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Restaurant Tue Apr 30 2013

(Re)visiting Spiaggia

Spiaggia.jpg

Burrata with Petrossian Alverta President caviar, asparagus and Manni "Per Me" extra virgin olive oil

The approach to the host's stand at a restaurant can often be an awkward exchange--party of three, how long is the wait, can we have a drink the bar--but walking into the circular marble foyer of Spiaggia, there's no ambiguity: reservation or not, they know you're coming. At least, that's what the meticulously prepared food led me to believe.

My friend and I showed early on a Saturday evening, expecting to be one of the few diners present for dinner when the sun was still going strong outside; however, as we entered the restaurant's high-ceilinged main room, our table was one of the few open seats in the place. Spiaggia, which expands over several floors in an otherwise nondescript building that looks like it was intended to house a galaxy of conference rooms, has a clear view of the point when a part of Lake Shore Drive splits into the staccato of Michigan Avenue. Thousands of cars swirled by the large, clear windows as we dove into Spiaggia's tasting menus.

To avoid the regret that can accompany the overconsumption of bread at the beginning of the meal, I thought I'd ask our server to skip the carbs at our table--after all, I had a lot of food coming to me, based on my research. Peering into the offered tray of handmade breads, I had no choice but to indulge many times during the meal, with a particular fondness for a basil-tinged roll that when cracked open, revealed a dough so intricate that it resembled the clean rings of a halved Sequoia tree.

Having studied the menus in advance of our meal, it was a near-giddy experience to see the parade of dishes placed in front of my companion and me. Having ordered different tasting courses (pasta for me, truffles for my companion), we frequently shared our food, but certain items--for me, a fettucine alfredo laced with Jidori chicken skin, a dish of squid ink-dyed spaghetti with prawns for him--were quickly taken off the bargaining table at first bite. No sharing; and at more intense moments, no talking as we stared off into space, slowly chewing something rich and memorable. We nearly came to blows over the final bites of a fresh, expertly cooked sea scallop with truffle (cooler heads and indoor voices prevailed). Given that we were Spiaggia's guests for the meal (courtesy of Acqua Panna), I said to him through pursed lips, "Let's just be happy that we're here, not that one of us got more."

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Acini di Pepe pasta with spring vegetables, pecorino Toscano and Barilotto ricotta.

Being a non-drinker, I was prepared (and content) to get a steady pour of water throughout the evening. While my friend enjoyed the tasting menu's wine pairings, I was given a delightful series of fruit juice and tea concoctions, my favorite being a mix of orange and cranberry juice with grapefruit San Pellegrino and a sprig of rosemary that I am positive will be recreated in my kitchen down the line.

While some higher-end restaurants in Chicago focus on things like the limitless possibilities of agar agar or modern takes on charcuterie, there's a reason why places like Spiaggia, which has been around for 20+ years, still rightfully own a place in the canon of fine dining. The service is professional yet personable; the food is decadent yet not overpowering. Yes, it's expensive; very expensive. My companion and I felt way out of our league as we scanned the dining room chock full of intimidating, crisp suits and well-coiffed heads. But the minute new plates were set down in front of us, the world beyond our table suddenly didn't matter.

Spiaggia
980 N. Michigan Ave.
(312) 280-2750

 
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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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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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