First, the 1999 story from Chicago:
Low-key Italian Restaurant Draws High-profile Diners
February 12, 1999
By Elaine Glusac
Special to the Chicago Tribune
Four burly men take a table at La Scarola. They know the waiters. They
know the family at a neighboring table. And they know the menu.
"I'll have the shrimp appetizer, but without that sauce," says one.
To these and other patrons, La Scarola is family. The West Loop
storefront eatery, opened last winter, is a kitchen away from home for
a lot of regulars. Many are pals of partners Armando Vasquez, Roberto
Vasquez and Joey Mondelli, the former proprietor of Kelly Mondelli's
on Clark Street.
Despite its low-key setting, La Scarola draws its share of
high-profile Chicagoans. Michael Kornick, chef-owner of MK and partner
in Red Light and Marche, likes to dine here on his nights off. "It's
good," he says. "It's not Spiaggia. It's just dinner."
His review is on the money. La Scarola serves satisfying, fill-'em-up
Italian fare. There's nothing trendy on the menu, though one salad
does feature goat cheese.
The restaurant name is Italian slang for escarole, which is a
highlight among appetizers here. You can get it sauteed to wilting in
flavorful olive oil and garlic, or with tasty white beans in chicken
broth. Both are great accompaniments to the crusty Italian bread
served with meals.
So often soggy elsewhere, bruschetta is expertly assembled here on
toasted, garlic-rubbed bread piled with tomatoes tossed in garlic,
olive oil and basil, even if the tomatoes suffered from winter
La Scarola's version of pasta and fagioli is among the city's best.
Thickened by the natural starch from white beans and tiny pasta tubes,
the pancetta-flecked chowder makes an ideal cold weather lunch.
Eggplant parmigiana presents the flour-dusted and fried eggplant
slices topped with a thick, rich tomato sauce and a generous layer of
broiled Parmesan cheese; it's satisfying, but the vegetable is
Pasta Vesuvio is exuberant. Linguine comes smothered in sauteed
chicken and mushrooms moistened by a buttery white wine sauce.
Linguine with sausage comes with the tangy house marinara and four
large pieces of charred, fennel-flavored Italian sausage.
Veal dishes, a house specialty, are impressive. Veal Monselli comes
pounded and tenderly sauteed under a mushroom and zucchini-rich sherry
sauce. More robust appetites will appreciate the veal chop alla Gabe,
an enormous breaded-and-fried, 10-ounce chop atop a heaping bed of
crispy, diced potatoes.
If you've got room, try the surprisingly light cannoli, fried and
filled with sweet custard and rolled in pistachio chips.
Note that food portions at La Scarola are shockingly huge. Appetizers
easily serve three. Pasta servings approximate a pound of noodles.
Meat dishes are massive. Everyone leaves not with a dainty doggy bag,
but a plastic grocery sack.
Just as there's nothing particularly modern on the menu, the decor
remains in a time warp. A wall full of photos of buxom blonds is
opposite another filled with portraits of ex-Cubs and celebs of the
Jerry Vale era. A second, recently added dining room has warmer
lighting and a cityscape mural, but the best tables are still in the
bustling main room.
Frank Sinatra on the soundtrack and the good humor of the servers add
to the bonhomie of the unassuming restaurant.
Now the 2011 NYT story by Mr Gordinier:
Low-key Italian Eatery Draws Rich and Famous
By JEFF GORDINIER
ONE afternoon back in February, Scott Conant was feeling grumpy and
hungry. Mr. Conant, the chef at Scarpetta, has a business office in
SoHo, and he was curious about a restaurant a short walk away that a
friend had recommended.
“I said to him, ‘What’s your favorite Italian restaurant?’ ” Mr.
Conant recalled. “He was like, ‘Don’t get mad at me, but it’s
Ballato’s.’ I had never heard of the place.”
From the sidewalk on East Houston Street near Mott Street, under a
grimy red awning that appears to belong to a fading pizza parlor,
Emilio’s Ballato didn’t look like much.
Inside, Mr. Conant was captivated.
On the walls were framed album covers and snapshots of pop stars, from
stalwarts like David Bowie and Billy Joel to freshly minted arrivals
like Rihanna and Justin Bieber. These were people with the resources
to eat anywhere in the world. Why would they hang out in a drowsy
red-sauce joint with a soundtrack and a menu that Don Draper might
have encountered on some sodden evening in 1962?
“Where the hell am I right now?” Mr. Conant thought before ordering a
bowl of spaghetti cacio e pepe.
“Which is really hard to get right,” he said. “And it was awesome. I
couldn’t believe it. Everything about it was really integrity driven.”
He followed up with a plate of veal Milanese. With mild shock, he
found it to be “spectacular.”