Spiaggia is the only four-star Italian restaurant in Chicago. After 30 years in business, it recently got a makeover. Now, service is focused on two pre-fixe menus. It’s new “little sister,” Cafe Spiaggia, is attached at the hip in the same space. Friday night, I stopped in at this new cafe for an early dinner.
Both spaces are located on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, just 4 blocks north of
the Chicago ‘L’ stop along the CTA Red Line. Most of the buses running on Michigan Avenue will stop there as well.
Chef/Partner, Tony Mantuano is culinary royalty in Chicago. He is a James Beard award winner. In addition to Spiaggia/Cafe Spiaggia, Chef Mantuano is Chef/Partner at the fabulous River Roast, The Purple Pig, Bar Toma (an Italian pizzeria) and Terzo Piano (a Mediterranean restaurant in the Modern Art wing of the Art Institute of Chicago).
Here’s how my dinner went down:
I chose to sit by the sunny window overlooking Michigan Avenue with a view of the Hancock Building. Then, I started things off with this well-executed Aperol Spritz. Just the kind of refreshing cocktail to kick off a beautiful weekend. Lately, I have been finding some really great Venetian Spritz cocktails around town (Bar Ombra, Osteria Langhe). It was no surprise that I can add this one to the list.
The bread and parmesan crackers pictured above were no mere afterthought. I took my time and had my way with them.
The menu here is divided into starters, small pastas and main entrees. A selection of charcuterie and crudo are available as well.
It was really difficult to choose. However, I decided to get the heirloom tomatoes with house made lemon ricotta, basil and chives. After all, right now is the height of tomato season. I chose wisely. Look how beautiful they are!
Every bite of tomato was sweet and juicy. The ricotta was creamy and tangy. The aroma of the basil and chive screamed summer. I suggest that you get in here and order this dish, while there is still time left in the season.
Who else loves farro? I adore that nutty grain. I am always delighted when I see it on a menu, especially in an Italian restaurant. This time, farro shows up in the form of spaghetti which is accompanied by manila clams, garlic, onions, Calabrian peppers, bread crumbs, lemon zest, parsley and a generous amount of excellent olive oil.
Chef Mantuano is known for his delectable gnocchi with wild boar which I had on my birthday several years ago. It is still on his menu, after all this time. Well, here’s hoping this particular farro spaghetti has the same longevity. I love this dish! It is probably one of the most memorable plates of food I have ever eaten. Anywhere. I mean it.
The thing I love most about Italian cooking at its finest, is the commitment to combining only a few stellar ingredients in the most thoughtful proportions. I was careful to slowly and carefully take in each fork full so that I could taste each of the components. The spaghetti was a perfect al dente. The clams were tender and sweet. The sauce? Well, it’s almost impossible for me to describe it without glowing. I mean that both figuratively and literally 🙂 I always hold that there is no such thing as too much garlic or olive oil. I am glad I saved some bread to soak up the remaining sauce. Chef Mantuano and his team got it sooo right. This is one sexy dish!
As I mentioned earlier, Cafe Spiaggia is a small, cozy adjunct of the main restaurant next door. It is bright and sleek with the same friendly, attentive and knowledgeable staff. It is open for dinner every day. Lunch is available Monday-Saturday.
Cafe Spiaggia is located at 980 N. Michigan Avenue (2nd Floor). Click here for more information.
In keeping with the spirit of Feeding Off The Rails, I encourage you to leave your car at home and take the CTA Red Line to Cafe Spiaggia. Save on gas. Avoid traffic, road rage and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!