Trattoria Gianni

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The bright white exterior, wine-red awning and potted plants in front of this casually elegant Italian restaurant that resembles a walk-up, make you feel you are stopping into a friend's home for dinner. The front dining room, with its butter-colored walls featuring black and white photos from the Old Country, wood floors and picture window is sunny and intimate but quite small; the linen tablecloths being the only hint of formality. There is also a larger dining room in back behind doors that lead to the kitchen. "I have been told this is as close to Italy as you can get in Chicago," says owner and chef Gianni Delisi, commenting on his menu and tapping the wood-paneled bar that he had built to accommodate customers while they wait for their tables. The restaurant is a favorite of neighborhood folks plus the theater crowd from the Steppenwolf and Royal George theaters just down the street. You might spot John Malkovich or Mayor Daley at a nearby table enjoying one of the house's signature pasta dishes, the grilled calamari appetizer or a glass of one of the many grappas from the wine list that features only Italian wines.