Moving from the crisp Midwest winter weather into the warm Mediterranean tones of La Buona Vita is the perfect transition into a cozy Italian evening. Surrounded by bleached wood walls with a massive map of Italy as a focal point and lovely majolica serving platters hung on the walls, our minds were swimming with pastas and wine before they even set a menu in front of us.
We began with a couple dishes from the Antipasti menu. The Calamari alla Griglia consists of thick strips of calamari steak lined with dark stripes from the grill. There’s a delectable umami smokiness to the dish as well as building spice and sharp garlic overtones from red pepper flakes and healthy chunks of garlic swimming in olive oil underneath the calamari. Squeeze a little of the accompanying lemon slice over your calamari for a delightful citrus counter note that plays beautifully against the garlic. A bed of mesclun mixed greens and diced tomatoes bring a light bitter balance between bites.
Also from the Antipasti, Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus introduced us to Chef Terry Rempert’s knack with bold flavor combinations. Each element has a strong flavor in its own right but they combine to create a bold new dish. The asparagus is grilled to coax out the earthy depth of flavor before it’s wrapped in a tissue thin slice of delicately salty prosciutto. It’s topped with a tangy drizzle of balsamic glaze, a smattering of blueberries, and sharp crumbles of blue cheese. The push and pull between sweet, sharp, and rich flavors is a deftly balanced dance of unexpected but delicious tastes.
La Buona Vita Wedge salad is another dish that takes advantage of the potent combination of blue cheese and crispy prosciutto. A large wedge of iceberg lettuce sets the stage for tomatoes chopped bruschetta-style, a healthy helping of blue cheese crumbles, and crunchy bites of savory prosciutto. A zesty Italian vinaigrette perfectly ties everything together for a light, refreshing primer before the arrival of the entrees.
As soon as we walked through the door, we knew the evening would have to include a visit to the Pasta menu. The Rigatoni Emilio pares it down to a perfectly simple and beautifully effective equation: tender homemade pasta topped with fresh ingredients. Creamy melting mozzarella, aromatic shreds of basil, chunks of garlic, and a bright marinara sauce are the perfect flavor combination to meld with Chef Terry’s al dente pasta. These are the hearty Italian flavors that we were looking forward to.
The Pollo al Vesuvio delivers the same wholesome and comforting presence as the pasta in a very different flavor profile. It’s half an Amish chicken sauteed in olive oil, garlic, parsley, and sherry wine. The bird revels in the deep, herby flavors of the sauce that also soaks into the crispy potatoes wedges. Between the generous half chicken and the wealth of delicious potatoes, there’s no way to walk away from this one hungry.
The first dessert we tried was the Tira Mi Su, the usual spelling broken up with spaces to emphasize the translation to Pick Me Up or Cheer Me Up. Though our dinner had already left us with plenty of good cheer, we dove in anyway. From the dusting of fresh chocolate powder that covered the top to the dense, creamy layers of ladyfingers and mascarpone cheese, it was incredibly decadent and satisfying.
We also sampled the Panna Cotta, a housemade sweet cream very like vanilla pudding but with a more refined palate, leaning into a creamy richness instead of sweetness. It’s topped with a handful of woodland fruits–blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries–in varying degrees of ripeness that introduce pops of honey brightness and lovely lilts of bitterness.
La Buona Vita is located at 15 Calendar Court in La Grange, 708-352-1621, labuonavita.com.