tony mantuano

Spiaggia - Chicago, IL (One Michelin Star) Chef Tony Mantuano

People always ask me my top 5 favorite restaurants, Spiaggia will definitely always hold a place in the top 10. Its one of those dining memories that will always be “special” due to the atmosphere, food, location, and the people you dine with. Located on the famous North Michigan Ave, Spiaggia’s cathedral like windows gives you a glimpse of the not-so-clean, but still pretty coastline at night. 

Karen and Curtis - the happy couple. Yes, I am the third wheel. But do not feel sorry for me, my date is flying in after dinner.

Amuse bouche - chickpea salad

Golden spaghetti - cream, dill, caviar, oysters

My starter was almost the perfect bite. The pasta was nicely crunchy and mixture of cream and dill did not over power each other. 

Osetra caviar - with condiments

The perfect bite - blini, caviar, creme fraische, chives

Karen’s starter is one of my absolute top 5 favorite ingredients. So many delicious things compacted into one small bite, talk about serious food envy. Luckily, Karen is very generous and shares. =)

Entrees just hit the table.

 

Risotto.

This is a horrible picture but was so scrumptious!!!!!! The veal sweetbreads and the fried quail eggs were the icing on the creamy risotto. This was one of those, do not eat more than two bites because you will regret it later, moments. However, will power did not prevail here. 

Venison.

Curtis’s entree was one of the highlights of the dinner as well. The meat did not taste anything like game, and was cooked to a perfect medium rare. God bless the sous vide. 

Veal chop.

The perfect dining experience to me if from the beginning to the end. Every bite from the first sip of wine to the last petite four has made some sort of impression on your mind. Three years ago when I went to Spiaggia for the first time, it was a very memorable night. The atmosphere, service, food, ambiance, and company were all perfect. I had veal three years ago that the taste of the meat still lingers in my memories. It would suck if tonight did not live up to my expectations. Luckily, I was not disappointed. Tonight’s preparation was more of a traditional seared veal chop, but just as tasty. 

Karen and me. Full and buzzing… very happy. 

Cheese plate - the perfect dessert. 

Petite fours - truffles and candied orange slices, oh my… 

Spiaggia was a wonderful end to the first Michelin eating day excursion in Chicago. I could not have been more in heaven… 

4

Cafe Spiaggia

This past weekend, my wife & I celebrated our birthdays together.  We decided to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at Cafe Spiaggia.  True, it is not as nice as its sister restaurant Spiaggia, it was still much nicer than the places we usually go to since our son was born.

Given that Spiaggia is considered to be the best Italian restaurant in town (and supposedly the favorite restaurant of the Obama’s), we had high expectations.  A lot of times, the places we go to end up disappointing us.  I am glad to say though that Cafe Spiaggia met and exceeded our expectations.

Our favorite dish of the night was the sardines appetizer.  It was perfectly balanced and nicely seasoned.

At the end of the night, we were given a dining certificate because it was our birthdays, and most likely we will be going back in the near future.

If you would like to see a larger sized image or buy a print, click on the photo to visit my photography website.

You Had Me at "Antelope"

     When I think of antelope I think of creatures getting eaten by lions on the Discovery Channel. Not that I really spend a whole lot of time thinking about antelopes. Honestly I couldn’t even tell you if Brookfield Zoo or Lincoln Park zoo featured antelopes. So you can imagine my surprise to see that antelopes seem to be making their way to Chicago—in the form of sausage.

     Aaron Diener, the senior sous chef at Tony Mantuano’s Café Spiaggia, was kind enough to invite me in to try some antelope sausage. I was a little apprehensive at first, trying to drag some of my more adventurous friends with me. I really did not want to go by myself; I needed someone to go with me so I couldn’t back down. What if the meat was too gamey and I didn’t like it? What if the texture was too weird? What if it wasn’t seasoned well? There were a billion “what ifs”. I didn’t want to be rude and attempt to force down something I hated. I didn’t want to try as politely and discreetly as possible to spit a chunk of antelope awfulness into one of Spiaggia’s pristine white cloth napkins. I needed moral support in case any or all of my “what ifs” came true.

     Thankfully yesterday at work was just insane and left me frazzled, exhausted, hungry, and ready for a barrel of wine. And where better to find comfort food and wine than an Italian restaurant, right? So I finally made the trek from my office, down Michigan Avenue, and over to Café Spiaggia.

     The bartender, Brian, immediately became my new best friend after recommending a gorgeous white wine, a Bisson Vermentino, which I probably could have sat there until closing just drinking glass after glass (though again, crazy day at work, so I was probably biased towards anything with the slightest alcohol content at that point). I snacked on rosemary bread with olive oil until Aaron brought out one of the latest additions to Spiaggia’s menu, a crostini smeared with ricotta, topped with ribbons of salmon, shavings of cucumber, and bits of Calabrian peppers.

     I’m not really a fan of salmon. It’s odd that I’m not, considering I love fish and would probably live inside a sushi restaurant if given the opportunity. For some reason though, salmon and I are not friends. Thankfully, this dish was incredible. The fish itself was almost sushi-like, fresh and clean and delicate. Paired with the rest of the dish’s accoutrements it was absolutely perfect for a warm summer day. I would recommend this for even the pickiest of eaters (I know some people can be put off by the texture too but the crostini added that crunch and substance that a lot of people look for).

     As soon as that was gone it was antelope time. My apprehension completely faded away after the first bite. Served with a bit of glaze made with grilled apricots, ginger, and white wine, the sausage was fantastic. Aaron explained that antelope is such a lean meat that the sausage was made with a bit of pork in it too, and together they made an excellent piece of meat. When I was there Aaron had made a batch of blood sausages too, which means I will probably be returning to try those too. Eating antelope has apparently made me brave and unabashedly willing to eat anything that happens to cross my path now (though I do eat blood sausages mixed in with eggs and tomatoes when my family makes Irish breakfast, but I’m going to assume Spiaggia’s are probably better).

     After finishing that I was ready for a nap. I’m talking serious food coma. But of course, there had to be dessert. Three desserts, actually: blueberry, chocolate, and raspberry gelati. They were a perfect way to end the meal, the fruits acting as a nice refreshing sweet and tart finish, while the chocolate was, well, it was chocolate—need I say more?

     While waddling back to the orange line after dinner I reflected on how I almost missed out on an amazing dinner at one of Chicago’s best restaurants because of my apprehension towards antelope. While it’s cliché, I guess you never really know what you’re missing out on if you don’t try everything. And now emboldened, I’m wondering how to top my antelope adventure.

Café Spiaggia is located at 980 N. Michigan Avenue on the second floor.  

2

Today, I was fortunate enough to attend a practice round for the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah in Illinois. When I saw this sign, I was very excited. Rarely do you see Bloodies at a golf tournament outside of a hospitality tent. Plus, with this billing, who could resist?

This concession stand/bar was Bar Toma (a restaurant in Chicago),run by Tony Mantuano. In addition to beverages, I also enjoyed an excellent magherita pizza!

Mix: Texture was spot on!I also think they used Ketel One Vodka.

Spice: Not very.

Chaser: None.

Fixin’s: Lemon and an olive.

Price: $9 (Steep, especially for the size, but not out of line for a tournament such as this.)