Whether you’re fretting about where to take that cutie you’ve been crushing on in chem for a casual coffee date or looking for a romantic anniversary dinner locale, we’ve got all the details here. We hope you enjoy reading about these date destinations as much as we enjoy writing about them, and that you’ll give some of them a taste.
So, in the spirit of this selection: Buon appetito!
Volare is an Italian restaurant with flair and flavor. This moderately elegant eatery caters to the upper reaches of the urban professional, providing sophisticated Italian fare for a price. In the heart of the Loop, Volare is one of the many locales at which to dine while downtown. The Table for Two team was drawn to the glittering lights of Chicago to determine whether Volare deserves the label “Best Downtown Eatery.”
Let me start by saying that we didn’t set out to eat at Volare. Rather, we were aiming for dinner at the beloved Purple Pig on Michigan Avenue, but an hour-and-forty-minute wait sent us in search for other options in the area. A cursory check of Yelp and a phone call later and we found ourselves at Volare, one of the premier Italian restaurants in Chicago. And it is, beyond all doubt, on another level from that other Italian restaurant we reviewed. I had the day’s special: braised pork ribs served with Milanese-style risotto. The ribs were actually fall-off-the-bone tender and were brushed with a delicious, sweet glaze. But the risotto really stole the show: Milanese-style (alla Milanese) entails that the risotto is served in a creamy beef stock, bone marrow, lard, cheese and saffron. The cheese is the strongest flavor here, but the saffron and beef stock play in in subtle ways, giving the side an indescribable flavor. All in all, the risotto was something along the lines of a gourmet macaroni and cheese. It is also important to note that Volare is on the pricey side, and there is a split fee on dishes of $8, but the quality of the food makes it, in my mind, worth the occasional splurge.
When I put in a flustered call to Volare to see if they could seat us at 7:00 on a Friday night, I received in reply a jovial “Come on down! We’ll take care of you.” That effectively set the tone for the rest of the evening. The staff at Volare really does take care of their patrons, bussing tables and delivering orders quickly and discretely. What’s more, all of the wait staff seems genuinely happy to be there, with sincere smiles all around. Volare truly provides model service.
A model trattoria on the inside, Volare is a pleasant place to eat. Diners can eat at either traditional tables or taller, bar-style ones. Large, wood-shuttered windows looked out over outdoor seating and allow warm evening breezes into the room. The whole place has an authentic villa atmosphere. My only complaint about the room was that it was a little dim. I suppose that adds to the romantic ambience, but for night-blind me, it just made it harder to read the menu.
Date Factor (3.5/5)
Despite its relative expensiveness, Volare’s quality food and classy atmosphere make it a must for fans of all things Italian. It is, however, probably not first date material – I recommend saving it for an important evening, like an anniversary or a night out downtown. Volare is just that kind of place, so beware the split fee and save it for a special evening.
Italians take their food very seriously, and Volare is no exception to this rule. Its menu is organized in the traditional Italian style, complete with appetizers, primi piatte (pasta dishes), secondi piatte (meat and fish dishes) and desserts. This can make ordering a full meal an expensive proposition. I decided to cut to the chase and ordered a seconda piatta of salmone al forno. This filet of salmon was gently cooked in a white wine sauce with bell peppers and finger length potatoes. The white wine sauce was exquisite, a beautiful balance of crispness to offset the heavy flavor of the salmon. It paired delightfully with the peppers and potatoes, priming every bite of the dish with a wonderful backdrop. The peppers and potatoes were perfectly prepared – tender but not falling apart. They absorbed the flavors of the salmon and white wine sauce but varied the texture of an otherwise simple dish. The salmon itself was delicious; I couldn’t have been more pleased with my dinner selection. Then I found several bones in the filet. I expect flawless execution from a restaurant with such high prices, and I was disappointed to have such an amazing dish ruined by a few stray bones that should have simply been discarded.
“Volare” literally means “to fly” in Italian, and that is precisely what the wait staff at this restaurant does. Only a few minutes would pass before one of the many waiters would top off our drinks or bring us more bread. I never felt neglected by the wait staff but was also given enough space to enjoy my food and the company of my party. The only peculiar element of the service at Volare is not immediately obvious in the dining room, but my trip to the restroom revealed a female attendant who assisted women in hand washing and then aggressively asked for a tip. This oddity made me rather uncomfortable, especially considering the price I was paying for the food.
I understand that real estate inside the Loop is a very valuable commodity, but that is no reason to make patrons sit uncomfortably close to one another. The space is so crammed with tables that I got trapped between two rows of them when I went to use the restroom. This is not Volare’s only problem, though. Dim lighting, while a touch romantic, always makes me question a restaurant’s motives: Are they trying to hide some fatal flaw by poorly lighting the dining room? I want to be able to see my food and my date on a dinner date, both of which were obscured by the darkness of the dining area. Volare does have some positive qualities, though. Its tables and dishes were all beautiful, and the space itself is surprisingly airy for the limited visibility.
Date Factor (3.5/5)
Volare is a reasonable restaurant to take your sweetheart out for a more romantic dinner than usual. The food is considerably better than the Italian restaurant we have reviewed in Evanston, but it is also quite expensive. An average entrée costs anywhere from $20 to $35, and Volare charges an additional $8 fee to split a dish. If you’re downtown and in the mood for a splurge, Volare is a decent selection. Just be aware that at Volare romance comes at quite a price.
With the year, and Table for Two, starting to wind down, we came upon Volare looking for something special to approach the end with. Neither of us is really sure if Volare was the penultimate place we were looking for, but it is good Italian food at a somewhat above average price. And while it does have its quirks, Volare definitely has the potential to serve as a shining date spot in the right situation.
If you’ve had an experience at Volare or have any suggestions for future date spots, leave us a comment below!