Snow and freezing temps arrived early this year in Chicago but I don’t mind. I have always had a good relationship with winter. In fact, I prefer winter to the scorching heat of summer. However, the very sudden drop in mercury this weekend was like a slap in the face, even for me. Rather than whine about the situation, last Friday I decided to lessen the chilly sting by treating myself to lunch at my favorite restaurant in town, Siena Tavern.
While I rode the CTA Red Line to the River North neighborhood, I had visions of homemade seasonal pasta dancing in my head. But, by the time I exited the train at the Grand Avenue ‘L’ stop and walked 3 blocks south to Siena Tavern, I had a new attitude. I would save the agnolotti with parsnips, chestnuts and pancetta for another visit here. Instead, I “thumbed my nose” just a little at the sudden sneak attack which winter brought on Chicago by ordering what many would consider a classically summer lunch. Lobster roll. Gelato. Personally, I don’t think there is an inappropriate or bad time of year to eat lobster or gelato. Here is how my lunch went down:
My lobster roll appeared before me looking all sweet and gorgeous! It consisted of succulent, citrus-poached Maine lobster, a bit of frisee and sliced tomato nestled inside a toasted brioche bun. The lobster was dressed ever so lightly with a bacon vinaigrette and an herb aioli. A small bowl of parmesan-sage fries accompanied it. Yum! A bit of summer lived on!
No visit to Siena Tavern would be complete without dessert. As someone who usually skips dessert, this is a bold statement coming from me. Consider it my “Call To Action.” On this particular visit, I ordered the housemade gelati. Believe me when I say it is extremely difficult to choose from the ever-changing flavors. But, in keeping with the season, I chose to split my order with one scoop of bourbon, maple, pecan gelato and one scoop of the apple pie gelato. Being the lady my mama raised, I refrained from licking the bowl. It was truly a test of my self-control! Both of these flavors were extraordinary. I could taste every intended ingredient. And, there were real pieces of apple pie in the apple pie gelato. The consistency of Siena Tavern’s gelati really brings me back to my travels throughout Florence which, in this case, is fitting 🙂
I blogged about Siena Tavern earlier this year in a piece which was specifically about Pastry Chef, Amy Arnold. I have sent many people to Siena Tavern just so they could taste her desserts. Ms. Arnold is a lovely, yet very modest pastry magician! Chicago is very lucky to have her here. I finally got to meet her during my visit on Friday. I tried to coax her into putting her phenomenal cannoli back on the dessert menu, as I believe it is the best cannoli I have ever eaten anywhere (including NYC). Stay tuned…Until then, take a look at the very popular bomboloni (Italian donuts) which are served along side tiny bottles of flavored syrups and creams which you plunge directly inside these warm pillows of perfection.
Earlier, I mentioned that Siena Tavern is my favorite restaurant in Chicago and I mean it. This is a significant admission, since Chicago has been undergoing a dining scene rebirth over the last few years, or as I like to call it, a “gastronaissance.” It has become more than an excellent meat and potatoes town. Since moving here from New York City in 2005, I have witnessed Chicago give rise to Top Chef contestants and winners, James Beard winners and Michelin-rated restaurants. Yet, among all of the great new dining options here, Siena Tavern holds a very special place in my heart.
Fabio Viviani, former Top Chef contestant, opened Siena Tavern with his partners from the Dine|Amic group in early 2013. The restaurant has been thriving ever since and it has received numerous accolades. It is not only a beautiful space with a casual yet elegant feel and sexy bar scene, it has one of the most consistently delicious menus I have ever tasted. I have been working my way through Siena Tavern’s housemade pastas, pizza bar, entrees, brunch and dessert menus. I have never been disappointed. Every visit to Siena Tavern has left me satisfied, happy and wanting more. More of the yummy food. More of the gracious and attentive staff. More of the fun atmosphere. Chef Viviani’s passionate and joyful attitude is infectious and it is clearly evident from his food and Siena Tavern’s enthusiastic, welcoming staff. Whether you are dining with friends or dining solo, as I did last Friday, you cannot pick a better spot in Chicago than Siena Tavern.
Siena Tavern is the restaurant I recommend most to local residents and out-of-town visitors. I am pleased to report that they all thanked me for the share 🙂
Siena Tavern is located at 51 W. Kinzie, at the corner of Dearborn and Kinzie. It is open every day for lunch and dinner. Brunch is available on Saturday and Sunday. The bar stays open late until 2am and on Saturday until 3am.
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 Siena Tavern. Save gas money. Avoid traffic and parking. Reduce pollution. Don’t drink and drive!