta D’arte is the perfect spot to feed the family, enjoy a romantic dinner for two or entertain clients or guests.
“The ambition, charisma and work ethic demonstrated by our knowledgeable staff provides a friendly neighborhood experience matched by great food and ambiance.”
Chef Mark Giannini
According to Chef Mark Giannini, owner of Pasta D’Arte, you need fresh ingredients, creativity, a passion for Italian culture, and true love for the food.
“When you walk in here, you’re walking into my home,” Mark says, referring to the quaint dining room of Pasta D’Arte, his restaurant in Jefferson Park. “Actually, I’m here more than I am at home. So I want to make people feel as comfortable as possible. Sit down, relax, eat, enjoy.”
With a varied menu, featuring everything from scallopine to braciole, seafood to steak, homemade pasta to homemade desserts, there is certainly plenty to enjoy. “My original idea was to open up a place and express my creativity through pasta, so that’s why we named this place ‘art of pasta’ – pasta dell’ arte, but pasta d’arte is easier to say and people get the gist of it. Then I started to notice that the fresh fish I would put on special was selling really well, as was the veal, and the steak, so as time went by I adjusted the menu. I still have creative pastas with different sauces – we don’t just douse everything in tomato sauce – but now we offer so much more.”
Having apprenticed with Roman and Bolognese chefs, Mark also draws from his Italian roots for inspiration: his mother is from Apulia, a region located on the Adriatic coast and known for its rich and fresh seafood, and his father is from Abruzzo, a region renowned for its meat dishes. At Pasta D’Arte, Mark brings a variety of regional dishes to the table, showcasing the best in Italian cuisine. “Our lasagna is truly Bolognese style lasagna, we make it with the spinach pasta, ground beef and veal Bolognese, and we don’t use too much ricotta, like how they make lasagna further south.”
But tradition has to keep up with modern developments, too:
“We have gluten free meals here, a gluten-free menu, and I also have a very high quality whole wheat pasta that we can use with any sauce for customers who’d rather enjoy a slightly healthier option.”
And what about vegetarians looking for vegetarian Italian meals? “If I told you every vegetable we carry on a daily basis, we’d be here all night. Last week we had a vegan party here, with 65 people, so we served lentil soup and mixed roasted vegetable platters. Actually right now, I’m serving a light summer squash puree soup with quinoa, a whole organic grain, and people are loving it.”
But it’s not just about healthy Italian cuisine. “There’s not a whole lot of foot traffic in this location,” Mark explains. “ So if we want customers to come to us, and keep coming back, we have to be consistent – always serve great food, always have great service.” Located on Milwaukee Avenue, Pasta D’Arte draws customers from neighboring Edison Park and Norwood Park. “We strive for excellence. We can’t be mediocre. We really do care about what we do here. We’re a destination spot.”
The casual, eclectic atmosphere has been the setting for many a special occasion, from first dates to birthday parties. Ready to accommodate romantic dining or celebrations, Mark’s wine collection features mostly Italian wines – “about 95% Italian” – from Barbera to Barberesco to Barolo. “I have tasted all the wines that I put on the list. I know them, and I enjoy them. There is a lot of variety, but I think they match the menu well.”
The Giannini’s are a family of restaurateurs, running just under a dozen Italian restaurants across the Chicago area. “ We’re all separate entities, though. We get together on Thanksgiving and Christmas and compare notes. Restauranteering is in our blood, it’s all we know.”
Mark’s training started early. “I have memories of making gnocchi, ravioli, lasagna with my grandmother as a child, when I was four or five years old. That’s just what we did.” His grandparents did a lot to inspire his culinary aspirations. “ You should have seen their garden – grape vines, tomatoes, all the different vegetables and produce that came out of that garden – the green beans, those beautiful green beans, and Swiss chard…nowadays, I don’t know if this sounds crazy to you, but when I go into the store and I know something’ s in season and I see it, I think – oh boy! It brings a smile to my face to see the availability of good ingredients.”
Italy is renowned for the freshness and quality of its raw ingredients. “ Something that is so simple over there can be so tasty. You can buy the same ingredients here and it just tastes like nothing!” But by carefully picking and choosing ingredients from the local markets, Mark manages to recreate those authentic Italian flavors here in Chicago. “ Our salads are really fresh, and our seafood – our calamari is really what we’re known for, grilled or fried it’s fresh, and we clean it on premises. I don’ t get pre-cleaned product, I get the product in its whole form and I work it from there, so our calamari is the most tender.”
Another difference between Italian cuisine in Italy and Italian cuisine in the United States?
Portions. “In Italy the majority of people are pretty skinny- they’re eating pasta every day, but not this much pasta,” he spreads his hands far apart. It can be difficult to ensure customers that they’ve received their money’s worth if you don’t bring a lot to the plate. ”I try to accommodate both. Big portions of good food, big enough that you can take some of it home and reheat it for lunch the next day.”