937 N. Damen Ave. 773-772-0889
Rating: 2.5 (out of four) Take it or leave it
The backstory: When I'm dining out, I try to enter each restaurant with an open mind. But when it came to Briciola, a new BYOB Italian trattoria in Ukrainian Village, it was a challenge to tune out all that I'd heard. Just a look at the restaurant's early Yelp reviews—from gushing five-stars to scathing one-stars—made me wonder if everyone had even eaten at the same restaurant. On one hand, Briciola does have big shoes to fill; it replaces dearly beloved breakfast and lunch spot Jam, which relocated to airier digs in Logan Square. On the other hand, veteran chef Mario Maggi, who opened the original location of Bice, should be up to the challenge. I stopped in on a recent Saturday night to see whether Briciola had moved past early hiccups, or whether it was stuck in a permanent rut.
The pros: The menu does a solid job of representing classic Italian cuisine, with enough modern twists to assure me that I wasn't stuck in an episode of "The Sopranos." Octopus carpaccio ($10) is shaved paper-thin and tossed with bright hearts of palm and basil oil, a perfect summer starter. Caesar salad ($8) comes with a tangy house-made dressing atop a wedge of grilled romaine lettuce, but it's the fried capers that are addictively munchable. Not all the pastas are made in-house, but the gnocchi ($15) are, and they arrive piping hot, airy and tossed with just the right amount of pesto, goat cheese and sun-dried tomatoes.
The cons: Our servers were gracious but clearly nervous, which translated to a few slips, such as forgetting an ice bucket for our wine and delivering some courses too quickly. Dessert arrived only minutes after my friend and I ordered it, and we could have used much more time to digest before digging in to the syrupy, way-too-firm panna cotta ($6). Chef Maggi personally visits most tables, which is a nice touch, but can't totally redeem the scampering servers.
Bottom line: Briciola's kitchen put out consistent, satisfying Italian favorites, even on a busy weekend night. If that confidence rubs off on the wait staff, I'd enthusiastically join the restaurant's fan club and tell haters to give this comfortable trattoria another shot. –Kate Bernot
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