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Review Mon Dec 05 2011

Review: Filini @ the Aqua Building

Tucked beneath the billowing balconies of the Aqua Building, the Hotel Radison quietly opened up a new dining spot for their hotel patrons, corporate types of the Aon Tower, and the occasional architecture-geek tourist. With latte grey banquets, eggplant purple booths and pearly white table tops, Filini is draped in stark 21st century decor that somehow manages to provide the perfect backdrop for its warm country Italian cuisine. I was invited by Filini to see what Chef Christian Fantoni, who hails from Northern Italy, was working with and judging by the courses that I preferred on the menu, it shows.

I slid into our five-foot-high backed booth and immediately felt oblivious to the world, or at least, to the rest of the restaurant. In fact, throughout the meal I kept feeling like I was sliding in and out of the hotel-ness of the place, mostly out.

I started with the burrata appetizer, and although we had to get through a bit of rougher cheese to get through to those sweet, creamy insides, it came nicely garnished with arugula, crisp cherry tomatoes, and slippery red peppers. The ribolatta, a so-called Tuscan bean soup with ham, sadly came with neither ham nor beans, more reminiscent of my mom's plain veggie soup.

Chef has a nice selection of Bruschettes which come in pairs, reasonably topped above a crostini. I opted for the Ceci, which came decked with arugula, wrinkly black olives, roasted red bell pepper, one big shave of Parmesan and anchovies. It was salty, crisp and you could actually bite it, without the remaining ingredients toppling onto your plate; a feat I find most bruschettes fail to achieve.

But really, the best way to judge an Italian restaurant rests in one question. Do you make your own pastas? I know this is a corporate place and all, but can any self-respecting Italian serve factory-made pasta? The answer irrefutably should be no. Fantoni's pastas were toothsome, appropriately dressed and fantastic. Properly piled papardelle arrived with a dark wild boar ragu, and only after poking around the dish for a solid 10 minutes did I discover what gave it that iconic depth: the pasta had been laced with cocoa powder. The garganelli, tossed in a mascarpone and white truffle sauce with salty prosciutto and fresh radicchio, was a well-balanced sweet and salty bite. I dared not venture into their secondi part of the menu, since I felt perfectly sated with pasta, but if I had, the olive oil-poached halibut with brussel sprouts, wild mushrooms and macadamia nuts would have been a good bet.

I finished with the Torta, a ricotta and mascarpone Italian cheesecake accompanied by pistachio gelato and candied fruits. After the heavy creaminess of the pasta, it was perhaps a bit heavy, but worth it.

Filini doesn't have the authenticity of some other fine spots in Chicago, but when you're chained to corporate suppliers, how can your arugula -ased dish be as good as one that uses local farms? Despite my wishing it wasn't so, Filini is a hotel restaurant, but one that is pursuing cuisine in an honest, authentic way. It also has a very charming bar, which if you sit nearer to the windows, and away from the two, very out-of-place flat screen TVs, it would be a great spot for an after dinner drink. Their bar menu is replete with wood-fired pizzas and a few star selections from the dinner menu.

Filini, Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago
221 North Columbus Drive

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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