The owners of the Merlo Ristorante
and Merlo on Maple
have a third go at setting up their own taste of Bologna in Chicago. This time around, they've chopped prices in half and changed the menu a bit to present themselves as a trattoria (in the old world hierarchy, a step down from the ristorante). But while the new eatery certainly has the authenticity of the dishes down cold, it doesn’t exactly set off an everyman vibe.
Chandeliers and tasteful lighting accentuate the smile on the young, professional waitstaff. A quick glance at the menu shows a range of traditional Bolognese food, prepared by chef Silvia Marani. While the ingredients and descriptions might sound daunting, most all of the entrees are simple pasta affairs, with a little extra love.
Long pappardelle noodles served in a Colorado lamb ragu, topped with mint and pecorino cheese, has an earthy taste and subtle flavors for $16. A plate of beef tenderloin tossed in prosciutto di parma, pine nut, raisin, thyme and white wine sauce is another mouthful to order, costing $22. While one can fill up on a plate of prosciutto and parmigiano as an appetizer for $14, the reality of the restaurant is that the plates are universally small, and run between $15 and $20 – not breaking the bank, but certainly not the most appealing price for plates that leave you half-full.
While the care and ingredients of the dishes at Merlo are apparent, they don't quite match the supposed cheaper eats image that they claim to be representing. The bar doesn't help either – a bottle of red can’t be had for under $50. Fans of previous Merlo ventures will want to return to the signature flavors shown here, but know that they might be paying close to the same prices as well.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Dan Morgridge