Off to a tasty start

Cafe Spiaggia's Restaurant Week menu sets a high standard

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Restaurant Week got off to a flying start with busy dining rooms (reservations for lunch and dinner were extremely limited), tantalizing menus and superb food.

During Chicago's Restaurant Week, which actually lasts 10 days through Feb. 26, participating dining rooms offer three-course lunches for $22 and dinners for $33 and/or $44. In many cases, these prices are considerably less than one would pay ordinarily for comparable food.

Case in point: Cafe Spiaggia, known as four-star Spiaggia's more affordable sibling (though prices are not low) and gaining additional fame these days thanks to executive chef Sarah Grueneberg, who has made the finals of this season's "Top Chef." (We'll find out Feb. 29 whether she's the winner.)

Cafe Spiaggia's Restaurant Week lunch menu isn't skimping, despite the $22 price. Bread (terrific Parmesan crisps and pillow-soft focaccia) and a trio of nibbles (olives, herb-seasoned popcorn and cheese-dusted potato chips) arrive at the table as you ponder the choices. Among the appetizers, slices of roasted butternut squash with pumpkin-seed pesto are delicious, and a trio of silky spheres of bufala mozzarella are topped with thin lines of tart apple mostarda.

Main courses include a terrific octopus and calamari salad, brightened with citrus and mint and jazzed up with specks of Controne pepper, which slowly build to a persuasive heat in your mouth. Heartier choices include meatballs with polenta and Pecorino Romano cheese, and feather-light gnocchi held in place (lest they float away) by a ragu of wild boar.

Grapefruit, passion fruit and lemon-lime sorbets bring the meal to a light conclusion, but if you're indulging, consider the rich tiramisu, which, spiked with an exclamation point of pulled sugar, will end your lunch with a bit more emphasis.

Cafe Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave., 312-280-2750.

 

Restaurant Week continues through Feb. 26; to view participating restaurants, menus and make online reservations, go to eatitupchicago.com.

pvettel@tribune.com

Twitter @PhilVettel

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