Serious seafood restaurants in the Chicago area are like the tide. Some come in with a roar, others go out with a whimper.
Many are a shipwreck waiting to happen because they have special needs that aren't always satisfied. They require a steady stream of fresh, reliable fish and an experienced chef who knows how to treat each specie.
All the more reason to appreciate Pescatore Palace, one of the more mature and most respected seafood shrines in the city and suburbs. Docked at the same Franklin Park location for a remarkable 33 years, this nautical landmark is undaunted by the fleet of seafood newcomers that have dropped anchor, only to eventually drop out of sight.
Vito Barbanente is still in charge here. Still operating one of the most underrated Italian restaurants around. And still earning kudos for his cooking skills and hospitality from boatloads of faithful customers.
Mola de Bari native Barbenente, the mentor in a family in which his brothers, sister and nephews own eight metro Chicago restaurants, has made more than a dozen facelifts and expansions since launching his venture.
Some 120 seats are disbursed in the subdued elegance of eight rooms and a lounge, including a cozy upstairs Celebrity Room where up to six can discuss business, romance or whatever in pampered privacy. Though this is essentially a seafood house, atmosphere doesn't go overboard with maritime regalia. One room pays tribute to Andrea Bocelli with larger-than-life posters and pictures of the Italian vocal superstar, who has dined here and his favorite pasta dish is on the menu.
Like the physical appearance, the menu has been updated over the years. Signatures crafted with family recipes continue to be offered, with emphasis on seafood with Adriatic and Mediterranean influences. Ultra-fresh, premium ingredients help keep the cooking low in fat and high in rich, natural flavors.
After noshing on complimentary olives, nothing gets the meal off to a good start like salad Pescatore, a toothsome trifecta of calamari, octopus and cuttlefish marinated in olive oil and vinegar. A dash of mild giardiniera adds oomph.
Enter the entrees, where fish and pasta reign. Worthy of bravos is pasta Bocelli -- linguine in concert with scallops, shrimp, green and yellow zucchini, asparagus and cherry tomatoes, sauted with bubbly prosecco and embellished with arugula.
Vito's version of branzino piccata also encourages encores. Soft-textured Chilean sea bass is gently sauted with artichoke hearts and capers in a light lemon sauce that's a tad zesty, but never overpowering.
Reminiscent of those charming little seaside trattorias along Italy's east coast is risotto Marechiaro. Sauteing the rice with squid, shrimp, octopus, cuttlefish, scallops, mussels and crab in red or white sauce fills the fork with pure pleasure.
Comments overheard from other diners suggest that praise is proper for the chicken breast arrosto, veal chop Vesuvio and well-endowed zuppa di mare.
When tiramisu was suggested for dessert, we envisioned the same old tasted one, tasted them all stuff. But, surprise!, this one excelled with a fluffy texture and blissful flavor.
The 70-label wine inventory favors some fine Italians. You can always depend on waiters like Santino Doracio for earnest, efficient and informed service.
Pescatore Palace, 3400 N. River Rd., Franklin Park, serves lunch and dinner daily. Entrees are priced from $12.95 to $32.95. Banquets for up to 320. Plentiful parking. Weekend reservations advised. (847) 678-0895.