Chef Allen Sternweiler knows what he's doing when it comes to Italian food. He's already earned a respected reputation from his beloved Lincoln Park restaurant Butcher and the Burger, but he's outdone himself with his work at the recently opened Sal's Trattoria ( 2834 N. Southport Ave.; SalsTrattoria.com ) in West Lake View.
Although the location has had a tough time keeping a tenant for long, Sal's Trattoria has done a wonderful job creating a charming ambiance in which customers can enjoy its authentic Italian cuisine.
And enjoy they will-the food was fantastic. My dining companions and I sampled nearly a dozen dishes from the menu, and almost every single one hit it out of the park. The cocktail menu was on the shorter side, but there is a little something for everyone. I'd recommend the Sal's Spritz for a refreshing and light summer beverage if you're not taken with its full wine menu.
We sampled a handful of the antipasti on the menu, but what really stood out was the daily selection of crostini. The bread was toasted and buttered to perfection, slathered in goat cheese and topped with braised red onions and Iberian ham. I'm still dreaming about the way it melted in my mouth, although it's definitely not the thing to order if you're watching your waistline.
If you are looking for a bit of a more healthful option, the spinach and arugula salad is a great choice. The mixture of pancetta, fresh pear slices, Gorgonzola, fennel and oranges was artfully arranged and topped with a glorious sherry vinaigrette. I honestly would have been happy eating plain lettuce as long as it was graced with this vinaigrettethat's how tasty it was. It was light and fruity, with a bit of champagne aftertaste. Delicious.
When it came time for main courses, we opted to try the fettuccini carbonara, rigatoni Bolognese and roasted salmon. I am a carbonara enthusiast, but I must admit the dish disappointed me a bit. The pancetta was too salty and the sauce a bit more eggy and less creamy than my liking. Sal's Trattoria crafts all of its noodles in house, though, and it shows.
The rigatoni Bolognese was divine. The noodles, again homemade, were perfectly al denteand hugetopped with one of the best Bolognese sauces I have ever tasted. It was far and away my favorite dish of the evening. And I wasn't alone in my assessment, as my dining companions also raved about it.
We capped our meal with tiramisu and the chef's signature olive-oil cake. I left our dinner full and satisfied, and antsy to have the leftover Bolognese for lunch the next day.