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Francesca's al Lago

In a word: Standard link in Chicago chain.

The specs: #0629  
Address, hours & details via Isthmus; reviews at at first taste, Isthmus, Ruppert Food Blog, 77 Square, Eat Drink Madison, Yelp, TDPF; official web site, Twitter, Open Table, Francesca's on Urbanspoon

Latest Francesca's al Lago news and reviews

Dan R. ate the broccoli rigatoni.
JM ate the chicken Caesar salad with a lemonade.
Kevin ate the panino con carne di Manzo minus the onions.
Livi ate the veggie sandwich.
Nichole ate the lentil salad and truffle fries.
The bill was $52, or $10ish/person, plus tip.
JM gave Francesca's al Lago a B; Nichole gave Francesca's al Lago a C+ (see our grading rubric).

We went to Francesca's for a weekday lunch. At exactly noon the place filled up with downtown professionals. Our ragtag group were definitely the exception, but we had excellent service and appreciated the grand decor. We stuck to salads, sandwiches, and pasta, leaving a significant, pizza-shaped lacuna in this report.

The food was presented well and was surprisingly moderate in cost. None of us were incredibly impressed, but no one, except perhaps poor Kevin and his panino con carne di Manzo, was utterly let down.

The star-crossed steak sandwich was medium-thick, medium-cooked beef sliced onto toasted, heavily buttered bread with what Kevin found to be an overpowering aioli. A little garnish goes a long way, although "the looks far oustrip the taste," he noted. He ended up taking most of the sandwich home but let someone else eat it.

Livi's veg sandwich was tasty but weighed heavily in her stomach, due mostly to the bread. It was like a cross between a pita and a baking powder biscuit. The filling was made of mushrooms, peppers and cheese with more aioli.

The truffle aspect of the truffle fries was so subtle as to be undetectable, but it seems all the fries at Francesca's are truffled by default. (This might be worth knowing if you're a reporter in need of a place to set up an influential woman for a hatchet job, a la last spring's "Trufflegate".)

Steak sandwichTruffle friesVeggie sandwich

Nichole's lentil salad's main shortcoming was that it got boring after three days straight. It easily turned into two lunches with a little brown rice and more veg added at home; there was enough oily, buttery dressing and salt to stretch. The individual lentils were pert and tender but overwhelmed the diced carrots, the little bit of spinach, and the soft, salty goat cheese.

The chicken Caesar was standard: thoroughly dressed Romaine, cool sliced chicken breast, shards of Parmesan, and crispy croutons, though it did finish itself as one meal.

Chicken CaesarLentils

The pasta dish Dan tried, broccoli rigatoni, was also light on vegetables and heavy on the oil and garlic.

Pasta and broccoli

Given the hopping-ness of the place, maybe there are some gems that we didn't find on our single stop.

Our other story about Francesca's is that last summer Nichole found a Francesca's staff tshirt in a ditch. She picked it up, washed it off, and failed to return it to the restaurant. You can debate the ethics of that, though the shirt is no longer with us.

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