one boy, one girl: taking on Chicago one kitchen at a time

Gold Coast Italian: Cafe Spiaggia

Chef Tony Mantuano has been steadily expanding his Chicago empire with recent outpost Terzo Piano in 2009 and brand new Bar Toma in 2011. But Spiaggia remains his Michelin-starred prize and Cafe Spiaggia its more approachable little sister.

Same Spiaggia chefs, but priced more affordably? Sounds like a win, and for the most part, Cafe Spiaggia was exactly what it claimed to be. But it turns out that second fiddle Spiaggia isn’t much to write home about. It’s very good, mostly authentic Italian with good service in a nice space, but it’s hardly unique. And though the check is slim compared to Big Brother across the hall, the price tags push the upper edge of what is appropriate if you look beyond Michigan Avenue.

The carpaccio (source) and the gnocchi with wild boar ragu (source).

The carpaccio was well made and nicely flavored with black truffle oil and the gnocchi with wild boar ragu was a hit at the table, if a little heavy on the meat. The polpette were solid meatballs and the zucca was nice, but neither necessarily moved us. For dessert, the panna cotta veered light with several nice spice accents in the crumble topping, but the tiramisu was universally panned by the table as average.

No one opted to add fresh shaved truffles to their dinner for $45.

We will quit parsing our words, however, when it comes to the wine. If someone looks over the glass selection and asks, “These are prices for the bottle, right?” the restaurant might be overcharging. Take the most popular glass at the table, a 2008 Avignonesi Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano. This widely available wine can be had for $25 a bottle elsewhere, but was $20 a glass with dinner. With robbery of this caliber, no one ordered a second round.

So, it seems that Cafe Spiaggia keeps up that lacquered feel that pervades so much of the Gold Coast Michigan Avenue stretch: appearance first, with food good enough to impress those who don’t know better. It’s a fine place, but better deals are out there, and this just par showing has pushed Spiaggia proper down — and maybe off — the “To Visit” list.

  • 10 April 2012
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