Volare does Italian right

 
 
  • Head chef Michael Ponzio and the chicken parmesan, which is
loaded with cheese at Volare in Oakbrook Terrace.

    Head chef Michael Ponzio and the chicken parmesan, which is loaded with cheese at Volare in Oakbrook Terrace. Ed Lee | Staff Photographer

Published: 4/4/2008 12:06 AM

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn't hanker for Italian classics from time to time. So, it's no wonder that Volare, a city transplant, that opened in Oakbrook Terrace, is already hopping.

Keeping it real in the traditional sense, Sinatra-type tunes waft through the lofty, high-ceilinged space that, once inside, doesn't feel strip-mallish at all.

Rich wood wainscoting covers the lower halves of distressed walls; lighting is kept low; and an exhibition kitchen provides a theatrical view.

Like any self-respecting Italian restaurant, grated cheese and olive oil top the linen-clothed tables, a handy fact when the basket of warm focaccia arrives.

Owner Benny Siddu, who is of Sardinian descent, offers up a menu of many classics, from caprese salad and minestrone to four-cheese risotto specked with peas, veal scaloppini of several stripes and steak bistecca. But it's the daily specials, perhaps gnochetti sardi, that truly pay homage to his ancestry.

When we perused the menu, pretty much everything sounded agreeable. So, we gravitated toward a few of our favorite ingredients and hoped for the best.

If only the tomatoes had been ripe and the hand that drizzled balsamic reduction more generous, the prosciutto-wrapped fresh mozzarella atop beefsteaks with a mound of arugula would have been great. It truly was one of the freshest-tasting things we've encountered during this exceptionally chilly season. Plus, the portion (as was the case across the board) was quite generous.

As fresh and possibly more satisfying, the tuna carpaccio sang with flavor thanks to a lemony ceci bean puree and Cerignola olives.

Among salads, it's hard to go wrong with the insalata Volare, an ingredient-heavy assemblage of mixed greens with artichokes, hearts of palm, bits of mozzarella and broccoli in herby vinaigrette.

If you like to pick and choose, you'll find your match among pastas. Thirteen cuts (think farfalle, capellini or orecchiette) and nearly a dozen sauces (Parma ham and peas in parmesan cream sauce and salmon in tomato cream sauce among them) promise one meal will be unlike the next.

The nubs of ricotta gnocchi are addictive, light as air and just chewy enough. We tried both the garden-fresh marinara and the poignant vodka tomato cream sauces and neither let us down.

The chicken Parmesan, in turn, delivered comfort in the form of familiarity and solid execution, its pounded-thin breast topped with gooey cheese and tomato sauce.

On the meaty side, center-cut filet comes dressed in Barolo wine sauce, and grilled Colorado lamb chops reside in demi-glace.

Some sides are seasonal (rapini), while others are practically requisite (meatballs or escarole and sausage).

Be sure to save room for dessert, and do order the light, moist ricotta cheesecake with sweet blueberry compote. Here, the tiramisu follows the straight and narrow with espresso-soaked ladyfingers, mascarpone filling and a dash of cocoa powder. But there are more unusual choices, too, like the Nutella-filled crepes with rum sauce and toasted hazelnuts.

We've been here during lunch and in the evening. In both cases, a seemingly empty dining room one minute was buzzing with conversation the next. Ladies who lunch, off-the-clock suits, nearby condo dwellers who don't cook and, of course, families with kids all happily coexist. A closed-off piano bar to the left of the entrance is a popular pit-stop pre-or-post-meal, especially when live entertainment kicks in.

Service is very friendly, genuine even. Dishes were recommended with gusto, and you got the sense that they were not only sampled but devoured by the staff.

Honestly, Volare isn't breaking new ground. But sometimes you're in the mood for what you know. Here, it's prepared right, and that's worth its weight in meat lasagna.

Volare

1919 S. Meyers Road, Oak Brook Terrace (630) 495-0200

Hours: 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday; 4 to 11 p.m. Saturday; 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday

Price Range: Antipasti $7 to $12; soups and salads $3.50 to $8; pasta and risotto $13 to $23; entrees $16 to $30; desserts $4 to $7.50

Credit Cards: All major