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Gruppo di Amici - Roman pizzas in Rogers Park

Gruppo di Amici - Roman pizzas in Rogers Park
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  • Post #31 - August 18th, 2006, 4:17 pm
    Post #31 - August 18th, 2006, 4:17 pm Post #31 - August 18th, 2006, 4:17 pm
    BR wrote:The "tomato" portion of my Caprese salads at GdA has been mostly hit (although one miss) on my visits. It should really be hard to screw up with the tomatoes at this time of year (but certainly not impossible). But yes, that mozzarella is quite fantastic. I wouldn't say that Isola is bad, but it doesn't compare to the real stuff which GdA certainly has found.

    I agree completely that the cheese was some of the best I have had in Chicago, but the tomatoes were a disgrace.
    Steve Z.

    “Only the pure in heart can make a good soup.”
    ― Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Post #32 - August 20th, 2006, 8:01 am
    Post #32 - August 20th, 2006, 8:01 am Post #32 - August 20th, 2006, 8:01 am
    Back to pizza:

    petit pois and I had a nice two-pizza meal at GdA last night.

    I liked the pizzas at GdA, although it's hard not to enjoy a freshly wood-fired pizza. It is hard for me to really describe these pizzas, since the bread and sauce did lack a certain character that I was hoping for. They were simple-tasting (in the most positive way) and enjoyable.

    I want their food to stand on its own merits and don't want to fuel the inevitable comparisons to Spacca Napoli's pizza, but I will draw a comparison between their menus. To my disappointment, GdA's menu of pizzas is much simpler than SN's. One of my favorite aspects of SN is the wide array of ever-changing pizzas that allow for vastly different flavor profiles from slightly sweet, to very briny, to green and fresh. I hope that as GdA matures, that their approach to pizza-making takes on more character.

  • Post #33 - August 25th, 2006, 9:17 am
    Post #33 - August 25th, 2006, 9:17 am Post #33 - August 25th, 2006, 9:17 am
    Last night, my companions and I dined here. It was half-price bottle night. We split three pizzas amongst us: the margherita (as a benchmark), the Capricciosa (which is loaded with toppings - mushrooms, prosciutto, artichokes, onions, etc.) and a funghi e prosciutto. As some have mentioned, the pizza menu was truncated and there was a veritable overlap between the toppings on some of the pizzas, making them seem more alike and thus making the pizza menu seem even smaller.

    Nevertheless, the pizzas were excellent versions of wood-fired, Roman-esque pizzas. I thought the topping-heavy Capricciosa was too much in the topping department, but amazingly, the crust was still crisp underneath that heft. The crust lacked a certain depth of flavor, but that's not unusual for a lot of wood-fired pizzas, I find.

    Taking a cue from GWiv's post regarding GdA's caprese, I asked in advance whether the tomatoes would be juicy and ripe, the server was quick to respond that "yes, they were" and that "they recently changed their tomatoes in the salad." The result: sublime roma tomatoes, perfectly ripe, and outstanding buffalo mozzarella. If you're hesitant about their caprese, give it another try.

    The wine list was limited. I don't quibble with that so much , but it could have had more Italian choices. The bottle of Italian white from Alto Adige was quite nice though.

    The service, in a word, stunk. The server took our wine order and disappeared. The owner, who was nearby, must have heard my dining companion ask the table where our wine was because she scurried over and inquired if we had been "helped." She sent the server back, and he asked (again) if we had decided on any wine. It was a twilight zone moment because he really acted as if he had not seen us before when minutes earlier, he had actually taken our wine order from us. Even though I ordered the wine, he poured it for someone else to try. While this may be picayune, a more polished, better-trained server wouldn't have made that misstep.

    It sort of proceeded that way the entire night, when Mr. Awkward would ask me to pass him the empty wine bottle to clear instead of taking four steps to the other side of the table to do it himself. And when our pizzas came, my caprese dish had not been cleared, and again, he expected me to clear it and hand it to him.

    It was half-price bottle night. When the check came, what do you think we were charged? You guessed it, full price. When it was politely pointed out to him, he became defensive and claimed that the computer was supposed to automatically deduct it - it wasn't his fault. (He took it off, but I don't really care one lick why it appeared as full instead of half price.)

    And so on and so forth. His service gaffes were so numerous it detracted from the whole experience. I'd go back for the food (especially on 1/2 price bottle night), but like hell would I be served by him again.
  • Post #34 - November 15th, 2006, 9:31 am
    Post #34 - November 15th, 2006, 9:31 am Post #34 - November 15th, 2006, 9:31 am
    I tried Gruppo d'Amici last night. Nice room, friendly service, good wine and beer specials... but sometimes you wonder if people are actually eating the food they prepare, because if they were, they wouldn't make the basic mistakes in execution that keep it from being what it ought to and plainly could be.

    Let's start with the high point: the caprese salad. I wasn't even going to attempt to order such a thing in November, but the waiter assured me that I would not be disappointed. And I wasn't. They managed to find some slightly hard but quite flavorful Roma tomatoes, they had decent basil, and they have terrific mozzarella-- a little salty (possibly packed in salt water), but tangy, discernable skin with melt-in-your-mouth insides. A great example of attention to detail paying off.

    On the other hand, there was a marinated octopus salad. How do you make baby octopus taste like mushy canned tuna? Marinate it too heavily and too long, that's how. Admittedly, we misread it as grilled, so our expectations were different anyway, but this is not a delectable dish. I know things like this are authentic to Italy sometimes, but that doesn't mean we have to import them.

    Then, the pizza. With that big honking oven they damn well better do pizzas right, right? Yet when ours came I almost said "Quick, put them back in for another minute or two!" They weren't underdone but they certainly weren't done to the point where the 00 flour in the crust had developed and crackled and created little delicious burnt spots. It was closer to the extremely blonde pizza I made in my home oven with 00 flour, at a temperature which, as Bill SFNM pointed out, just isn't high enough for 00 flour to work the way it's supposed to.

    Despite that I liked the flavor of the pizza-- the tangy mozzarella, the simple and bright tomato sauce. One other thing that bugged me, though-- we ordered one with prosciutto and mushrooms and it came with two fresh-from-the-package rectangular pieces of cold prosciutto draped over the pizza. First, I don't know why they didn't let the prosciutto cook a little too-- I am given to understand that many pork products, when cooked, are delectable. Second was... why not cut the pizza AFTER draping the piece on? The difference was that we had to cut through the prosciutto ourselves, using our much less sharp table implements, and it wadded up like a spitball as we did so. Anyone who ever actually tried this pizza themselves would change how they prepared it to overcome this minor but obvious problem.

    Gruppo d'Amici has a nice setup and they certainly could make stellar pizza a la-- I'm not going to say it, I'm sick of mentioning THAT PLACE in every Neapolitan pizza thread. But it looks like they have cooks following a formula rather than insanely dedicated pizzaiolos learning and constantly improving their game, and the results show in pleasant, but not all they could be, dishes.
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  • Post #35 - November 15th, 2006, 10:34 am
    Post #35 - November 15th, 2006, 10:34 am Post #35 - November 15th, 2006, 10:34 am
    Mike, I think using raw ham is a traditional Roman thing, along with hard-boiled egg.
  • Post #36 - December 29th, 2006, 3:38 pm
    Post #36 - December 29th, 2006, 3:38 pm Post #36 - December 29th, 2006, 3:38 pm
    After many false starts, I finally ate at Gruppo di Amici the other night, and I have to say I wasn't that impressed. Possibly my expectations were too high...

    At any rate, we arrived fairly early in the evening - Sparky, myself, and my parents who were in for the holidays. My parents ordered the soup and a salad, and I got the steamed mussels for an appetizer. All the appetizers were servicable; the mussels were good except for occasional big chunks of raw garlic.

    Our server was knowledgeable and friendly - he also was smart enough to note that I'd ordered a pizza that didn't come with cheese, and asked if I wanted to add it (which I didn't) We got Sparky the Margherite; I had the Salsiccia (tomato, red pepper and sausage,) and the folks had the aforementioned Capriccioss.

    The waiter had the foresight to bring Sparky's pizza right away, so the benchmark arrived quickly. I was expecting something like a caprese salad on a pizza, we got a fairly thick layer of ordinary tomato sauce and mozzarella, overlaid with a few chunks of the fresh buffalo mozzarella and three leaves of basil. The result was that the dough at the center of the pie remained dough - which was the case for the remaining pizza when they arrived. The pizzas seemed over-sauced to me; I wish I had tried the pizza bianci to compare...

    I haven't tried other wood fired pizzas here (we keep eating pasta at Trattoria DOC) so my benchmark are pizzas in Venice - but I'm looking forward to the day when I have a pizza similar to these that has a crust that is both chewy and crunchy all the way through.
  • Post #37 - March 26th, 2007, 8:42 am
    Post #37 - March 26th, 2007, 8:42 am Post #37 - March 26th, 2007, 8:42 am
    Update from a first visit:

    Service: extremely attentive to a couple pressed for time, both while waiting for a table and at the table during a period of high intensity dining (Sat./7:30 pm). A to A+

    Pizza: As mentioned above, on par with some of the higher end wood-fired pizzas, Trattoria DOC and Follia in particular. SN still in a class by itself. We had the 4 formaggi and salsiccia (with cheese added--a good idea).

    We didn't have the caprese, but our starters were ordinary. Nothing else on the menu seemed particularly outstanding.

    Final authoritative analysis based on one visit: Good choice if you're in the neighborhood or traveling on the red-line (it's only a block or so away from the Jarvis stop), but I'd stick to pizza, a salad, and a beer.
    "The fork with two prongs is in use in northern Europe. In England, they’re armed with a steel trident, a fork with three prongs. In France we have a fork with four prongs; it’s the height of civilization." Eugene Briffault (1846)
  • Post #38 - June 6th, 2007, 8:38 am
    Post #38 - June 6th, 2007, 8:38 am Post #38 - June 6th, 2007, 8:38 am
    Mr. X and I have been to Gruppo di Amici a handful of times and have enjoyed it each time. When reviewing our local dinner options last night, we both wanted salad and Gruppo di Amici is a nice stroll. Plus, I knew it was half-price wine by the glass night. We split the asparagus-potato soup. Very nice -- had a delicate asparagus flavor and reminded me of split pea, mostly because of the color. I had the caprese salad - yummy mozzarella, plentiful basil and decent tomatoes. (I live for summer when I can eat a caprese salad every day!) Mr. X had the spinach salad, which is described as "warm spinach, red onions and goat cheese." We enjoyed the flavors of the spinach salad. I don't know if the spinach was warm or if was the dressing or plate, but the effect was that the spinach wilted over time.

    I like the room and have always had good service there. Jimmy took care of us last night -- he's pretty much the manager although he told us he doesn't really have an official title. I think this is a great place to have in the neighborhood and I look forward to becoming a regular there.
  • Post #39 - July 6th, 2007, 11:05 pm
    Post #39 - July 6th, 2007, 11:05 pm Post #39 - July 6th, 2007, 11:05 pm
    I forgot to post this closer to the event, but we recently gave Gruppo di Amici another shot and had a very nice meal, leading us to forgive our first time, which had been fairly underwhelming.

    This time we steered away from the pizzas. We had a penne diabolo with shrimp that had a nice sauce, hot but not killer, and very flavorful, probably a goodly amount of roasted garlic in there.

    IIRC we had a good salad (although too heavy for my taste on the super salties like olives and sun dried tomatoes) and a very good lemon sorbet.

    I may try the pizza again, but I think i'll always fault it in comparison to other places in town odds are good I'll work through some more entrees before I do. Indeed, the GP is right that we are lucky to have this in the neighborhood.

    (As a modest aside, I noticed in a small display ad in TOC for Luzzat, the divey-looking Indian restaurant across the street. I wonder if they are trying to ramp up and start collecting some of the neighborhood dining business. Anyone tried it?)
    Joe G.

    "Whatever may be wrong with the world, at least it has some good things to eat." -- Cowboy Jack Clement