Italian Ascent

December 2019 View more

Caprese salad

Florence-born chef Fabio Viviani first graced TV screens on Top Chef season 5 and became a fast fan favorite. Viewers adored him for his charming accent, entertaining one-liners, and all-out dedication to the competition; he famously broke his finger during a cooking challenge and still completed the required dish.

After the show, Viviani steadily rose to celebrity chef status. He is now currently involved with more than 30 restaurants in seven states, including Siena Tavern, Bar Siena, Mercato, and Prime & Provisions in Chicago. 

Now the west suburbs can get a taste of Viviani’s Italian fare with his latest restaurant, Osteria by Fabio Viviani (2111 Butterfield Rd., Downers Grove, 630.971.2000, in the DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel & Conference Center. 

Viviani opened a restaurant of the same name in Tampa, Florida, last fall; though not identical, the menu here does feature some similar dishes. With sumptuous sapphire blue velvet booths and massive wooden barn doors leading to a second spacious dining room, Osteria is the finishing touch on the DoubleTree’s recent $3.5 million renovation, including the lobby in which the restaurant sits. As the hotel’s primary restaurant, so you can expect to see standards such as a chopped salad, fillet mignon or New York strip steak, but I was instead intent on tasting Italian preparations that Viviani is known for. 

Welcome to Italy

Ricotta and truffle purse pasta

Dinner began with the caprese salad, our server’s recommendation. Made with Burrata—a.k.a. cream-filled orbs of fresh mozzarella, one of my favorite things on earth—and tomatoes both fresh and sun-dried, it was an admirable attempt to remix the classic but not an especially memorable one. 

Instead, I’m still thinking about the four cheese purses, delicate little pasta bundles laden with truffle cream sauce and Grana Padano, a cheese cousin to Parmigiano-Reggiano from northern Italy. When that grew too rich, I alternated bites of Asiago-stuffed gnocchi with crumbled sausage, blistered tomatoes, and roasted mushrooms. 

Since I dined at Osteria during a preview event, I had the advantage of Viviani stopping by the table to highlight a few of his favorites. I hadn’t paid the pork Milanese much attention, but when he described the entrée as “Grandma’s recipe,” it became a must-order in my eyes. This massive slab of pork—pounded thin, breaded, and fried—was both tender and crispy, managing to remain so even when dressed with a salad of lemony arugula, capers, pickled onions, and pepperoncini. I could almost picture Viviani’s family gathered around the table with Grandma urging everyone to take seconds. 

Grilled rack of lamb

The pizzas here are true Neapolitan style with crispy edges and a wet center, which wins points for authenticity, but doesn’t hold up under heavier toppings—such as the roasted ham and Italian sausage in the namesake Osteria pizza. Admittedly, that didn’t make it any less delicious. 

Sweet endings

Raspberry mule

There’s a decent beer lineup, and the wine list is appropriately heavy on Italian reds, but Osteria’s staff was especially pushing its craft cocktails. The walnut old-fashioned, with its toasty flavor and candied nut garnish, is right on for winter weather and approachable enough for those who don’t typically dabble in bourbon. Fans of Moscow mules, on the other hand, should try Osteria’s fruity, herbal rendition made with thyme, limoncello, and raspberries.

With the abundance of pasta and pizza, it’s hard to save room for dessert. But it was well worth it to try the simple, perfectly executed panna cotta (Italian custard) served with strawberries and balsamic caviar, tiny spheres of encapsulated vinegar providing a tiny burst of acidity in each bite. As far as the chocolate torte—a dense slice of fudgy decadence—only die-hard chocolate lovers need apply. 

Photos courtesy Osteria