It may not be as sexy as its newer counterparts, but when it comes to high-quality food and service, Campiello is first-rate.
Here's another absolute in the death-and-taxes vein: It's impossible to have a bad meal at Campiello. The 12-year-old restaurant, part of the D'Amico culinary empire, hums with the precision and style normally associated with a $10,000 Swiss-made watch.
The food is refreshingly honest. This is a restaurant where roasted chicken, grilled steak and braised pork are celebrated with relish and refined to their best possible outcomes. Nothing froufrou here, no Frank Gehry-inspired compositions, no whacked-out ingredient combinations; just tried-and-true cooking that looks easy but in reality is just the opposite. When you're sticking to the basics -- well-seasoned, unembellished meats roasted to succulent juiciness; piping-hot pastas composed with an eye toward maximum deliciousness; gorgeous pizzas -- it's tough to cover your screw-ups. And there are very few screw-ups at Campiello.
Even the kitchen's showiest dish -- a firm, buttery bluenose sea bass steamed in parchment (shown at right) -- materializes at the table with an "aw-shucks" shrug, as if the well-drilled kitchen stifled a self-assured yawn while plating it. Trust me, you'll eat every morsel.
Ditto the melt-in-your-mouth short ribs, glazed in thick balsamic vinegar and served with smoky tomatoes. And a crisp-skinned roast chicken. And the plush, velvety salmon, the fork-tender braised pork shank, the flavorful hanger steak. You get the picture.
If it were nothing else, Campiello could be one of the state's top-performing pizzerias. My new favorite pre-Lagoon Cinema ritual is perching myself at the bar, whirling through the lovely by-the-glass wine list and putting knife and fork to one of the menu's pizzas. The oval-shaped crusts -- sturdy, acorn-colored, slightly blistered -- are topped with a deft touch: a gently sweet onion confit paired with a peppery Italian salami or an eye-catching, mouth-watering array of butternut squash, sweet roasted pineapple and bits of sage. Pastas are equally appealing, from a comfort-foodish spaghetti with shrimp to tagliatelle tossed with a hearty Bolognese sauce. With all this goodness, why the D'Amicos feel compelled to serve a mozzarella-tomato salad in the dead of winter -- with cottony, flavorless tomatoes -- is a head-scratcher.
Mouthwatering from starters to finish
Three starters merit shout-outs. Dainty calamari, lightly breaded and fried with a brain surgeon's precision, literally melt in your mouth. Steamed mussels are meaty and tender. And an ultra-creamy risotto, brimming with shrimp and bits of chives, warmed me up on a subzero February night. The back-to-basics desserts are executed with obvious talent and affection, and a monthly specials menu -- with dishes hailing from different Italian regions -- pumps fresh air into the somewhat static menu.
Sunday brunch is a low-key delight. The room, dim and subdued, is a hangover haven, and the kitchen asks only one question -- "How do you want your eggs?" -- before sending everything else out on platters, family style. "Everything" means a garlicky pasta jammed with artichokes and chicken, fruit-pocked muffins, crispy roasted potatoes flecked with rosemary, smoky bacon and golden waffles. Add a Mimosa and the tab comes to a very reasonable $17.
If I worked in an office in the southwest suburbs, Campiello is where you'd find me conducting business over lunch. The menu is a greatest-hits version of dinner, with a few add-ons: a colorful meal-in-a-bowl chopped salad, a cool plate of shrimp and avocados splashed in a tangy citrus vinaigrette and a few towering sandwiches made with the D'Amico bakery's fine breads; don't miss the spicy stack of tangy pork capped with sweet roasted red onions, and a jaw-defying pile of tender, roasted-to-perfection beef finished with a snappy horseradish sauce.
Service is a major draw. After one particularly seamless meal, I wondered if there's a D'Amico University somewhere, a nonaccredited campus where front-of-housers earn Ph.D equivalents in restaurant service. If the settings at both locations feel at tad mid-'90s, they certainly earn high marks in the handsome and comfortable departments.
Around since 1995, an eternity in the restaurant world, Campiello may no longer garner the buzz of its newer, sexier competitors. It may not grab the media attention of a chef-driven indie, and its richly satisfying food in no way resembles the cutting-edge stuff favored by the foodiscenti and their latest-and-greatest mindset. No matter. This is one restaurant that knows how to hit its marks.
Rick Nelson • firstname.lastname@example.org