201 E. Grand Ave.
With sleek, splashy Italian hot spots such as RPM Italian and Filini opening recently, it's easy to forget their culinary grandfathers: the checkered-tablecloth, straw-wrapped-chianti-bottles-on-the-table restaurants. Volare, a 14-year-old Streeterville stalwart in the shadow of Michigan Avenue, was one of those classics, and after closing in March for remodeling, it's back in action. The interior has been spiffed up enough to look current, while servers in ties and complimentary bread baskets are just a few of the old-school details that remain. One notable menu update is the addition of pizzas ($9-$12), fired in the brick oven visible in the open kitchen behind the bar.
The crust: When sliced into eighths, the central portion of the pizzas can't stand up to the weight of the four or five toppings that grace each pie. Even when folded, the tip of the slice is still floppy, but thankfully, the crust -- puffed, crunchy, and golden brown around the edges -- ends each piece on a high note.
The sauce: The menu lists San Marzano tomatoes as the sauce's base, and it's a detail worth noting. This Naples-grown variety of plum tomato adds a bright and tangy flavor that still stands out even when challenged by meaty toppings. Two white pizzas (look for "bianca" on the menu) don't skimp on the ricotta, a sweet and creamy substitute for red sauce that's just as pleasing.
The toppings: To the delight of carnivores, a hefty dose of salty, paper-thin prosciutto ribbons cascade across three of the five pizzas. They're best atop the Volare ($12), where ricotta, artichokes, and plum tomatoes balance the ham's richness, as well as the Bianca ala Prosciutto ($10), which counters the meatiness with slightly bitter arugula. Vegetarians are relegated to the standard margherita pizza ($9), the only meatless pie available.
Other stuff: The pizzas vie for attention on the large, newly revamped menu, which is full of substantial portions of risotto, house-made pastas, and classic Italian meat dishes. A few starters such as caprese salad ($12) and half-portions of pasta are a concession to the small-plates trend, but don't expect this to be a light meal.
Bottom line: A stronger, crispier dough would be a better vehicle for these flavorful sauces and plentiful toppings. Despite that literal flop, Volare is worth revisiting when you need to escape from your downtown office or Michigan Avenue traffic -- especially when you're feeling nostalgic for servers that still send you off with a hearty "Grazie!"
Writers visit restaurants unannounced and meals are paid for by RedEye.
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