The other night I went to Spiaggia for the first time in about 10-15 years and I walked away utterly unimpressed. Let me start with the positives and that is the food. Overall the food was rather good although everything was a bit too rich and this is coming from a person that likes overly decadent food. It was as if they felt that in order to justify the high price (more on that in a second) they had to leave the diner feeling like they just had something that is completely over the top. Don't get me wrong, I like good butter, truffles, and pork belly but these are items that best used in a more composed fashion. I believe that when you are at top-tier place at least 2-3 dishes should leave you wanting more but the reality is that nothing blew me away. When I think about some of the best restaurants in the country I can always remember having at least a couple dishes that I would be content eating the rest of my life and while Spiaggia's cuisine was good nothing was memorable (such as Babbo's beef cheek ravioli).
I found the menu and the structure of the meal to be a bit off-putting. I generally like to sample many dishes and when I go to an Italian restaurant I like to order pasta. While I would have no problem ordering pasta as a mid-course, I don't want to be obligated to order an antipasti, primi, and secondi, especially when I go with my wife (it is simply too much food). I used to live in NCY and I loved going to Babbo. At Babbo the waiters would happily create a multi-course meal for you out of anything you ordered. I remember a couple of times ordering two antipasti and a couple of pastas between two people and not only did they make no fuss but they brought everything out on two separate plates. Spiaggia almost made you feel awkward if you did not order the "traditional" antipasti, primi, and secondi menu. To be fair, we did order one pasta dish to split as a mid-course and it was brought out on two separate plates but nothing about the experience made me feel like they welcomed this approach. I think that they would be better off having a prix fix menu instead of a la carte.
Now let me get to the most irritating aspect of Spiaggia and that is the astronomical prices. I have dined at some of the top restaurants across the world and I have never experienced such an overpriced meal. The wine list was shocking. Even in a top-tier restaurant you should never feel like you are being a cheapskate if you order a $100 bottle but that is exactly the feeling at Spiaggia. I was shocked to see that the number of wines under $100 was extremely limited but the selection did not really improve until you moved into the $300-400 a bottle range. This is simply too high of a price point. For many (most people) spending $100-200 on a bottle of wine is a lot of money and if you are to do so you don't want to feel like you are picking the cheapest wine. Simply by offering a couple cheaper options people would feel better about ordering wines in the $100-300 range. I would normally select a Brunello to go with such a decadent meal but I simply did not have any options. Such a wine list may work for the (former) wall street power lunch crowd but not in Chicago. At the very least present me sommelier but as far as I could tell there wasn't one in the house.
The antipasti and primi were all in the $25 range but the secondi were closer to $50 (and up). I would happily pay $100-$150 for a prix fix menu at any number of places across the country but at least I would feel like I walked away have a great experience. Aside from the food, wine, and prices the service was stiff and not exactly welcoming. And the last issue is that the setting is wholly unspectacular and extremely dated. The restaurant is in serious need of a makeover, it simply feels like you are dining in a once-popular restaurant from the early 90s.
All these issues came together to leave me feeling disappointed and ripped off. It is simply inconceivable to me that Spiaggia is more expensive than Babbo (which is arguably the best Italian restaurant in the country), especially since every aspect of the meal at Babbo (food, wine, service, setting) is so far superior.
When Spiaggia opened I am sure that it offered a transporting dining experience however it feels more like a place that is trying to hold on to it's former glory without really trying to reinvent itself to appeal to a new era. Maybe Spiaggia was able to retain some level of prestige for a number of years but as Chicago become more and more of a foodie city, diners simply will have no reason to try Spiaggia.
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