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  • Va Pensiero [Closed]

    Post #1 - November 4th, 2005, 10:27 am
    Post #1 - November 4th, 2005, 10:27 am Post #1 - November 4th, 2005, 10:27 am
    All:

    I was wondering if anyone could provide a review of Va Pensiero in Evanston for me?. I was unable to find any substantive reviews on this site. It looks lie I might be dining there this weekend for a family birthday. Any recommended dishes? Thanks.

    Va Pensiero
    1566 Oak Ave.
    Evanston, IL 60201-4234
    847-475-7779
  • Post #2 - November 4th, 2005, 10:54 am
    Post #2 - November 4th, 2005, 10:54 am Post #2 - November 4th, 2005, 10:54 am
    I haven't been there in several years, but I strongly recommend you get a table in the original dining room, on your left as you enter from down the stairs (it's basically an elegant below-grade half-basement space). The larger room on the right looks like an old banquet room (replete with stage) with none of the nice decorating touches of the original room. If you do need to wait for the table, the upstairs lounge is nice, and there's also a chance to learn about he interesting history of the building.
  • Post #3 - November 4th, 2005, 1:14 pm
    Post #3 - November 4th, 2005, 1:14 pm Post #3 - November 4th, 2005, 1:14 pm
    It's been nearly two years since I was last there, but the experience was very positive.

    There has been discussion on another site which I now rarely visit. This was from February 05: http://www.chowhound.com/midwest/boards/chicago/messages/57698.html
    Where there’s smoke, there may be salmon.
  • Post #4 - June 21st, 2007, 11:28 pm
    Post #4 - June 21st, 2007, 11:28 pm Post #4 - June 21st, 2007, 11:28 pm
    On Wednesday my wife and I had the pleasure of spending a wonderful evening in the courtyard of Va Pensiero. The weather was perfect, atmosphere tranquil and European, service friendly and extremely attentive, and the food was well executed and delicious.

    Our first courses were pan sautéed tiger shrimp served over a risotto cake with pistachio pesto and a Lunigianese timbale of rice filled with Swiss chard/pork/beef/capers/nutmeg with a tomato-cream sauce. Both were very good and even better than we expected.

    All three of the evening’s salads looked good, but we chose the baby arugula/sweet and sour shallots/shaved parmesan with a walnut-kalamata dressing and a frisée salad with golden and red beets/diced Anjou pears/lentils/ricotta salata with a balsamic vinaigrette. Great combinations of flavors and very fresh ingredients. We frequently skip a salad when eating out because the options aren’t really much different than what we make at home. These were both winners.

    We were in a pasta mood, and they did not disappoint. The housemade ravioli filled with pancetta/caramelized onions topped with some frisée and a wonderful garlic butter and bread crumb sauce was outstanding and Nancy proclaimed it the best pasta she has had in a long time. The caramelized onions supplied a fair amount of sweetness to compliment the pancetta. We switched plates after eating half and the orecchiette with spicy housemade fennel sausage/broccoli rabe/diced Roma tomatoes/parmesan cheese was a nice contrast. I’ve had this dish before, and it was excellent. You have to love the sausage/BR combination.

    The dessert sampler is a nice option. My favorite was the vanilla panna cotta and the warm chocolate cake. There was also an espresso ice cream and carrot cake. It was nice to linger over a good cup of coffee and enjoy the perfect summer night.

    Va Pensiero
    1566 Oak Avenue
    Evanston, IL 60201
    847.475.7779
  • Post #5 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:05 am
    Post #5 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:05 am Post #5 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:05 am
    It's been a few years since I've been there, but good to know it's still top-notch.

    Can you give a ballpark on what dinner cost? Quality is important, but sometimes Dave's Italian Kitchen provides more bang for the buck.
    What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
    -- Lin Yutang
  • Post #6 - June 22nd, 2007, 9:27 am
    Post #6 - June 22nd, 2007, 9:27 am Post #6 - June 22nd, 2007, 9:27 am
    JoelF wrote:Can you give a ballpark on what dinner cost?

    Prices are shown on the dinner menu on Va Pensiero's website, with most starters in the $8-10 range, pastas in the upper teens, and entrees in the twenties.

    JoelF wrote:Quality is important, but sometimes Dave's Italian Kitchen provides more bang for the buck.

    They're entirely different kinds of places. Va Pensiero is a fine dining restaurant, suitable for special occasions and times when you want creative food in an elegant environment. Dave's is a family restaurant for everyday dining at an affordable price.

    EDIT: I should also add that I ate at Dave's last night (for my first time) and it is now on the top of my list for worst meal of 2007. Even considering the low prices, I thought it was absolutely dreadful.
    Last edited by nsxtasy on June 24th, 2007, 7:57 am, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #7 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:18 am
    Post #7 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:18 am Post #7 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:18 am
    nsxtasy wrote:They're entirely different kinds of places. Va Pensiero is a fine dining restaurant, suitable for special occasions and times when you want creative food in an elegant environment. Dave's is a family restaurant for everyday dining at an affordable price.


    Correct. I would not compare Dave's and Va Pensiero.

    Regarding prices, we both felt our meal was a great value. Personally, I feel the prices are quite a bit less than most fine dining spots. With a bit of ordering restraint, you will not really compromise quality or quantity and it does not need to be a special occasion restaurant.
  • Post #8 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:37 am
    Post #8 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:37 am Post #8 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:37 am
    They did a reception for me after a memorial service for one of my parents and it was awesome. Food was great, staff was fabulous. Can't say enough nice things about the place. (It was very much a celebration of a life well-lived).
  • Post #9 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:56 am
    Post #9 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:56 am Post #9 - June 22nd, 2007, 10:56 am
    I haven't been there in a couple of years. Do they still offer the option of dining on the rooftop?
  • Post #10 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:38 pm
    Post #10 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:38 pm Post #10 - June 22nd, 2007, 7:38 pm
    VP catered my wedding and everybody was blown away with the food and service. I still get comments like, "That was the best wedding food I've ever had."

    Here's my post-wedding post on VP at http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.ph ... highlight=


    It's funny that sundevilpeg mentioned Va Pensiero.

    Our wedding itself was catered by Jeff and his crew at VP. My wife (that sounds strange off the tongue) and I, as well as our guests, were simply blown away by the food and service. It was, simply put, the best wedding food I've ever had (save, perhaps, one wedding reception at the Cornell Club in NYC). Everything was served family style and in single-bite servings. I highly recommend this method. We had baked salmon; chicken stuffed with chard and capers on parmesan-polenta cakes; and homemade ravioli with mushrooms. And no wedding cake can match the budino, a dark chocolate molten cake.

    Many of our guests stayed at the Margarita Inn (in the same building as VP) and raved about it as well.
  • Post #11 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:11 pm
    Post #11 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:11 pm Post #11 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:11 pm
    My wife and I dined at Va Pensiero recently, nestled in the Margarita Inn, just off Davis Street in Evanston. About five years ago, VaP was my second favorite restaurant in Evanston (after Trio, of course) (I can recall at least two really spectacular meals). Their Italian cuisine could barely be matched in Chicago (behind Spiaggia). And being second to Trio and Spiaggia is not such a bad spot for any restaurant.

    About two years ago I took an out-of-town speaker to Va Pensiero and the meal was a disaster. Not only could the staff not figure out how to present a vegetarian entree but the rest of the food was undistinguished. Indifferently cooked and not very attractive. However, we were eating on the infamous "Northwestern menu" (three courses, wine, tax and tip for $50), and so I gave them a pass.

    Our recent meal was several notches above that disappointment, but also several notches below the Va Pensiero that I loved so much. Time has not been kind to the decor. It is in great need of being refurbished. The restaurant is dark without being romantic (it feels like the basement that it is and it is louder than a romantic boite would be). The layout is odd as well. We were sitting in what I can only think of as a "bullpen" in the middle of the restaurant. Our three or four tables were cut off from the rest of the establishment by low three foot walls, making us feel isolated and providing a challenge for the servers. The only problem with the service was that after we made our decisions, we were asked would we like bottled water, would we like soup, would we like salad (these two after we had already ordered appetizers), would we like dessert, coffee. We declined each proffered offer. By the end we felt that the restaurant was attempting to inflate the bill. I don't mind this at a restaurant of a certain standing, but I had happier memories of Va Pensiero's elegance.

    This night the dishes were adequate, even good, perhaps deserving a star, but still not distinguished. As my appetizer I ordered Pan Sauteed Tiger Shrimp on Risotto Cake with Pistachio Pesto, Virgin Olive Oil, and Chives. First was the problem of expectations. I imagined that pistachio pest would be basil-based with pistachios replacing pine nuts. This sauce lacked any strong taste of basil. What it didn't lack was olive oil. The plate was excessively oily and the staff was overgenerous with the pesto, leading the dish to be unbalaced. Shrimp should be the centerpiece of the dish, but these shellfish was overmatched and blanketed. The idea of the dish outweighed its execution.

    The same might be said for my Cavatelli with Rabbit Ragu. It was a pleasing idea, but the Cavatelli was cooked slightly less than al dente (not enough to send it back, but with a slight chewiness and taste of raw flour). The rabbit was served as if it were pulled pork, stringy to the tongue. It seemed a Molto Mario dish, but not prepared with the same elan.

    My wife ordered an appetizer of beets over corncake and candied pistachios (perhaps they received a boatload of these Iranian nuts) and linguini with bay scallops. The beets were not as sweet as some that I have had at top restaurants, but the appetizer was generally pleasing. However, I cannot understand why a top restaurant would serve bay scallops - the tilapia of mollusks - when sea scallops are so readily available. The dish was rather pedestrian: pleasant and not memorable.

    And this seems to be the characteristic of Va Pensiero 2008: pleasant, not memorable, in a rather dark room. Perhaps the restaurant's desired market niche has changed over the years, and this is entirely legitimate and something for which I potentially hold Northwestern faculty responsible - as I hold them responsible for so much (all except "The French Couple"). To be fair the cost of appetizers are about $10, pastas about $20, and entrees about $30, perhaps too inexpensive for a truly first-class meal. Perhaps they long to be the kind of restaurant that they are. Whatever the case Va Pensiero has sunk into the middle of the pack, deserving of a star, but not a constellation.

    The owner of VaP claims to visit our little culinary community, and so I should note that I write this in the hope that the restaurant might return to the level of culinary genius where it stood some five years back. Nothing remains constant, and advances are as possible as retreats.

    Va Pensiero
    1566 Oak Avenue, Evanston
    847-475-7779
    http://www.va-p.com
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #12 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:51 pm
    Post #12 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:51 pm Post #12 - August 23rd, 2008, 4:51 pm
    Nice review Gary. I don't know the Va Pensiero of old, but I've never much liked the one of the last few years.

    GAF wrote:...I cannot understand why a top restaurant would serve bay scallops - the tilapia of mollusks - when sea scallops are so readily available.

    I must say, I cannot for the life of me understand this statement about bay scallops. Trotter has bay scallops on his Grand Tasting Menu all the time. Many other top chefs use them too. You even wrote about a terrific bay scallop preparation at one of your facorite Chicago restaurants. Why today's diss of a fine and tasty fruit of the sea?
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #13 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:02 pm
    Post #13 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:02 pm Post #13 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:02 pm
    I never imagined that anyone would read or recall my words at a distance of two years. But remember that I was referring to a one-bite preparation of scallops (and I don't specifically say that the replacement for an original dish with bay scallops was also bay scallops). And, further, Michael Carlson can do no wrong. He can even cook me tilapia, maybe.

    However, I cannot see any comparison between Sea Scallops and Bay Scallops in taste or in texture. Some chefs can use anything well, but IM(never)HO, I find Bay Scallops to be simply a cost-saving replacement for their elegant mollusk cousins.
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #14 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:12 pm
    Post #14 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:12 pm Post #14 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:12 pm
    GAF wrote:I never imagined that anyone would read or recall my words at a distance of two years. But remember that I was referring to a one-bite preparation of scallops (and I don't specifically say that the replacement for an original dish with bay scallops was also bay scallops). And, further, Michael Carlson can do no wrong. He can even cook me tilapia, maybe.

    However, I cannot see any comparison between Sea Scallops and Bay Scallops in taste or in texture. Some chefs can use anything well, but IM(never)HO, I find Bay Scallops to be simply a cost-saving replacement for their elegant mollusk cousins.


    We'll have to agree to disagree. It is true that bay scallops are more often frozen and sold in bulk to cheap chain Ameri-Chinese and other restaurants who don't know what to do with them. But when you get a perfectly fresh little bay scallop out of long island sound, there's simply nothing like it.

    Apologies if this puts just a little H back in your HO, but much as I do admire your writing, it did not leave such a lasting impression that I could recall it so instantly in this case. I did, however, recall Schwa having bay scallops on the menu and - believe it or not - when you google "Schwa bay scallops" - yours is the top result :o
    ...defended from strong temptations to social ambition by a still stronger taste for tripe and onions." Screwtape in The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis

    Fuckerberg on Food
  • Post #15 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:16 pm
    Post #15 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:16 pm Post #15 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:16 pm
    Kennyz,

    You are surely quite right about high quality bay scallops, and I imagine that fresh caught tilapia cooked over a roaring campfire will be pretty wonderful - or not.

    Gary
    Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn't really about the quality of the bread or how it's sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It's all about the butter. -- Adam Gopnik
  • Post #16 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:54 pm
    Post #16 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:54 pm Post #16 - August 23rd, 2008, 5:54 pm
    Kennyz wrote:...believe it or not - when you google "Schwa bay scallops" - yours is the top result :o

    I just had to check that out for myself, and it's true. But Kenny, did you know that as of now, the #3 result is your post? :)
  • Post #17 - August 23rd, 2008, 6:00 pm
    Post #17 - August 23rd, 2008, 6:00 pm Post #17 - August 23rd, 2008, 6:00 pm
    I have to say that I once had a bay scallop dish at Naha (something like bay scallops with white truffle noodles) that still ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Of course, the white truffles might have something to do with that :wink: .
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #18 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:02 pm
    Post #18 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:02 pm Post #18 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:02 pm
    jesteinf wrote:I have to say that I once had a bay scallop dish at Naha (something like bay scallops with white truffle noodles) that still ranks as one of my all-time favorites. Of course, the white truffles might have something to do with that :wink: .

    The Nantucket bay scallops with serrano ham, bitter orange puree, roasted parsnip and mache served at Powerhouse -- back when chef John Peters was still there -- were also stellar and quite memorable.

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #19 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:44 pm
    Post #19 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:44 pm Post #19 - August 23rd, 2008, 9:44 pm
    Comparing sea scallops and bay scallops is like comparing clams to mussels. Different textures, different flavors. Good bay scallops are sweet and delicate and wonderful.
  • Post #20 - April 26th, 2009, 9:40 am
    Post #20 - April 26th, 2009, 9:40 am Post #20 - April 26th, 2009, 9:40 am
    We had an outstanding dinner at Va Pensiero last night, after not having visited there for some time. The four of us arrived quite early, before 6:30, and were given a warm welcome and nice table. The table settings are lovely and glasses were sparkling. The waiter suggested a 2002 Barbera which he decanted - not to show off but because he said Barbera has the property of throwing off sediment even when not really old. The wine turned out to be perfect with the dinners we chose later. To start two of us shared the roasted shitake mushroom and baby spinach salad and two shared the roasted red and yellow beet salad. Both were excellent - and of course as in any fine restaurant the kitchen did the splitting for us. The most unusually dish was the Tagliatelle tossed with parmesan reggiano, butter and exotic mushrooms. The tagliatelle itself - I assume house made because it was excellent - is cooked in the kitchen, then brought out with a hollowed-out wheel of the parmigiano, then tossed in the wheel. The waiter scrapes the inside of the hollowed-out cheese while tossing the pasta in it. Sounds strange but it works! Indeed the best pasta I can remember ever having eaten. Two of us had this dish. One of us had the petite veal chops milanese, pounded, breaded and fried - like any milanese but these had been left on the bone. Perfectly executed. And my wife had portabbella picata with fallen spinach souffle. Another outstanding dish. We controlled ourselves and passed up desserts. Over all our evening could not have been better. By the time we left just before eight, the dining room was full. Va Pensiero is on Oak Street near downtown Evanston. I don't know that area real well but it looks to me like parking is tight. There is a parking valet.
  • Post #21 - February 6th, 2010, 7:52 am
    Post #21 - February 6th, 2010, 7:52 am Post #21 - February 6th, 2010, 7:52 am
    $20 for $50 Groupon deal today - http://www.groupon.com/chicago/
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  • Post #22 - April 6th, 2010, 7:26 pm
    Post #22 - April 6th, 2010, 7:26 pm Post #22 - April 6th, 2010, 7:26 pm
    I just tried calling Va Pensiero, and I got voicemail. I hope they are not closed- we just starting working with them on localplatter.com, and they have been great. Has anyone else heard anything about this?
  • Post #23 - April 6th, 2010, 7:29 pm
    Post #23 - April 6th, 2010, 7:29 pm Post #23 - April 6th, 2010, 7:29 pm
    ekhan wrote:I just tried calling Va Pensiero, and I got voicemail. I hope they are not closed- we just starting working with them on localplatter.com, and they have been great. Has anyone else heard anything about this?

    As reported in The Stew, it's true . . .

    Phil Vettel wrote:Another restaurant has bitten the dust, a victim of tough economic times, and this one's a biggie: Va Pensiero in Evanston, one of the area's finest Italian restaurants since it opened in 1989, served its final meal last Sunday.

    Chef/owner Jeff Muldrow, who ran the restaurant for the last 13 years, closed the doors after Easter Sunday, citing the economic downturn and the resultant heavy debt load.

    Va Pensiero closes its doors

    =R=
    Gardening is a bloodsport --Meghan Kleeman

    Why don't you take these profiteroles and put them up your shi'-ta-holes? --Jemaine & Bret

    There's a horse loose in a hospital --JM

    That don't impress me much --Shania Twain
  • Post #24 - April 6th, 2010, 9:13 pm
    Post #24 - April 6th, 2010, 9:13 pm Post #24 - April 6th, 2010, 9:13 pm
    I am really sorry to hear that. Good luck to the owner and staff at Va Pensiero- they will be missed!
  • Post #25 - April 7th, 2010, 6:12 am
    Post #25 - April 7th, 2010, 6:12 am Post #25 - April 7th, 2010, 6:12 am
    Wow, that's sad. I just ate Easter brunch there.
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  • Post #26 - April 7th, 2010, 7:49 am
    Post #26 - April 7th, 2010, 7:49 am Post #26 - April 7th, 2010, 7:49 am
    Jeff and his family are great people,
    sad news indeed.
    I'm hoping they will resurface closer to home where I can eat his wonderful creations more frequently.
    All the best Muldrows!
    "If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home."
    ~James Michener
  • Post #27 - April 7th, 2010, 7:58 am
    Post #27 - April 7th, 2010, 7:58 am Post #27 - April 7th, 2010, 7:58 am
    Sad news, I've dined there many times, even had work related Christmas dinners there a couple of times.
  • Post #28 - April 7th, 2010, 11:55 am
    Post #28 - April 7th, 2010, 11:55 am Post #28 - April 7th, 2010, 11:55 am
    They just had a great write up in Chicago Parent.
  • Post #29 - April 9th, 2010, 3:39 pm
    Post #29 - April 9th, 2010, 3:39 pm Post #29 - April 9th, 2010, 3:39 pm
    Hi,

    The extensive discussion on Groupon was moved to this thread.

    Regards,
    Cathy2

    "You'll be remembered long after you're dead if you make good gravy, mashed potatoes and biscuits." -- Nathalie Dupree
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  • Post #30 - April 9th, 2010, 4:18 pm
    Post #30 - April 9th, 2010, 4:18 pm Post #30 - April 9th, 2010, 4:18 pm
    I'm very curious about this comment by Cinnamon Girl, though (it was part of the Groupon thread that migrated, but specifically pertains to VaP):

    One of my friends used to own the Margarita Inn, a very nice lady. The story of the restaurant takeover was not a pretty one, but perhaps that is not unusual.


    What takeover? By whom? Or does this refer to the real heyday of VaP, when Peggy Ryan was running the show back in the day?

    Anything you'd care to share about the intriguing aside, CG??

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