Just a couple of months ago, we dined at Cafe Spiaggia in Chicago but the experience was not up to par. Through communication with restaurant management, we were extended the opportunity to return for dinner so that we could see the full potential of this iconic restaurant.
This time she opted to try the flagship location which is right next door to the location we had tried before. Upon arrival we were informed that we were set up at the Chef’s Table. What? That’s amazing! Huge kudos for the table location goes to Spiaggia! When we arrived at our table, we were just a few steps out of the kitchen and also had the great view of iconic Michigan Ave. With a slight turn of your neck, you could watch the hustle and bustle of the kitchen. Immediately upon sitting down the waitstaff greeted us and started to review the menu with us. The first thing on the list of to-dos was was to order a drink!
I naturally went with my go to drink, an Old Fashioned. As you may know there are many variations of the Old Fashioned out there. This variation was one of my favorites. Normally I love the recipes with a little extra cherry favor. This version was light on the cherry but still one of the best ones I’ve ever had. Lauren had a custom cocktail with pineapple and vodka. She was happy to report that her drink was delicious as well. Refreshing and not too sweet unlike most cocktails made with juice that can be too sweet.
My version of the Old Fashioned came with a fantastically fancy ice cube! It had the restaurant’s name on the actual ice cube! How cool was that!
There were three options for dinner this evening. A five-course tasting menu or an eight-course tasting menu and then there was an a la carte menu. Since this was a special occasion and we really wanted to see all of the great things that Spiaggia had to offer, we decided to go with the eight-course tasting menu. Both tasting menus can be accompanied by a wine tasting as well. But, based on our love of cocktails, we opted to pass on the wine tastings.
Before our first course arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to be served some of the most delicious bread and cheese! I’m not kidding you, we could have eaten just the bread and cheese and the entire night would have been a hit! At one point the server came by to tidy up the table and it looked like he may be reaching for the bread and cheese dish. Lauren quickly requested to keep the remainders for the rest of the meal! :)
First Course – Capesante
Capesante is light and refreshing dish made of fresh scallops and blood oranges. This was visually very appealing. The colors really popped from each other especially the blood orange on top of the scallops. The taste was quite wonderful, almost a set of fireworks in your mouth. Where I really struggled was with the texture. I have learned that I really enjoy scallops pan seared but not so much raw. Lauren loves scallops however, would have preferred them if they were cooked instead of raw. This was a great dish; however it was a bit more adventurous than we had anticipated.
Second Course – Insalata Invernale
While simple this salad was delicious. There were candied walnuts that added a wonderful sweet crunch in comparison to the rich earthy textures of the baby romaine and the kumquat. I did enjoy this quite a bit. Light, refreshing, wonderful.
Third Course – Casonsei in Brodo
This dish is basically ravioli stuffed with pheasant. First, I have to say that I have not been a fan of fowl or poultry outside of the standard chicken and turkey. There was no chicken on the menu which was actually refreshing to see. We appreciated the uniqueness of this dish but I started off a bit hesitant, however my lovely bride talked me into jumping into this dish head first. I was Pheasently surprised! Not only was pheasant light and not “gamey” tasting but it had it’s own unique flavor that can only be described as “meaty”. The broth that it was served in was deliciously salty and worked with the pasta that encased the pheasant.
Fourth Course – Pizzoccheri
We were both VERY excited for the pasta dish that came next! The whole wheat pasta and black trumpet mushroom combination worked well with the sauce. I believe the sauce was a clarified butter and garlic which was also simple and delicious. This is about the time that it started raining truffles on us. Literally……Since we were at the Chef’s Table, we were really close to the man in charge of the truffles. Oh man was Chef Joe Flamm generous with the truffles. He ventured over to our table several times throughout the meal to explain the dish to us and then shave fresh truffles right on top. It was interesting to hear about the dish and where the truffles originated from. The truffles on this course is what really made it. The earthy texture of the truffle married well with the richness of the butter sauce. We both really enjoyed this course!
Fifth Course – Risotto Tartufato
Do you see the bread and cheese in the background!? I’m hungry just looking at it! We might just have to go back for more!
Risotto is one of those classics that everyone seems to try but very few seem to master both in flavor and texture. This risotto was everything savory all at once. Upon being served, the bowl was showered in truffles. The combination of the earthy truffles, the starch from the risotto combined with the fonduta was heaven in a bowl.
***This dish was one of the favorites of the entire meal!
Sixth Course – Dentice
The sixth course is composed of red snapper and pancetta. When I received this course, I will admit that I had lost track of where we were in the tasting menu. I wasn’t expecting fish when I jumped in to this. The red snapper and the pancetta along with the heat from the horseradish went really well together for a really light flavor combination. The snapper’s texture with the crunch of pancetta added a nice crunch to the horseradish pop. While the picture makes the portion look quite small, it was just the right amount. Lauren particularly enjoyed this dish.
Seventh Course – Agnello
This was it! What we had been waiting for! The time had come! In the last of the savory courses we were served two perfectly prepared pieces of lamb. The Chef greeted us table side and explained the process to achieve the greatness that this dish embodies. This was some of the best lamb that we have ever had. It was cooked to perfect. The flavor was robust, intense and rich. The potato pave was also some cheese and potato deliciousness. One thing that cannot go unmentioned was the lamb belly marmalade. It was savory and sweet at the same time which added rich flavor to the entire dish.
Eighth Course – Monte Bianco
It’s time for dessert! The first thing you notice when this is delivered is the mountain portion of this desert. The tall meringue pieces form a tent to cover the delicious gelato in the heart of the mountain. Although this was a fancy take on gelato, it was deconstructed and combined all of the textures and flavors wonderfully. A true presentation! The beautiful flower was an elegant touch. Mine came with a candle since we were celebrating my birthday!
Our experience with Spiaggia was much different than it was just a few months prior. We are unsure if this experience was based on our first experience or if bench mark for service is so much higher on the Spiaggia rather than Café Spiaggia. I would make the recommendation that if you are looking for a great meal and an even better experience, you must go to Spiaggia. The intimate setting and the access to the Chef really make this location superior to it’s sister restaurant.
We just cannot say enough about how spectacular the service was. We were made to feel like we were the only customers at the restaurant. And we were not. The restaurant was filled with reservations. Yet, every time we needed something and sometimes when we didn’t even know we needed something, there was a server there to assist. Lauren still raves about how she felt like the queen for the night. At one point, Lauren lifted her glass and there was a server on standby to wipe up the condensation on the table which had been created by her glass. The food was spectacular, the location of the table was phenomenal but it was the service that really stood out for us!
We are so incredibly glad that we had the opportunity to revisit Spiaggia and we were incredibly impressed! If you have the opportunity to give it a try, do yourself a favor…….go for it! And don’t be shy….order the tasting menu! It’s so worth it!