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Due Lire: Sweet Home Italia

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Oct 15, 2012 7:00PM

Chicagoist/Melissa Wiley

To tell the whole truth and nothing but, our vital forces were flagging when we crossed the threshold of Due Lire, an ineffably intimate Lincoln Square trattoria. Our nose was running and skies were beginning to rain. Conditions were positively pluvial. Fortunately, our appetites were holding strong as we ambled inside possibly the most restorative restaurant this side of the Atlantic, its ceiling cozily striated with dark wooden beams reminiscent of a thousand-year-old pensione.

While we sat near the window on a chilly Tuesday night, proprietor Massimo Di Vuolo received no fewer than 10 guests with a hearty bear hug. Old friends, we assumed. But by meal’s end we realized the same degree of warmth wouldn’t be long in coming our way as well were we to pay more frequent visits. Which would be terribly awkward if the primary reason for entry—the meal itself—weren’t qualitatively exceptional. Happily, it is all you would expect from your long-lost Sicilian grandmother and more. So when Massimo warmly invites you into his extended living room, you can’t help wanting to linger, making it that much more a shame that Olive Garden has appropriated the phrase “When you’re here, you’re family,” in Due Lire’s rightful stead.

Chicagoist/Melissa Wiley

We ordered the zuppa del giorno, a creamy carrot-fennel ($6), along with a side of sautéed broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil ($5) and the tagliatelle, gaily festooned with fava beans, rocket rucola, and heirloom tomatoes ($13). Massimo himself waited on us and solicitously delivered our soup. Laced with mascarpone cheese, our first course instantly soothed our sore throat, while the generous serving of rapini, sautéed to perfection, reminded us that the best food is often the simplest. The tagliatelle likewise arrived teasingly aromatic and proved nothing less than healing, so much brighter did we feel inside once we began feasting upon its coiled al dente noodles. The fava beans imbued the handmade pasta with texture, while the heirloom tomatoes liquefied into a sweet light sauce.

A case of the sniffles usually enfeebles the taste buds, but Chef Kevin Abshire’s creations gently prodded ours back to life. The curative power of good food and good company may be an old concept, but Due Lire reminds us it’s one well worth revisiting, offering Chicagoans the kind of aperture into Old World Italia that’s typically overpaid for in airfare to Europe. Fortunately, Di Vuolo has made his dream of replicating the culinary delights of his Neapolitan childhood a reality and done here so in our own neck of the Western Hemisphere.

Due Lire is located at 4520 N. Lincoln Ave.