Wednesday, February 9, 2011

cafe spiaggia, chicago il

980 north michigan avenue
chicago, il 60611

after checking in at the james hotel, our first stop on our two day chicago getaway was lunch at cafe spiaggia. the cafe, located on the second floor of an office building on michigan avenue, is the the casual sibling of the more upscale restaurant simply called spiaggia. both places share the same kitchen, and feature italian cooking from chef/partner tony mantuano. the cafe is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week, while the main house offers only dinner.

after a five minute walk from the hotel in single digit temperature, we arrived at the restaurant about ten minutes early for our 1:30 reservation. this was no problem at all, and we were seated at a table in the window with a view (albeit partially obstructed) overlooking the magnificent mile. for a truly breathtaking view, one must dine in the main house which features floor to ceiling panoramic windows.

we were quickly greeted by our server, a middle aged man, who poured water and went over the menu with us. we were left to look things over, and put in our order when he returned five minutes later.

after about ten minutes, our cocktails arrived. my choice (pictured first) was the bellini nuovo. the drink was made with adami prosecco, trenel creme de peche, and a lemon twist. carrie's cocktail, entitled la spiaggia, featured ketel citroen, fresh pomegranate juice, adami prosecco, and a lemon twist. due to the sparkling wine, both drinks danced on the palate, and were very light and refreshing.

after a few minutes with our cocktails, our first courses arrived. called brodetto, my choice was a tomato and saffron based soup with clams, mussels, and red snapper.

the bietole salad was carrie's first course, and proved to be a great way to get things started. the salad consisted of beets, capriole goat cheese, pistachios, and pink peppercorns.

along with the first courses, some delicious bread was brought to the table. incredibly soft, the bread paired beautifully with the house made olive oil on the table. also present were some chips of some sort, which i likened to a cheez-it.

after finishing our first courses, we were again left to wait about ten minutes before our mains arrived. while i will say that i would prefer service that is too slow as opposed to too fast, i don't like the feeling of being forgotten. in any event, my entree for lunch was the gnocchi with wild boar ragu and parmigiano reggiano. i knew going in that this was the dish i wanted, as i had read many great reviews of it on chowhound and the like. to add to the hype, upon ordering the dish, our waiter raved about how much i was going to love it. simply put, the gnocchi was incredible. topped with a large amount of shredded wild boar, the pasta had the perfect texture, being wonderfully soft yet not at all mushy.

carrie's lunch entree was the tagliolini with olive oil poached tuna, corno di capra peppers, and basil toasted breadcrumbs. this was a fairly light dish flavor wise, but was unfortunately marred by the slightly overcooked tuna. the pasta was cooked well, and the basil breadcrumbs saved the dish in my opinion. we normally trade plates halfway through, and we both determined the gnocchi to be the clear winner.

with yet another long wait between entrees and desserts, carrie and i devised a plan for the rest of our afternoon. while the service at cafe spiaggia was very slow, our server was extremely helpful and friendly throughout the entire meal. for dessert, my selection was the called tartelletta. this was a valhrona chocolate and pistachio custard tart with a cinnamon rice milk sorbetto. rich chocolate desserts done well are one of my favorite things, and the tartelletta was excellent.

carrie, a lover of tiramisu, deemed cafe spiaggia's interpretation of the classic dessert as the best she has ever had. the tiramisu was extremely light in texture, and was indeed sublime.

to pair with our desserts, we each ordered a small cup of hot chocolate, and got a bit more than we bargained for. the hot chocolate was literally melted chocolate with a touch of milk added. it was like drinking an incredibly rich chocolate syrup. the hot chocolate was delicious for dipping to accompanying biscotti into, but was hard to drink much of on its own.

after settling the bill, we hit the restrooms, and snuck over to the main house to see if the view from the dining room lived up to the hype. we both agreed that it was amazing, and decided we would have to fit a meal at spiaggia proper into a future trip. as for our lunch at the cafe, with the exception of the slow service and the mediocre tuna in one of the pastas, we really enjoyed our meal. however i will say that with all the other places chicago has to offer (as well as a future dinner at the main house) , i can't see us returning to cafe spiaggia anytime soon.

Cafe Spiaggia on Urbanspoon

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