TASTE OF ITALY
By Lauren DeMaria
By Lauren DeMaria
THE ORIGINAL SIENA TAVERN located in downtown Chicago was inspired by the legendary restaurant La Taverna in Siena, Italy, which I had the pleasure on dining at several years ago on a multi-week vacation through northern Italy.
Although the city-based “tavern” and now the new location on the North Shore is more polished in aesthetics, the food is as “melt in your mouth” delicious as what I remember from my visit to Siena.
The menu is designed to be shared and features a spin on Italian street food, a delicious pizza bar along with an array of small plates—each one better than the next.
The owners of DineAmic Hospitality were excited to debut the restaurant in the Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie.
“A lot of people that live in the suburbs want to have a city dining experience at a city brand they have been to before, but they don’t want to go all the way into the city,” says DineAmic co-owner Lucas Stoioff.
Recently, many groups—including Ballyhoo Hospitality (Sophia Steak, Pomeroy) as well as Le Colonial—have ventured into the suburbs to cater to customers who no longer feel like commuting into the city for dinner.
In most respects, Bar Siena Old Orchard isn’t much different from the original Bar Siena with a menu of pasta, steak, pizza, and bomboloni for dessert.
Our tasting began with three appetizers, Cicchetti; Roasted Meatballs; Tuna Crudo and Grilled Octopus. Each were very different from each other but equally mouthwatering and a perfect start to our feast.
The meatballs were amazing—the perfect texture and sauce incredibly flavorful. Tuna Crudo comes with Castelvetrano olives, salsa verde, lemon garlic ailoi, and Parmesan breadcrumbs. I love grilled octopus and theirs did not disappoint. The aged balsamic, chili, and celery chimichurri was the perfect accompaniment to the grilled texture.
Our next course, “Carne” was the Braised Short Rib with autumn root vegetables, and Brick Chicken Diavolo with sticky parmesan potatoes. I am typically a chicken lover but between the two the short rib won. The chicken has a highlight of lemon flavor and the potatoes were delicious. The short ribs were so tender and so flavorful and reminded me of when my grandmother would make her famous roasts.
We continued (yes, we still had more to taste) onto the pasta course. Squid Ink Lobster Linguine which had beautiful large chunks of fresh lobster and also a bit of kick with red pepper was very rich and filling. An equally rich and satisfying pasta dish, Bucatini “Cacio E Pepe” came to the table and had all the flavors that we had not experienced previously. The balance between the cheeses and pepper was perfection, evidenced by the empty dish.
It wouldn’t have been right not to try one of their famous “brick oven” pizzas so out came the Truffle Mushroom “ZA”. With the garlic cream, wild mushrooms and white truffle oil, the richness of this combination against the roasted crust melted in our mouths.
Bring on desert! We tried three: Chocolate Budino, Apple Brown Butter Crostata, and of course the Mini Bomboloni. Each was completely different but equally delicious. The warm crostata is a perfect winter night comfort. If you are a chocolate lover then the Budio is what you want and no matter what always order the Bomboloni, Italian donut holes comes with an array of dipping sauces and end the meal leaving your tastebuds completely satisfied and your stomach full.
The restaurant’s design takes advantage of the suburban virtue of space. It sprawls across 8,500 square feet with two entrances, one from the mall itself and one from the parking lot. The mall entrance will lead directly to a wine bar with a patio and lounge seating that Stoioff envisions as a refuge for shoppers who just want a glass of wine and a quick bite. The parking lot side, meanwhile, will feature a 3,000-square-foot pergola with seating for 100, a living wall with flowers and ivy, and a retractable roof and heaters where, Stoioff says, customers can dine outdoors all year round.
The main dining room is, like its downtown counterpart, decorated with exposed brick and hand-painted murals and an enormous sculptural iron tree decorated with LED lights that forms a canopy over the entire restaurant, giving it the feel of a festive garden. At the heart of the space is an open kitchen with a brick pizza oven.
“We’ve been building our business in the city,” Stoioff says, “and now we’re opening a place for people who have been some of our biggest fans. It means something to us.”