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SAVOR Tuscany on Taylor; Victory Italian
DISH Dining Guide
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times

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"That's Italian!"

Besides being the slogan for a popular spaghetti sauce, that was my immediate reaction after visiting a pair of restaurants that seemingly encompass the essence of Italy—albeit in different ways.

Tuscany on Taylor ( 1014 W. Taylor St.; )—located, fittingly, in Chicago's Little Italy neighborhood and just steps away from the University of Illinois at Chicago campus—is the onlyTaylor spot in Chicago. ( The others are in Oak Brook and Wheeling. ) And, for anyone looking for classic Italian dishes done well, this is the spot—and it's been serving said classics since 1990.

The casual restaurant has tantalizing antipasti such as polpi ( grilled baby octopus ), bruschetta ( with Roma tomatoes, basil and EVOO ) and carpaccio di Manzo ( with arugula salad, shaved parmigiana and truffle oil ). Soup and salad options include calamari done three ways, spinach salad and Caesar salad with chicken, among several other items.

The pizzas ( cooked in a wood-burning oven ) are delightful. I especially liked the Regina—which counts Tuscan sausage, roasted pepper, mushroom and mozzarella as its toppings. Entrees are also done well: The chicken parmigiana was absolutely wonderful, and the duck was solid, if unspectacular. However, all the standards are there, ranging from veal piccata to linguini with scampi.

And the hits keep coming with desserts. Although the cannoli cake I had seen online wasn't available when I was there, the chocolate mousse cake was a more-than-suitable substitute, and other options include cheesecake, tiramisu and cannoli.

Tuscany on Taylor sticks with the tried-and-true—and definitely succeeds.

Victory Italian

While Tuscany on Taylor does its thing, River North restaurant Victory Italian ( 434 W. Ontario St.; ) also takes patrons to Italy—albeit with a more ambitious style.

Victory ( the latest establishment from the Victory Restaurant Group, founded by Chef Joe Farina and Anthony Gambino, and featuring Director of Operations Yvonne Farina ) even describes itself as "upscale" on its website, although you don't need to wear a suit or dress to enter. However, the cuisine may have you thinking you're in a place that's considerably more expensive. ( And this place reminded me of the wonderful Centro—a now-defunct spot what was in the spot now occupied by Imperial Lamian. )

An appetizer pizza is almost necessary. Choices—divided into olive oil- and tomato-based ) include fungi ( wild mushroom, fontanelle and rosemary ); Elmwood Park ( red sauce, mozzarella, Italian sausage, Italian beef and hot giardiniera ); and Vendura ( asparagus, caramelized onion, mozzarella and balsamic glaze ), among others. Another must-try app is the meatball salad, which comes with a giant beef-and-veal ball that is supremely tasty. However, those are just the tip of the iceberg, as there are other options like mussels, roasted Brussels sprouts, fried and grilled calamari, jumbo stuffed mushrooms and more.

The garlic bread, which comes with every order, is among the best I've ever tried—thick slices topped with parmesan ( that somehow tasted even better after I got home—and topped it with white truffle oil ).

And as for the pasta dishes, they're compelling. The agnolotti dish stuffed with ricotta, parmesan and bacon is a 2018 Baconfest winner ( although, strangely, this was the least intriguing dish for me, although it was nonetheless quite good )—but I liked the pappardelle Bolognese even more. However, there are scores of pasta dishes and other entrees ( pork chop Calabrese, crispy brick chicken, etc. ) that would make things nightmarish for the indecisive if everything weren't so good.

Lastly, save room for dessert—it's certainly worth it, thanks to items like tiramisu ( supremely good ), the not-too-large cannolis and various gelatos.

I mentioned that Victory's style is ambitious. And while ambition doesn't guarantee success, it works wonders in this case. ( BTW, checking out the interior is a must. Just try to see how many famous faces you can identify from the portraits that fill the walls throughout this restaurant. )

Note: Restaurant profiles/events are based on invitations arranged from restaurants and/or firms.

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