Vital Information | Sep 10, 200210:45 PM     19

A while back I mentioned Cafe Spiagia in regards to one of those occasional Michigan Ave. queries. Then, I took up my suggestion. After eating at Cafe Spiaggia, we discovered that the big brother offered an amazing lunch special, 3 courses, for $35. We finally made it there last week.

The best thing I can say about the Spiaggia lunch was, well it was $35. It really gave you a chance to sample high-end Italian dining for fraction of its normal tab. I mean the entrees are almost all more than $35 at dinner. A three course meal at Cafe Spiaggia is more than $35. Plus, you get all the signposts of expensive dining. A few first courses featured fois gras. My pasta was showered with truffles. Ms. VI had cheese con 25 year old aged balsamico.

What did I think? Well, I will tell you what I liked and then tell you what I did not. The best dishes were the appetizers/first courses. You select from about six. Ms. VI and myself both zeroed in on the smoked swordfish carpacio, but she "called" it. Lucky me. I got the squab and game stuffed agnolotti with the shower of Umbrian black truffles mentioned above. Oh, so good, the truffles just added flavor like expensive MSG, and the sauce itself was butter-laden rich. I have a quibble with this dish, but I'll reserve it for a moment. The swordfish was also especially good, really generous slices of thin, rich fish, brillantly finished by smoke. In fact the scent of wood chips hits you upon entering the dining room, maybe tomorrow's batch was cooking. I still had a quibble with the dish, however, and I'll get to that too.

While I had trouble finding a first course, I had trouble eliminating a second course. Sliced prime strip steak with braised oxtail and purple potato puree or lamb chops and slow cooked lamb shoulder, what misery. I went for the steak. Ms. VI had a fish dish, sea bass, accented with langoustinos a micro fennel (whatever that is). I really liked the potato puree, infused with truffle oil, and Ms. VI liked the the langoustino on the side of her fish, which was presented very Asian style on a rectangular plate. But here is where I'll start my carping.

I have a few complaints about Spiaggia. First, the "summer menu" was frozen in say early June. Second, the proportions were off, and third, it hardly seemed Italian.

I do not know why it particularly bothers me that the menu was not seasonal enough, I mean if the food tastes good, right. Still, at this time of year, you expect tomatoes and eggplant and all those other great Italian vegetables to be running amok on the menu. Instead there was pumpkin (in a risotto), fennel and tons of potatoes. Actually what drove the point home was the one dish that purportedly featured hierloom tomatoes, the swordfish. Hierloom grape tomatoes? I think not. It just would have been more special if the menu took advantage of the full summer harvest (being the farmer's market guy that I am). Also, there were no specials augmenting the menu. I am not sure if this is true at dinner. This made me think that they were phoning this meal in a bit. Tossing in the towel for the cheap fare, to mix some metaphors.

What do I mean by proportions. This just maybe another quirk of mine, but I hated the fact that I only got like 3 pasta rolls. They were so good and gone so fast, especially when I had to give a taste to the Condiment Queen. On the other hand, the steak and potatoes was extroidinarily generous. A full plate. Ms. VI says most people would want it that way, but I am not sure.

This segues into my last point. Was it Italian. Of course in Italy the pasta would have been much bigger than the meat, but the other thing, I doubt in Italy they would have drenched the prime sirloin in a red wine sauce 2 steps up from a bar mitzvah. It really hurt the dish. Does not prime steak need miminal garnish? Is that not more Italian anyway? And the plate featured that rich oxtail for contrast. So, ask for the sauce on the side. Also, the pasta, the portion was not so Italian, but neigther, I think was the sauce, but THAT I am not complaining about.

Sticking with the continental theme of the meal, I got the baba for dessert. I really got this because Alain Ducasse is my model for dream luxury food, and the baba is his signature dessert as well. This baba comes pre-soaked in cherry juice and cherry liquor, unlike Ducasse which lets you select your own kickapoo. Also the *hand* whipped cream is on your plate, instead of delicously and decadantly tossed at you tableside like Ducasse. Never tasted Ducasse's, but this was sweet, and if a Krispy Kreme lover can find something too sweet, well it was sweet.

We frugally resisted every effort to pad our bill. Maybe another time RST, we will try a wine from Ohio or Virginia. Yet, the service never flinched, treating us just as well as if we ordered 2 bottles of Barolo. The room itself is also gorgeous in a very decorator kind of way.

I would return, given its value. Maybe just not quickly.


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