Reserve is a free app available for iPhone and Android phones that allows you to search for the best restaurants in your city (it's currently available in New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, and Chicago), select a restaurant, the date and time window you'd like to dine there, and send in your request. Your Reserve concierge then sends you a text confirming your reservation time and you're good to go. What makes this app unique from other restaurant reservation services though, is that you actually pay for your meal (including tip!) right within the app with the credit card you have on file. When we finished our meal at Formento's, the server never brought over a bill-- I just received an email from Reserve with the receipt and payment confirmation and we were on our way. Think of it as Uber for dining.
Want to try Reserve for yourself? Download it in the App Store and enter promo code LYCOXB in the Payment section of the app to receive a $20 credit to use toward your first Reserve reservation!
So, that's how we ended up at Formento's in the West Loop. Now let's talk about our delicious meal! Formento's is a self-described "red sauce joint," reminiscent of the Italian restaurants of the 1950's. We're not talking about rustic Tuscan-inspired dishes here, but rather modern takes on the dishes your Italian grandmother would have made for Sunday dinner: meatballs, "macaroni" and sauce, and eggplant parmesan. The meal started out on a great note when our server brought out some of their warm rosemary focaccia along with a dish of housemade giardiniera, a mixture of sweet and spicy pickled vegetables which is super popular here in Chicago, usually used as a condiment on Italian beef sandwiches. It was really flavorful and such a great little hint at the kind of classic meets modern meal we had in store for us.
Alex and I arrived hungry and decided to start the meal by sharing a few small plates. First up, the porcini bruschetta. This bruschetta was created with thick slices of bread baked fresh down the street from Formento's by the bakers behind the Publican, toasted up with a great crunchy sesame seed crust. It was topped with stracciatella, a rich soft cheese that's very similar to fresh mozzarella, hearty chunks of porcini mushrooms, and a drizzle of 8-year aged balsamic vinegar. For being a meatless dish, these bruschetta were rich and hearty with meaty mushrooms and a generous helping of cheese. The touch of sweetness from the balsamic was perfect.
We also split the classic Caesar salad. Large romaine leaves are topped with oversized focaccia croutons, a few anchovies, shaved Parmesan, and a light-- not creamy-- classic Caesar vinaigrette. This reminded me very much of the Caesar dressing that my Sicilian grandmother has always been famous for making along with her big pasta dinners.
We are both pasta lovers, so I had a feeling we'd both be ordering off the Macaroni menu for our entrees. While Alex knew right away that he wanted to try Formento's take on bucatini carbonara, I was torn between 2 or 3 really solid pasta options. Ultimately though, I opted for the rigatoni vodka. I love a good vodka sauce and this version was really delicious and a little different-- with Calabrian chiles, onions, and some creamy mascarpone. I loved this rich and slightly spicy pasta and despite the large portion, I managed to clean my plate.
One thing I knew we needed to order before even showing up at Formento's, which was then confirmed by our server was Nonna's meatballs. Apparently these meatballs are derived from the chef's real nonna's recipe and they became so popular as a part of the spaghetti and meatballs entree and also on the menu at Nonna's (Formento's casual sandwich spot next door), that they were added to the menu on their own as a side. These are the perfect companion to any pasta on the menu. The meatballs are really flavorful and tender and light-- likely because they've simmered in a thick tomato "gravy," as the nonnas call it. Whether you're ordering them with the spaghetti or as a side to share with the table, the meatballs are not to missed.
We didn't have much room left, but were both in the mood for a little something sweet after our dinner. Alex and I decided to split a dessert and settled on Formento's chocolate cake. We were awfully surprised to see an enormous slice of cake appear in front of us-- so big that even between the two of us we could only eat half, so we took the rest home for breakfast! This cake was old fashioned simple, but really special: a few thin layers of moist chocolate cake were layered with a light sweet chocolate mousse and coated in a thick chocolate ganache.
We really loved both the food and experience at Formento's. Our server was super friendly and helpful and the atmosphere was old school swanky, but not stuffy. I'd come back for some meatballs and chocolate cake anytime!
And don't forget to make a reservation via Reserve with promo code LYCOXB for $20 off your bill!
Editor's Note: I received compensation to try the Reserve app. The opinions expressed herein, as always, are my own.