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RestoReview: Spiaggia (Chicago)

Dear Friends & Readers,

This year I celebrated my birthday a bit late due to a business trip to Dallas.  While drinks and Texas BBQ with my fellow attorney Jane were fun, I was itching for a proper celebration.  The Pirate travels a bunch for work and usually goes to Chicago about once a month.  I had never been so I decided to join him for the weekend. It was a lot of fun. especially because we got together with our Austrian friends: now I know why they call them the Fun Version of Germans! And I know plenty of fun Germans already.  The Pirate planned a great dinner atSpiaggia, Obama’s favorite restaurant. I was curious to see if the President and super fit Michelle have a refined palate, too. Oh yes they do!

Spiaggia is located on the second floor of a building, away from the prying eyes of shoppers strolling along Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the Magnificent Mile. Conveniently, it is also located few steps from the chicest shops, in case someone need to buy me a last minute birthday present.

First off, as usual, the ambiance. This Modern Italian Restaurant has an upscale yet comfortable ambiance.  You will want to wear a jacket because you would otherwise feel underdressed but, the atmosphere is not stuffy and stale.  The staff is very attentive, if you just look their way, they will come by and ask if you need anything.  The restaurant has a row of tables next to the marvelous window overlooking the Magnificent Mile and more tables on a mezzanine. These are the best tables in the house because you can look outside the window or take in the beautiful flower decorations inside of the restaurant, while looking at the bar or the open kitchen.

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Spiaggia’s chef, Tony Mantuano, is a familiar face if, like me, you religiously watch Top Chef.  His food was always great on camera and I was curious to see whether my expectations were met. As an Italian people may think I am biased towards American Chefs cooking Italian food, but that is not the case. One of my favorite restaurants in New York is Scarpetta and its chef and mastermind is American (albeit with Italian heritage). The same applies to many great American Chefs cooking Italian food, such as Michael White and Mario Batali, just to name a few.  So Chef Mantuano had 2 points in his favor already, the last name and the Bravo notoriety. I truly believe he cooked one of the best birthday meals I have ever had (… sorry mom, you are a great home cook too).

Kurt and I decided to order a la carte because we wanted to try a bit of everything. but before I tell you what we ate I need to confess that the bread basket at Spiaggia is addictive. I don’t know what was in the focaccia but they might as well rename it the crack focaccia (like Christina Tosi’s crack pie) because it was amazing. For appetizers we had a wood roasted cheese with egg on top and truffle sauce and a beef carpaccio roll.  Both appetizers were excellent in that they had an unexpected texture. The cheese was warm and creamy, served with some focaccia to make what in Italian we would call “scarpetta”.  The carpaccio has great texture due to the crunchy outside layer (I am totally going to steal this idea!)

In an Italian Restaurant you need to try the pasta, right? We shares black tagliolini with lobster.  The dish was great, with plump pieces of lobster and perfectly cooked homemade pasta with just a hint of garlic.  Our entree, or maybe I should say secondo piatto was porchetta with mushrooms and walnuts and seabass with preserved lemon and cauliflower puree. The porchetta was absolutely delicious: a thick slice of meat with crispy skin and perfectly rendered fat that contributed to the juicy texture.  The seabass was very light and refreshing but clearly the Pirate’s porchetta stole the show.

Finally we had a celebratory dessert: gelato for Kurt and zabaione stuffed doughnuts for me.  While a birthday cake would have been more appropriate I enjoyed the doughnuts so much more because of the delicious zabaione and the pairing with fresh berries.  Needless to say we were stuffed but when the waiter brought us the check with petit fours we devoured them too.

It was a great meal in a romantic restaurant, and I can’t wait to go back!

Ciao