Knockout Noodles: Osteria Via Stato
Of the 14 or so ways you can enjoy a meal at Osteria Via Stato, in River North, I prefer fighting for a seat at the bar. Why do I bypass (a) the prix fixe "Famous Italian Dinner Party," available in the main dining room; (b) the small-plates-and-pizza-centric menu at Pizzeria Via Stato, the restaurant-within-a-restaurant that occupies the front dining room of OVS; or (c) the restaurant's massive à la carte menu, available back in the main dining room, in favor of cramming into the intimate bar, you ask? Because (d) only at the bar can you order anything and everything off Osteria Via Stato's stack of competing menus. I was always good at multiple choice.
I'm also quite good at inhaling a plateful of Chef David DiGregorio's Hand-rolled Cavatelli with wild mushrooms (small plate $7.95/large plate $15.95), a dish that definitely has earned a place in my pantheon of Italian noodles in Chicago. It pairs hearty, rustic pasta with chunks of tender wild mushrooms—certainly not the most handsome plate of pasta at the restaurant, but luckily it has a killer personality—not to mention the benefit of the restaurant's romantic low lighting. The noodles arrive slightly pan-seared, which lends them a contrasting chewy-crunchy texture and a starchy-smoky-caramelized flavor. (Wikipedia likens the shape of cavatelli to miniature hot dog buns, a description I quite like.)
More satisfying pasta-watching comes with the beautifully composed and parmesan-topped Spaghetti Arrabbiata with crushed tomatoes and Calabrian chilis ($5.95/$11.95). This one gets a nice bronze plaque down the cobblestone street from my pasta pantheon, as there are better arrabbiata sauces in Chicago, but we're still talking about very good noodles here. The spaghetti have a great bite, are nice and springy, and cling to the sauce quite well. The sauce, while being studded with juicy tomatoes and slightly piquant from the dried red papper, is a bit timid for my tastes. Arrabbiata mean angry, furious even, and this rendition doesn't quite have the heat, nor the depth of flavor, to command the term.
The Pappardelle with the chef's signature three-meat ragù ($8.95/$16.95) again shows off DiGregorio's talents for composing that species of rustic Italian dish that you desperately want in your belly on a cold winter day. Ribbons of thin pappardelle wrapped around hearty chunks of browned pork sausage, pork shank, and beef chuck, all topped with thinly chopped greens and grated cheese, make for a delightful play of textures. A piece of pork here and there turns up dry, but it's the exception to the rule on this hearty, saucy plate. Once your pappardelle's all gone, don't be surprised to find yourself sopping up the leftover bits of meat and sauce with a piece of Osteria Via Stato's fresh crusty bread.