First Bites: Fiorenza

Forest Park continues to deliver culinary excitement

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By David Hammond

Fiorenza, formerly located north of Oak Park on Harlem, has a new location in Forest Park, a community that sometimes seems to deliver more culinary excitement than our village, which despite some promising new restaurants seems overly reliant upon established franchises: Bar Louis, Five Guys, TGIF, etc., etc.

Nonetheless, Fiorenza is opening up along a stretch that already has Francesca Fiore's, Jimmy's Place, Caffe de Luca, and Gaetano's, so it behooves this new place to set itself apart.

As a food enthusiast, I do my homework. When I'm going out to eat, I usually check the menu on the restaurant website to see what's being offering. I like to think about what I'm going to order before I sit down in the hustle-bustle.  Any restaurant that's serious about serving customers will have a website up and running on day one; there are still some newer Oak Park restaurants that have been around for months and have yet to put up a damn website (looking at you, Seven Ocean). 

On Fiorenza's website, there's a well-produced video that gives potential diners a clear sense of what the place is like: it's obviously a commercial, but it's nice to have a look inside, get a sense of the food and the personality of the chef. In the video, Chef Fiorenza Tasinato reveals that she makes everything – bread, pasta, sausage – herself (with, no doubt, a lot of help from her crew). From Padua, Tasinato goes for Northern Italian authenticity.

Warning: do not try asking for spaghetti and meatballs or other Italo-American favorites or Tasinato will unleash, as she did on the website video, an expletive so coarse (though very common in Italian street talk) that I can't reprint it here, even in the Italian original; some maybe offended; I laughed out loud at her directness.

The polpetinne de melanzane are balls of eggplant and breading, lightly fried and served in a "mirror" of tomato sauce. These were new to me, and as an app, they're pretty good. I'm always excited to find "new" traditional dishes, and this one would make a great snack all by itself, with perhaps a glass of wine or two.

Most of the gnocchi I've had over the past few years have been super-light, which seems to be the trend and that's just fine. The gnocchi at Fiorenza, however, were more like the Bohemian potato dumplings an aunt in Berwyn used to make during the Kennedy years. They were very chewy and substantial; two people of average appetites to could easily split a dish.

Risotto with cuttlefish and squid ink was delicate, with good seafood flavor and just a little tooth, which you should expect with risotto. There's a conceptual challenge to eating a big plate of shiny blackness, but the flavor makes that challenge easy to overcome. Like all the dishes we ordered, this serving was big.

The menu at Fiorenza offers some less familiar items, but overall it seems a fairly "safe" selection. New  restaurants may be forgiven if they pull back on the more esoteric stuff, and I'm hoping that with time, Tasinato will try out some lesser known North Italian dishes…something that would clearly differentiate it from all the other Italian places in this hood.

Fiorenza Ristorante

7404 W. Madison St.

Forest Park, IL 60130

Telephone: (708) 366-1400

Fax: (708) 689-8369

E-mail: info@fiorenzaristorante.com

 

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George Stanley from Oak Park, IL   

Posted: September 6th, 2012 8:38 PM

This is THE NICEST restaurant inthe area...bar none. Decor and ambiance are beautiful and the food is superb. Best Italian food I've had since I've been to Italy. You have to try this place. Go on Friday or Saturday night when they have live piano music in their dining room. Terrific! And long missed since Philanders switched venues in Oak Park. A welcome addition to the neighborhood and quite a step up from anything else on Madison Street.

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