dining-review-Top-Chef-Alum-Opens-Siena-Tavern

If you’re a Top Chef fan, I’m about to preach to the choir.

But I stopped watching it the season Fabio Viviani didn’t win. And it wasn’t just because he was gorgeous, charming, and had an Italian accent I still hear in my dreams. Well… maybe a little bit! But also because his food looked so soulful and approachable that I wanted to jam myself into the TV, shove Tom Colicchio out of the way, and eat it all myself.

Fabio Comes to Chicago

The point of all this? Now I can. Eat his food, I mean (not so much with the Colicchio shoving). Fabio has partnered with the guys at the DineAmic Group (Public House, Bull & Bear) to bring his culinary vision to Chicago. Is there room for another “modern” Italian place in a city already tightly packed with them? Si, si! When the food is this good, we will make room for them in our hearts and our stomachs.

The restaurant is huge, to the tune of 10,000 square feet of bar and dining space. It’s done in a “modern industrial” style, meaning lots of salvaged airplane metal, polished rivets, leather, reclaimed wood and funky light fixtures. It’s eye-catching, to be sure, but I could do without all the high-def TV screens.

Drink Up!

Although, I must admit, if I could watch every college b-ball game with a Cocktail #6 (Bombay Sapphire, Benedictine, bitters, maple and lime) in my hand, I wouldn’t complain. All the signature cocktails ($12) are pre-mixed (for speed and consistency) and stored in beautiful glass bottles behind the bar. The #5, a “New-Fashioned,” if you will, was another keeper, with Maker’s Mark bourbon, averna amaro, allspice dram, masala chai, lemon, bitters and sparkling cider.

That’s a Tasty Meatball

You’ll want to start with a Kobe Meatball ($17) for the table, and not just because it has it’s own Twitter feed (@sienameatball, started by a loyal customer and fan). It’s one enormous hunka-hunka deliciousness, nestled in a pool of chunky tomato sauce that tastes like a Tuscan summer, topped with an olive-oil-enriched ricotta and shaved basil. Magnifico!

dining-siena-kobe-meatball

The Grilled Octopus ($14) is another do-not-miss. They marinate the beast for 24 hours, and it is unbelievably tender. Then it’s paired with super crispy, duck-fat potatoes, red chilies, celery, chive and aged balsamic. There was nearly a fist fight over that one… must have been the lunchtime cocktails talking.

dining-siena-octopus

From the Crudo (raw) bar, we chose the Ahi Tuna ($12) in a fennel and peppercorn crust, topped with pickled Tuscan kale and garlic chips and drizzled with habanero oil. Tasty, but nothing earth shaking about it.

Among many interesting salad options, we went with the Farro ($14), the toothsome grain tossed with (very few, tiny) grilled shrimp, thick ribbons of calamari, veggies and too much herb-mustard vinaigrette. We did love the Siena Chopped ($14), which featured crumbled Gorgonzola, mixed greens, avocado, artichoke hearts, cannellini beans, and scrumptious bits of wild boar salami. I’d order that again in a heartbeat.

Pizza Party

This might be my new favorite pizza, at least if we’re talking about the Prosciutto Pear ($17). The perfectly blistered crust is slathered with roasted garlic cream, Taleggio and mozzarella cheeses, salty and silky prosciutto, grilled pears and arugula. Would that I had room to eat the whole thing.

The Short Rib Ravioli ($17), eggy, house-made pasta enveloping an unctuous, umami-laden filling of short ribs and roasted porcini mushrooms, and gilded with parmesan cream, was a calorie and cholesterol bomb, uber rich and crying out for a glass of Barbera.

And while we enjoyed the flavors of the Bellwether Farm Ricotta Cheese ($11), topped with pistachio pesto, oven-dried tomatoes and chunks of crispy mortadella, you would think that giving the cheese top billing would mean a substantial dollop of cheese. So that was a little chintzy.

 

Doughnuts a Must

If you can leave here without trying the Bomboloni ($9), a quartet of mashed potato-based Italian doughnuts, fluffy and light, coated with sugar and served with a trio of delicious dipping sauces in tiny squeeze bottles (the raspberry-chianti was my fave), you are of stronger stuff than I. They are worth every calorie. The Olive Oil, Lemon & Sea Salt Gelato ($3/scoop) was a refreshing delight.dining-siena-bombolini

Our server was well informed and very friendly; unfortunately, there were some problems with timing in the kitchen and the meal stretched on a little long. But that will not deter me from going back… I actually already have my next reservation. Maybe I’ll see you there!

4 out of 5 stars (A-)

MIBGradingStarDiningReviews

Siena Tavern
51 W. Kinzie St.
Chicago
312-595-1322