Arts & Entertainment

Off the El Eats: Vapiano

Photos by Regina Merrill

Off-the-el-EatsMost weeks I review new spots I come across online or find while exploring the city. This week, however, I’m going to share an old favorite of mine, Vapiano (44 S. Wabash Ave).

Located off the Monroe Red Line stop in the Loop, I affectionately refer to it as “Eataly for college kids,” because it offers the variety found at Eataly (the international chain that sells imported goods and also has Italian food stations) for a lot less money.

The way Vapiano is set up makes it ideal for both large groups and individuals because it combines a food court and sit-down restaurant. When you walk in, you’re handed a card to use at the various stations. Customers tap their cards at a scanner before they order and pay at the end once they are done choosing items.

IMG_3373These stations include antipasti, (appetizers such as soup, salad and bruschetta), pizza, pasta, drinks and dessert. Everything is made to order. You can wait at the counter for your pasta or appetizer and watch the chefs work. If you order a pizza, you are given a buzzer to take back to your table that will notify you when the pizza is ready.

A benefit of this type of ordering system is that you do not have to wait for everyone to order because there are no waiters, which also keeps the cost lower. There’s also no hassle with splitting a check because of the handy card system.

On a particular visit to Vapiano with my mom, we split the piatto antipasti ($7.95). The plate included generous portions (perfect for two or more to pass around the table) of prosciutto, shaved Parmesan cheese, mushrooms and other grilled vegetables, salami, olives, pesto, buffalo mozzarella and bread.

We liked the variety the plate offered, and I thought it was a nice way to sample a lot of the fresh meats and cheeses. The prosciutto was my favorite; the sharp flavor of the thin smoky strips of meat was nicely balanced by the soft freshly shaved Parmesan on bread.

Each time I have gone to Vapiano, I’ve ordered pasta. Each pasta dish comes with your choice of noodle, ranging from tagliatelle and penne to whole grain spelt fusilli and angel hair. You can add chicken or Italian sausage for $2, or beef, shrimp or salmon for $3. One of my personal favorites is the wild mushroom beef fillet ($11.95), with tender cuts of beef and radicchio in a hearty gorgonzola cream sauce.

But after having eaten the antipasti plate, I wanted a lighter pasta dish, so I ordered the pesto basilico with chicken ($9.95).

All the pasta is served with freshly shaved Parmesan cheese and even more bread (not that I’m complaining). The pesto sauce was excellent because you could taste the freshness of the basil, and the pine nuts gave it a nice crunch. I chose tagliatelle pasta, which are wide egg noodles, because they soak up a lot of the sauce’s flavors.

My mom ordered the bruschetta pizza ($9.95), which had a tomato sauce base, mozzarella, arugula, fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and Parmesan. When it cameIMG_3380 out, we both agreed that it looked like a salad had been dumped on top of the Neapolitan-style pizza. A pile of fresh arugula, tomatoes and shaved Parmesan covered the crust, making it a meal that definitely had to be eaten with a fork and knife. My mom really liked it, and noted that the tomato sauce was particularly good, as it was a little sweet and the fresh tomato flavor really came through.

Another plus of Vapiano is that the portions are filling. One could easily provide at least two meals. Both of us had leftovers to enjoy the next day.

My mom and I sat catching up after our meal was finished, and she noted it felt like a place where you could easily sit for a while without feeling pressured to leave. The warm space is great to be with friends and family. Whether you’re going out with a big group or just a friend or two, check out Vapiano for quality Italian food where everyone can find something to enjoy.

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