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babern38

Spiaggia - Chicago

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During a recent family trip to Chicago we dined at Spiaggia for the first time. I had read numerous wonderful reviews of Spiaggia, seeing its numerous awards and was excited to go. When reading reviews on Citysearch, etc. the only negative things I came across was usually regarding the small portions and the high price. I really believed such comments were coming from individuals who are not use to such fine dining and were expecting family style portions. I was wrong.

First off, the room is lovely and we were given a great seat as requested by the windows to overlook the street. We were then given two menus and instructed that one contained the degustation menus, while the other was the ala carte.

Having completed all 22 courses at Moto the previous night, we elected for the ala carte and complied with the advised need to order three courses to be full (not including desert)

To make a long story short, the prices are extremely expensive. The four of us all ordered different items so I will spare details, but $17 for a single ravioli (1.5x larger than boyardee) stuffed with some prorcini in a basic cream sauce(reminded me of Ragu's alfredo, a little gritty) and a dash of truffle oil was not worth the price. It did taste good, but so does Olive Garden. $45+ for a 4oz. filet mignon on potatoes is absurd, especially since it was rare and not medium as my mother requested. Many of the dishes were mushy and frankly bland tasting. Two of the dishes I tried seemed heavily overseasoned with sea salt (even my wife's salad)

I think I was the only one who lucked out with the entree as I ordered the veal chop which was a hearty portion and tasted wonderful as well. No complaints there.

On a positive note, we did enjoy two nice bottles of wine, but come desert, we ordered nothing (saving $12 per person), took our mignardises and headed to Margie's Candies for some amazing sundaes ($15 for 3)

Actually, before we decided against dessert at Spiaggia, I went to the bathroom to use my cell phone to call TRU to see if we could get in for a dessert tasting, but they couldn't seat us till 11PM which was 2 hours away. :sad: It worked out cause Margie's was great.

Now I don't want to spark the old time debate about how much are you willing to pay for a good meal. I thought the food was generally decent and the setting was great for a fine italian meal, but defintely not worth the price or the praise of James Beard Award, etc.


Edited by babern38 (log)

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Now I don't want to spark the old time debate about how much are you willing to pay for a good meal.  I thought the food was generally decent and the setting was great for a fine italian meal, but defintely not worth the price or the praise of James Beard Award, etc.

... and so I've heard from others... and so I have not been. :sad:


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I've never been but I've heard many good things about Spiaggia. Also, I really loved Tony Mantuano's cooking at Tuttaposto and Mantuano's Table. Based on multiple meals I ate at those 2 establishments, the Beard Award seems well-deserved, to say the least. It's disappointing to read a bad account but I don't think it will dissuade me from checking out Spiaggia in the very near future. It's actually been near the top of my "must try" list for a few months. I hope my experience is better than the one shared here by babern.

Also, it's just not fair to compare anything to Margie's. Let's face it, the place is in a league of its own. :biggrin:

=R=


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I have been to Spiaggia twice in the last two years. Although I probably had a more interesting "experience" at Alinea, from a pleasure-of-dining perspective, Spiaggia is my favorite restaurant in Chicago.

I agree, it's pricey, but no more so than Trotter's, Tru and others in that range. I think the food has been excellent in general (I have the veal chop last time as well, which was wonderful), and portion sizes more than adequate (I was too full for anything more than a bite of my wife's dessert). The service has always been oustanding, up there with Alinea in terms of excellence while not being too formal or stuffy.

To be fair, this is not the first time that I have heard criticisms of that type about Spiaggia...most of the time, I feel like those comments have been from people who are reluctant to think of italian in a fine dining sense and have some bias/preference for french food.

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I've been going to Spiaggia since it opened - 4 or 5 times a year - and I have always enjoyed it. It's a beautiful room and the food and service have never been less than excellent. And yes, it can be quite pricey, but no more so than a number of other fine dining restaurants in Chicago.

That said, I've only ever had an ocassion to complain once. A couple of years ago, my wife selected Spiaggia for Father's Day dinner. Along with our daughter, who was 9 at the time and had dined there previously, we were joined by my wife's parents. I don't recall what the adults ordered but, my daughter mentioned she was not feeling well and that she would like to order off the menu - a simple plate of penne and marinara sauce. The server acknowledged her order.

When the meals were served, my daughter received what she ordered and it was perfect - a smaller starter portion of quite good pasta and sauce. Nothing more. When it came time to settle up, my wife requested the bill and when reviewing it, stated "Oh My God". Since she is familiar with the prices at Spiaggia, I was somewhat taken aback and asked her what the problem was. The little plate of penne and marinara was $35 - probably comparable to, if not more expensive, than the individual entrees ordered by the adults.

When questioned, the server told my wife that $35 was the minimum charge for items ordered off-menu and that the charge could not be adjusted to a more reasonable amount. Something about their "system" not allowing it. My wife took the bill to the manager who found an easy solution - he simply voided the bill and issued a new one removing the pasta dish altogether.

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Spiaggia is expensive. It is certainly not for the budget minded. However, I have found the food to be absolutely perfect - taste, presentation and service are all outstanding. The prices and portions are inline with any other fine dining restaurant in the city, and the view cannot be matched.

For those looking for slightly larger portions and slightly lower prices, perhaps Cafe Spiaggia would be more to their liking. The food there is also fantastic, just different.

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I have been to "Spiaggia" several times and, prices aside, I have never understood the accolades. I would not say it is the "Olive Garden" but, in my humble opinion, it is terribly overrated. A beautiful restaurant with a great view.

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I would not say it is the "Olive Garden" but, in my humble opinion, it is terribly overrated.

Lenski,

I can not see how you could put that restaurant as a reference point to Spiaggia. Even if you are not a fan, the ingredients alone are in another world as the place that you named. The ownership in the restaurant has changed over the last year so perhaps it has suffered, but not to that extent. The accolades were well deserved while Chef Paul Bartolotta was at the helm. I think the restaurant is better now than when Chef Mantuano ran the restaurant previously.

Molto E


Eliot Wexler aka "Molto E"

MoltoE@restaurantnoca.com

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I would not say it is the "Olive Garden" but, in my humble opinion, it is terribly overrated.

Lenski,

I can not see how you could put that restaurant as a reference point to Spiaggia. Even if you are not a fan, the ingredients alone are in another world as the place that you named. The ownership in the restaurant has changed over the last year so perhaps it has suffered, but not to that extent. The accolades were well deserved while Chef Paul Bartolotta was at the helm. I think the restaurant is better now than when Chef Mantuano ran the restaurant previously.

Molto E

I was using babern38 point of comparison, which I thought exaggerated. However, you take the setting away from Spiaggia and you are left with, in my humble opinion, a very expensive restaurant and so-so food. And I was there in 2006 (a friend works there) .

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My team at work was kind enough to give in to my wishes and schedule a team dinner at Spiaggia. This would mark my birthday and first time I could legally drink with them. Certainly an occasion worth celebrating.

As others have mentioned, the savory dishes at Spiaggia are mad expensive. I wish I could offer another key takeaway from my meal there but really its cost shocked and has stuck with me. I’m sure I’ve paid far more per dish in a tasting menu or prix fixe setting, but Spiaggia’s a la carte menu is something of a wake up call. One doesn’t usually see $29 appetizers or expect to pay $24 for a single moderately sized scallop in this country. Granted, this isn’t that expensive compared to some formal French restaurants in New York or Las Vegas and doesn’t even register on the European price scale, but for Chicago and for Italian cuisine the prices are quite high. The portions, while not explicitly small, do not help one feel a sense of value. Over a couple thousand internet message board posts on food I don’t think I’ve ever made comments of this nature.

With those issues out of the way, I’ll do my best to objectively report on my meal. The dining room itself is quite attractive. I liked the light fixtures, sparse foliage, and terraced layout with enclosed-but-visible kitchen. As far as modern Italian fine-dining goes, I can’t imagine a better setting. Sure, the view could be better but that’s really splitting hairs.

I started off with a peach bellini made from local peaches. Very nice, not too sweet. The wine list actually has some tasty selections in the $55-$65 range that are quite tasty. The two selections I made with the help of my captain were thoroughly enjoyable—I will confess, however, that my knowledge of Italian grapes is severely lacking. The standard moscato d’asti, available by the glass on the dessert menu is rather one-dimensional and uninteresting, however.

The selection of breads is wide for an Italian restaurant even if they are not of particularly high quality. They’re good but nothing evoked starchy ecxtasy. We started with an amuse of poached lobster with tarragon and a citrus puree. A nice beginning if somewhat perfunctory. My first course was probably the highlight of my meal, lobster spaghetti. It wasn’t so much that the lobster or spaghetti were particularly good, but the sauce that bound the two was excellent. I could’ve eaten an entire bowl of the lobster sauce as a course in itself; I didn’t even need the distractions of pasta and poached lobster meat. I also shared the pane frattau--a sort of layered pasta/flatbread dish--with another companion but found this to be uninspiring. Not a bad vegetarian option but somewhat overwhelmed by the acidity of the tomato sauce.

For my main I had the grilled veal chop with morels and crispy sweetbreads. I selected this dish because I wanted sweetbreads and was drawn to the morels; the veal was kind of an afterthought. The dish followed in much the same fashion: the sweetbreads were nice if somewhat dry and the morels flavorful and crispy. It was the rather large veal chop that was somewhat stringy and underdone. Medium-rare was definitely rare and blue on the bone.

For dessert I had the baba rum cake with poached cherries and whipped cream with the aforementioned moscato d’asti. The baba was a somewhat light on the rum but as far as simple desserts go I can’t really complain. I tried a companion’s honey goat cheese gelato and enjoyed it very much.

So all in all a very good meal, one that I can’t objectively complain too much about. Everything I ate was at least good, but, besides the lobster, nothing really moved me. I can see the appeal of Spiaggia—as an Italian restaurant it’s truly unique, there’s nothing quite like it in New York—but it just didn’t quite live up to the hype.


Edited by BryanZ (log)

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Sounds like a very good and accurate report and assessment given my previous experience. Thanks.

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