Dario Monni is the chef and owner of Tortello, a pasta shop, Italian market, and cafe hybrid in Wicker Park. Tortello’s large window looking out to Division Street gives passersby a chance to see the Sfoglinas at work, making pasta like their signature burrata-filled tortelli. Items like freshly imported burrata, gourmet OOO flour, artichokes marinating in olive oil, wine, and house-made pasta sauces are available for purchase in the market. Guests have the option of dining in or buying pasta to prepare at home.
Tortello is without a doubt one of Chicago’s best Italian restaurants, and in 2022 it was recognized with a well-deserved Michelin Bib Gourmand Award. We chatted with Dario as he gears up for Tortello’s third anniversary.
How did you end up in Chicago?
The first reason is that my wife is from here. We wanted to be close to her family. When I first came to Chicago, I fell in love with the city for so many reasons. I like the people. They are hardworking people and very humble people. And as a good Italian, I followed my gut. I followed what I felt was right, and I felt comfortable in Chicago. I felt welcomed as an immigrant. That is what pushed me to choose Chicago. And of course, the food scene is awesome. It is an amazing city for food. I thought that I could bring some of my heritage, experience, and culture and add an extra touch to the city.
Which neighborhood are you choosing and why?
Wicker Park! When I decided to move to Chicago and open a restaurant, I was looking at different neighborhoods but I got a great feeling when I saw Wicker Park and Division Street. There were a few reasons – I saw the wide sidewalks which is very uncommon in Chicago. I saw a lot of kids and a lot of strollers. Everything behind Tortello is Italian food and culture – we include kids at the meals and celebrate the culture and ritual of eating a good meal. I envisioned a restaurant where the presence of kids was huge.
I saw people from all over the world in Wicker Park. It felt like Europe: the sidewalks, people walking, families. It has a bit of a European style. The people are well-traveled and food educated. I was opening a different concept so I needed a place where people would understand and appreciate what I am bringing to the table.
What are your go-to places for a quick meal in Chicago?
I live in Lincoln Park and I think it is a great neighborhood. The beauty of the city is exposing your kids to different cultures and foods at a young age. I feel very strongly about exposing kids to different flavors. I love Mexican food and my kids do too. Old Pueblo Cantina is great – perfect for a quick meal and it’s convenient because I’m within walking distance. I love the patio outside and the vibe of the neighborhood. They have a great kids’ menu and there are a lot of families who live in the neighborhood that go there.
They still have my food 2-3 times a week.
You want to have a happy hour drink, where are you going?
I am a seafood guy, I grew up in Venice, and one of the things I miss most is seafood. Whenever I see an oyster place, I have to go. I love Oyster Bah, I love that little spot. I love oysters and a glass of white wine. Sometimes a spritz – an Italian spritz. Oysters and wine. It’s not very Italian but it is something I love.
Where would you go to celebrate a special occasion?
There is one place that my wife and I love and try to go once a month and it’s Le Bouchon. It’s French cuisine and it is legit, has European style, and is consistently good. What I love about Le Bouchon is that I feel like I am in Paris. I really value the experience.
When people walk through the door at Tortello, I want people to feel like they are transported to Italy. That was the vision from day one. It is a hard thing to do. Anyone can open a restaurant it is harder to create an experience. When you create an experience it is the most beautiful and magical thing you can do in the restaurant business.
Or Joe’s Seafood. I love the old-fashioned style. The waiters who have been there forever, who know the menu, who know the food from A to Z. The Alaskan King Crab, which I only discovered when I moved to the states. It is one of my favorite things.
What would you do on your perfect day off in Chicago?
Definitely walk to the lake. See water. Having a house on the water is my dream. Have a great lunch, ideally outside, with a good spritz, or a glass of wine, and seafood.
I also love live music. I have really missed that during the pandemic. Something else I thought about was going to the cinema. I love movies. I missed the cinema and live music. I love supporting artists. One of the reasons why we do live music at Tortello is that I love supporting artists.
I would be on the lake, have lunch or oysters, and listen to live music.
What is new at Tortello this summer?
I love the outdoor seating. We have live music outside every Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday starting at 6:30 pm. I increased the live music this year. We have three different bands. The first is a violinist named Sam who has been with us from day one. He is extremely knowledgeable and he knows music from all over the world. He is every Tuesday. On Wednesdays, it is an Italian couple and they play beautiful happy Italian and European folk music. On Thursdays, we have a new band, Joe’s Band, that just started with us. They play from 6:30 pm until 9 pm and they play blues and jazz.
Speaking of live music…
Tortello’s third anniversary is on Thursday, June 30th we will have live music outside starting at 6 pm. We are going to have complimentary spritzes and focaccia with ricotta e honey. I want to thank the neighbors.