The cold night air nipped at our ears as we moved briskly down the dark street to get to my birthday dinner. I’d been looking forward to this night for a month! The new restaurant that I’d been wanting to visit was now open and tonight, we had reservations.
A warm and inviting light spilled out onto the pavement as my family stepped through the clear glass front door. The warm wood tones and exposed brick made the space feel intimate and homey. We passed the beautifully lit up bar as we were lead into the dining area by the smiling hostess.
The first thing I noticed was the long “family style” seating against the wall. It reminded me of restaurants that I saw in Europe. The beautiful globes of light that were hung from the ceiling added to the warm feel. The decor was old world, tasteful and classic.
We were seated right away and I got a chance to sit and survey the whole scene. I think we had the best table in the house. A gorgeous little spot tucked away by the windows. There was already a plate of fresh olives on the table for us and some of their house made bread came soon after. The bread was fluffy and soft and it smelled incredible. I could have just eaten the bread as my meal!
We had the first reservations of the night so I had a chance to see the place fill up as the night went on. There was a pleasant hum of friendly conversation. I could tell all of the diners were enjoying themselves. I was pleased to see how many diners showed up on such a cold Sunday evening.
After a bit of wine and people watching I focused my attention on the menu. The menu was so spectacular that I had quite a time making a selection. Luckily the waitress was very helpful with recommending dishes and explaining ingredients. After a while, we had finally all made our decisions and were ready to order. The waitress was sincerely excited about the food coming out of the kitchen. We started with Spinaci Pere Del Giardino, or organic baby spinach with pine nuts, pears, pecorino cheese and shallot vinaigrette and the Polpette Al Fungi Porcini, or meatballs with ricotta cheese and Porcini mushrooms. The meat came to the table surrounded by a fragrant cloud of delicious smells. The meatballs were fork tender and the ricotta added a delicious creaminess. The sauce had a touch of sweetness with a nice kick. The salad was dressed perfectly and all of the components were fresh and worked harmoniuosly. I wish the chef would have bottled up some of that vinigarette for me to take home.
After we had cleaned our plates the main courses were quickly brought out. I ordered the Rigatoni alla Beppe which is Rigatoni noodles topped with rich tomato cream sauce, spicy sausage and topped with fresh peas. The pasta was cooked to a perfect al dente and the sauce was beautifully rich with robust sausage flavor. The peas were bright green and popped as I devoured them. It was hands down one of the top 2 best pasta dishes I’ve ever had here in Champaign-Urbana.
The Constine Di Agnello Alla Doppia Cottura or lamb chops two ways, milanese style and roasted, with a babaresco wine sauce with spinach and roasted potatoes was excellent. The meat was cooked to perfection and the sauce was complex and robust. The potatoes and spinach were seasoned well. They were tender but still had a nice bite. The dish was a triumph!
Our guests both chose the gnocchi. One had the Gnocchi Della Nonna and the other had the Gnocchi di Patate Alla Sorentina. Both of the dishes were stunning. It wasn’t fancy plating, it was just the fact that the food itself was so beautiful. You could see even before you tasted it that it was made with passion and skill. The tomato sauces were vibrant and full of bright tomato flavor. The gnocchi were tender and pillowy soft!
We leaned back after our decadent feast and debated on whether or not to ask for a dessert menu. It was my birthday night after all! I ordered the vanilla ice cream and the bombolone. A bomboleone is a freshly made donut stuffed with sweet filling and dusted with powdered sugar. I got nutella inside! It came out in all it’s glory topped off with a single birthday candle. I was delighted! The nutella was of course yummy and the donut was golden brown, warm and crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
The vanilla ice cream was smooth, and rich with vanilla bean. Delicious! The vanilla bean panna cotta was next. When they brought it to the table I could see the flecks of fresh vanilla bean in the custard. It was set up perfectly and smelled divine. It had a silky smooth consistency and the vanilla flavor was the star.
To end our evening we were brought four glasses of the house made limoncello. It was sweet, strong and vibrant with lemon flavor. The perfect way to end our meal!
From the moment I stepped into Nando Milano Tratorria I felt like an honored guest. The atmosphere was warm and inviting and the food was spectacular! The chef even made an appearance at our table. It totally made my night!
I waited so long for this restaurant to come to Champaign and it’s finally here. I will eat here again and again! I can’t wait to go back for our next Italian feast.
204 N. Neil St.
Champaign, IL. 61820