Last week, we had dinner at Viaggio (401 W. Fullerton Parkway), a neighborhood place that serves Italian standards done right. I ordered a Chicken Vesuvio that was textbook: one half chicken, roasted, served bones and all in a garlic-wine sauce with some oregano, wedge potatoes and peas. The chicken and potatoes had been cooked together, so the big slabs of spud shared crispiness and absorbed the chicken juices and sauce. The peas, though critical to the preparation, add more color than flavor, but they make the dish look like what it is and nothing else, Chicken Vesuvio, a dish whose local origins are traced to the old Vesuvio's Restaurant (15 E. Wacker).
It was with vastly less enthusiasm that I encountered a dish called Chicken Vesuvio at a local Oak Park restaurant. It was just chicken breasts, perhaps the most popular and definitely the blandest cut of the bird. There was oregano, but otherwise the flavorings were indistinct. Most importantly, this meal was not roasted; my guess is that this local version of Chicken Vesuvio may actually have been microwaved, and before I was half done, the thin sauce was starting to congeal around the flavorless planks of poultry. Most disconcertingly, there were no peas.
So, my question is, at what point can you not really call this local dish "Chicken Vesuvio"?
This version I had in Oak Park contained not the half chicken (wing, thigh, leg, breast), but rather just a few breasts, unroasted…and there were no peas. That the taste of the dish was entirely unsatisfactory is beside the point. I would contend that what was served me was not Chicken Vesuvio by any liberal definition of the dish.
Now, I've withheld the name of the restaurant where this dish was sold because I think their kitchen has the potential to make this dish for real – and I'm fairly certain they will recognize their dish in the photos. I hope my "outing" of them as perpetrators of a kind of menu-related mis-naming will encourage them to change their recipe to match the classic requirements of Chicken Vesuvio. Or they can call what they serve something else.
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