On our previous trip to Mandile’s Italian Ristorante, Banquets, & Catering, we talked about the way the main dining room calls to mind an open-air Italian terrace. That feeling is especially valuable this time of year, when our al fresco dining has been tabled for at least the next six months. It’s an atmosphere perfect for a night out for two, although they have a special menu specifically for the bambini, so it’s a fun night out for the whole family as well.
The arrival of the breadbasket lets you know you’re in the right place. A beautifully designed plate of extra virgin olive oil arrives filled with swirls of balsamic vinegar that add just the right amount of sweetness, red pepper flakes for a hint of spice, and a smidge of minced garlic for that extra tang. The bread in the basket comes in two varieties, a crusty Italian loaf extremely hot from the oven and a delicious crunchy flatbread, covered with fresh herbs and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. These alone are worth the reservation.
We began the evening with a new Limoncello Spritzer cocktail. Served in a classic coupe glass that got us in a Gatsby frame of mind, the tart Italian lemon liqueur at the base of this beverage combines wonderfully with Prosecco, fresh muddled berries which float throughout the glass, and herbs grown on premises. A fresh sprig of rosemary and a slip of lemon peel float on top, filling each sip with a wonderful aroma and garden-fresh feel.
For this visit we put ourselves entirely in the hands of the Executive Chef G. Castillo as he sent out a variety of plates that are not featured on the menu. It was a wonderful tour of the auteur creativity on display at Mandile’s, transforming dishes with familiar elements and classic Italian foundations into delectable eye-openers.
The Bruschetta Mandile’s is made up of several petite, toasted crostini topped with a layer of melted, smoked burrata cheese. The top note right off the bat, however, is a smoky bacon bite from tissue thin slices of flash-fried prosciutto di parma. These rich flavors are balanced with a little garden lightness from beefsteak tomatoes, a tangle of arugula, balsamic glaze, and extra virgin olive oil. It’s a similar ride to their delicious Bruschetta Calabrese, but zestier and heavier.
Next came the decadent Arancini, clementine-sized balls of rice mixed with four cheeses and thick cubes of pancetta, rolled in panko breadcrumbs and deep fried. The presentation is fantastic, elegant swirls and dots of balsamic vinegar, one arancini sitting in a pool of roasted basil cream sauce, another perched in an elegant glass, each dotted with cream sauce and accented by a baked twist of fettuccini adding a touch of whimsy to the plate. The comfort-food, mac-n-cheese quality is immediate, melty cheese strands rise with each forkful, and the combination of creaminess, savory pancetta, and tomato is lovely.
As soon as the Pasta di Nonna arrives, the fresh seafood flavors of the New Zealand Mussels and Tiger Shrimp wash across the table. These seafood morsels are placed around the rim of a plate of handmade fettuccini in white wine toasted garlic sauce topped with fresh shaved black truffles and sprigs of parsley. The fettuccini noodles are exquisitely fresh with just the right amount of al dente chew and they perfectly absorb the creamy garlic flavors on the plate. Though both the mussels and the shrimp are exemplary, the tiger shrimp pairs particularly nicely with the textures and flavors of the pasta.
The last entrée delivered to our table was the Pollo Napoleon, a succulent and tender sautéed chicken breast topped with a sliver of roasted tomato and a slice of crispy, panko-encrusted eggplant covered in a blanket of melted mozzarella cheese. It’s like a deconstructed chicken parmigiana layered like lasagna on top of a bundle of handmade spaghetti noodles coated in oil and butter. The scrumptious Italian flavors are grounded with an earthiness from a bed of creamed spinach and then rendered more decadent still with lemon cream sauce coating the plate. Don’t miss the slivers of oil marinated roasted red peppers for an extra touch of tanginess.
For dessert we had a trio of gelatos locally produced in downtown Chicago. Our selection was a nutty Nutella gelato, a devastatingly delicious Pistachio gelato with diced pistachios sprinkled on top, and a sea salt and caramel gelato covered with a drizzle of caramel sauce. They were bundled into a long-stemmed ice cream dish and the whole affair came with a ladyfinger, a pile of whipped cream, and a picturesque sprig of fresh spearmint. It was a nice, light finish to a wonderful meal, very creamy, and nicely sweet. As an added surprise, we found fresh strawberries at the bottom of the dish, frozen by the chilled dessert that had concealed them.
Chef G.’s ability to take the classic Italian flavors we want and twist them into new variations is well worth exploring. Even if you have a delicious standby that you always depend on when you go to Mandile’s, you should ask to try whatever Chef has come up with this week.
Mandile’s Italian Ristorante, Banquets, & Catering is located at 2160 Lake Cook Road in Algonquin, 847-458-4000, mandilesrestaurant.com.