The last time I visited the Italian restaurant Prosecco (710 N. Wells St.; proseccochicago.com ), it looked quite different.
Way back in 2017, the restaurant definitely had more of an old-school Italian feel (a la Gene & Georgetti), with white cloths covering tables nestled close to each other. However, a few years ago, Prosecco underwent a massive renovation, resulting in a spot with a very contemporary feel, down to those tables being replaced by sleek contemporary items and the wine display behind the bar. Even Mark Sparacino has altered his look; the always sleek chef/co-owner now sports longer hair and more facial hair.
Fortunately, the quality of the cuisine has not changed. Regarding the appetizers, the delightful burrata was accompanied by port-poached pears (say that three times fast), while my dining companion and I also loved the ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms. Regarding entrees, my friend had a customized norcina (having the rigatoni and light cream without meat); it was perfectly cooked. I opted for the wild-boar ragu with pappardellea delicious item that provided leftovers for a couple days. And the desserts (fruit tart and butter cake) were heavenly, with the latter just melting into our mouths.
Prosecco's menu selection is substantial but not overwhelming. Items on the main menu are divided into hot and cold antipasti, salads (note: Go for that bread service), pasta and risottos, "mare" (seafood) and "terra" (land creatures). Some of the more intriguing options include dattero (bacon-wrapped, Italian sausage-stuffed dates), agnello (balsamic- and rosemary-marinated rack of lamb, with charred green beans) and even lumache (jumbo snails with Prosciutto di Parma, brandy and garlic cream, accompanied by crostini).
I heartily recommend Prosecco (and it has a separate menuwith regular and premier dinner optionsfor Chicago Restaurant Week, which runs through Feb. 4).
At first, I thought I was being misled.
When checking out Google Maps to chart my course to the Puerto Rican restaurant Marina's Bistro & Rum Bar (4554 N. Magnolia Ave.; www.marinasbistrochicago.com ), the map took me past Magnolia Avenue. However, it turns out that the eatery is in a strip mall, just down the street from Truman College.
But once you find it, you'll be glad you got there.
Owner Eric Roldan (a member of the LGBTQ+ community) launched Marina's Aug. 19, 2023 after starting what turned out to be a very successful ghost kitchen during the COVID pandemic, using recipes from his mother (who the restaurant is named after) and grandmother. Roldan chose Uptown because he had lived here and noticed that there's a diverse communitybut a lack of restaurants that reflects the various demographics.
"No one has ever asked me that question," Roldan replied when asked what distinguishes Puerto Rican cuisine from others. "We use plantains, meats and a Caribbean influence to make dishes that are flavorful." (At Marina's, meat-filled dishes can be customized to accommodate vegetarians and vegans. When I asked how his mother and grandmother would react to those changes, Roldan simply smiled and shook his head.)
And, regarding flavor, Marina's certainly succeeds on several fronts. The large croqueta was delightful while the other app that I tried, plantain chips with hummus de gandules (pigeon peas, garlic and roasted red pepper), made for an addictive dish. Regarding the mains, my dining companion sampled the fried pork chop that came with Puerto Rican rice while I had a yucca/plantain mofongo with chicken, and they were solid dishes. However, the dessertbudin de pan with homemade ice creamwas absolutely outstanding. (Note: Marina's is only serving its Chicago Restaurant Week items through Feb. 4and, interestingly, Roldan said his spot is the first Puerto Rican restaurant to take part in the annual event. Marina's will offer its regular menu after that.)
The drinks also deserve mentioning. I initially had an El Charlie Brown as a cocktail. (Normally, it's a shot.) The combination of white rum, anisette, honey, pineapple and fresh lemon juice was refreshing and very enjoyable, even with the slight licorice kick at the end. (I'm not the biggest fan of licorice.)
By the way, Roldan said that brunch is slated to start in March. I'm looking forward to it.
The offerings at Marina's will make you a believer in Puerto Rican cuisineand maybe in strip malls.
Note: These visits were arranged.