Last Saturday morning, my boyfriend returned from work (he works the night shift) and asked if I wanted to go somewhere for dinner that night. It was a pleasantly unexpected invitation, as he was scheduled to work that night as well and he usually isn’t up for going out to dinner the nights he works. The spontaneity of the situation made me a little nervous, being it was the warmest Saturday of the spring in Chicago and I knew the city would be bustling. But I absolutely love going out to dinner so I was not going to pass up the invitation!
Ryan slept all day, so we didn’t even start our conversation about where to go until 6:30pm. I wanted us to leave earlier rather than later, anticipating a long wait wherever we went. I almost decided we should go to Club Lucky—I’m so curious to try this place, as it seems like some sort of Chicago institution, but the yelp reviews scared me off—they are very mediocre and a lot of people mention it is overpriced, which is one of my pet peeves.
So last minute I changed my mind and decided we should try Francesca’s Forno. One of Ryan’s favorite restaurants is Mia Francesca on Clark, so I had been wanting to take him to its sister restaurant in Bucktown. We arrived and were told the wait was an hour, which I figured would be the case anywhere we went, so we waited it out. We got a drink at a bar across the street and came back 45 minutes later to wait at Francesca’s (very crowded) bar area. We found our own little nook and I enjoyed a glass of Prosecco while we waited for our table. Our wait was definitely more than an hour, which was a little annoying, but the superb service once we sat down more than made up for it. Immediately Mike, our waiter, came over to greet us and refresh our drinks. I still had a couple of sips of Prosecco left, but he asked “is that Prosecco, would you like another?” I told him I’d like to go with a red wine next and he eagerly asked “can I make a suggestion? Is that ok with you?” He was so earnest and helpful, asking if I prefer light, medium, or bold reds. I said medium, and he suggested a Syrah, which I never ever order. I trusted Mike and said “ok!” and wouldn’t you know it, I absolutely loved it.
Pleasant surprise number two from Ryan came when he agreed to get the mussels appetizer. I was shocked—when we first started dating he proclaimed he just couldn’t stand the texture of mussels or clams or oysters, but he has definitely adventured out over the last two years. I was so hungry from our long wait that I inhaled these delicious mussels, which were not in a traditional white wine broth but rather a spicier red Pomodoro (tomato) sauce which was delicious as it soaked in to the grilled crostini.
So it’s not big secret: I love pizza. In all shapes and sizes. And of course I love pizza from Italian restaurants. For my meal I decided on Pizza No. 4 with tomato, mozzarella, Italian sausage, salametti (wasn’t quite sure what this was), and onion. Most onion on pizza is caramelized, and I assumed it would be on this pizza as well. However, our trusty waiter Mike asked “are onions ok?” I asked if they were caramelized or raw, and he explained they were raw so asked for no onions. Ryan ordered the Baked Cavatelli pasta, and Mike asked if he wanted to add chicken or sausage. Ryan added sausage, which he would not have done if Mike hadn’t asked. It’s like he knew us! My pizza was divine. The mysterious salametti ended up being little slices of Italian salami that melted in my mouth. Another thing that struck me was the cheese—mozarella can be a very mild cheese, sometimes bland, but the cheese on this pizza had a sweet, creamy flavor that made me swoon!
I was so happy with this dining experience at Francesca Forno—partly due to our server, Mike, partly due to the excellent wine, mussels, and pizza, and partly due to the unexpected spontaneity of the situation. The restaurant was crowded and abuzz with conversation, but the great service and delicious food kept Ryan and me focused on each other and our plates. Mike’s exceptional service made me excited to dine at Francesca Forno from the moment we sat down. I eagerly anticipated his suggested wine and dishes, rather than just simply waiting for my food to arrive. This was such a pleasantly surprising experience considering it was completely unplanned. Don’t let the need to plan ahead keep you from a potentially great night out—be spontaneous!