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Spiaggia...never again

Hatori Hanzo Jan 22, 2010 09:39 AM

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.

  1. h
    HoosierFoodie Jan 22, 2010 09:47 AM

    I've been 5-6 times, each time swearing that I'll never be back. I don't really have an issue with the food quality as I've always found it top notch - with one exception out of those times I've been. I don't really mind the food prices as I don't think it is out of line with other top end Chicago restaurants. Where we agree is the outrageous wine prices. I understand restaurant pricing wine pricing as well as anyone but their prices seem to be the worst in recent memory. I believe they do allow corkage so, if I return I'll be taking my own wine! Even if corkage is $100.00 per btl. I'll still save a lot of money!

    1. njfoodies Jan 24, 2010 05:03 AM

      Nice to see a Babbo reference on here. When I lived in Chicago, we used to have many client dinners at Spiaggia, and I was never buying, so never batted an eye. Living in NJ now, we frequent Babbo a few times a year, and I think the cuisine is definitely a step above Spiaggia. They also have a very diverse wine list, with TONS of sub $100 bottles. They also have a lot of higher end bottles that I don't exactly consider fair when it comes to pricing. $1000 for an '88 Sassicaia is a little steep seeing as I paid under $200 a bottle for these a few years ago for my own cellar. I receive Luca's e-mails on wines they are pushing, and they really do have some good deals.

      As much as we love Babbo, our true love for Mario Batali lies at his Pizzeria, Otto. We love to go there, each have a small pizza as an appetizer, then split an entree or pasta course, along with a cheese plate. The prices are ridiculously fair, and the food is good. Is it Babbo? No, but for what it costs, it's a great meal. Their wine list isn't quite as elaborate as Babbo, but still a ton of values again (for restaurant pricing at least). If any of you are every in NYC, and want a good meal at good prices (for Manhattan), it is worth checking out.

      As for Spiaggia, it's been a few years since I have been, but I always remember having good meals there, whether it be a fish dish, lab, venison, whatever. The meals were always nice. I do remember them having a nice winelist, but I don't remember what pricing was like. Back in the day I remember them having a nice selection of Barolo, and that always worked. Like Hoosier Foodie said however, corkage is the way to go. We have tons of BYO's in Philly, NJ, and NYC, and make it a point to visit BYO's. If they are not BYO, we'll call ahead and see if they offer a corkage. Even at $100 (highest I have ever paid was $50), you could still save several hundred dollars on a bottle that you already have in your cellar. It's a beautiful thing. -mJ

      1. uhockey Jan 27, 2010 11:04 AM

        I've been to many of the NYC Mainstays (Babbo, Il Mulino, Alto) as well as some of the new breed (Scarpetta, Convivio, Marea, A Voce) and also to the big 3 Italian in LA (Osteria Mozza, Valentino, La Botte) and I can absolutely say that Spiaggia is THE WORST high end Italian experience I've ever had - I have a review both on this board and my blog that entails everything from being ignored, pestered, and even (accidentally) elbowed in the head by a waiter without apology. When I mentioned this to the restaurant they did not care - not at all.

        I would never go back to Spiaggia unless it were entirely free and even then I'd be hesitant. The cafe was good, but the "main house" was one of the worst dining experiences of my life.

        Here is the chowhound link! http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/6429...

        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

        7 Replies
        1. re: uhockey
          kpatick Mar 1, 2010 12:56 PM

          went to spiaggia last year, party of four. have been there a number of times. great food. could not agree more about the wine prices. this occasion i brought two bottles of wine from home. both were $125 retail. corkage fee was $75 each. which i thought under the circumstances was reasonable for spiaggia.

          1. re: kpatick
            njfoodies Mar 4, 2010 05:34 AM

            $75 corkage really isn't all that bad for a bottle of wine that you already had in your cellar. Although I have never paid a corkage fee that high, I would much rather do that, than pay 400-500% over what I paid for a bottle of wine already in my cellar. Just my 2 yen. -mJ

          2. re: uhockey
            itryalot Mar 7, 2010 05:41 PM

            What do you recommend then, for not fancy, but something comparable to the other Batali eateries that are more casual.

            1. re: itryalot
              nsxtasy Mar 7, 2010 06:52 PM

              Go to Cafe Spiaggia, the sister restaurant next door to Spiaggia. Cafe Spiaggia is the best casual, moderately priced Italian restaurant in Chicago. They share the website at www.cafespiaggia.com - click on CAFE.

              1. re: itryalot
                uhockey Mar 8, 2010 04:40 AM

                The cafe at Spiaggia was quite nice.

                1. re: itryalot
                  HoosierFoodie Mar 8, 2010 07:06 AM

                  I've been to Babbo and would go back. I've been to B&B in Vegas and won't go back. Otto was o.k., maybe even good, for lunch a few weeks ago. So, I might not be the best judge of what you are looking for.

                  Cafe Spiaggia is a good rec. Pane Caldo on Walton can be very food but the wine prices are just below the outrageous level of Spiaggia. I don't know if hey allow corkage or not.

                  1. re: HoosierFoodie
                    nsxtasy Mar 8, 2010 07:18 AM

                    I like Cafe Spiaggia because the food is excellent and the prices are reasonable, with dinner entrees in the mid-twenties. The food at Pane Caldo is very good too, but their prices have been up and down. Before the recession hit, they were pretty expensive, with dinner entrees up around forty dollars or so. When the recession hit, they had dropped their prices dramatically (to around twenty) and now they average around thirty, as you can see on their website www.pane-caldo.com

                    Other excellent casual mid-priced Italian restaurants include Coco Pazzo near the Merchandise Mart ( www.cocopazzochicago.com ), and Vivere in the Italian Village complex in the Loop ( www.vivere-chicago.com ).

                    All of these places are open for lunch as well as dinner.

                    If you can't find corkage information on the restaurants' own websites, you can try checking their Metromix listings at http://chicago.metromix.com/restaurants (of course, you can also call them to ask).

              2. a
                abhalsey Mar 3, 2010 04:28 PM

                The prices have always staggered me, although since about a quarter of the wine list (at least the online version) is under $100 you probably could have found a bottle for less than $100. Also, if uhockey ever gets a chance to eat there for free and decides to turn it down, call me and I will happily go. I have eaten there with other people's money and it is very good.

                Having said that, I have never spent my own money there and never will.

                8 Replies
                1. re: abhalsey
                  uhockey Mar 4, 2010 04:36 AM

                  If they guarantee me an elbow-in-the-head-free meal without pretense I'd go back.

                  1. re: uhockey
                    markabauman Mar 17, 2010 05:35 PM

                    I'm going there with a friend for the first time this Friday night. I've been to the Cafe several times on trips to Chicago and enjoyed it. It is a business dinner, so that will soften the blow. I'm trying not to be too discouraged after reading the above posts. One observation-and I know it's difficult to compare prices between different restaurants, etc. based on so many factors- we were at the Culinary Institute of America last Friday (Caterina de Medici); saw a bottle of wine I've had many times for $38 on their list; on Spiaggia's list the same exact bottle is $75. Quite a difference.

                    980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    1. re: markabauman
                      nsxtasy Mar 17, 2010 06:21 PM

                      Keep an open mind (and feel free to report back on how you liked it). With only a few exceptions, most of us Chowhounders who have been there feel that it offers wonderful and creative food, as well as fine service. The only aspect that receives widespread mixed reviews is whether it's worth the money.

                      1. re: markabauman
                        HoosierFoodie Mar 18, 2010 07:22 AM

                        If you want to drink wine with the meal, I would call and confirm what corkage is and then go to one of Chicago's better wine stores, buy one (or more!) and bring it to the restaurant. Or, if you have wine already bring what you have. The food is good but the wine pricing, as I've said here before, is insulting.

                        But always always, call and confirm the corkage policy at any restaurant.

                        1. re: HoosierFoodie
                          markabauman Mar 18, 2010 08:10 AM

                          Thanks for the replies. I will go with, as they say "an open mind and an empty stomach". If it means anything, we also had lunch last week in NYC at A Voce, now headed by Executive Chef Missy Robbins, who held the same position at Spiaggia previously and it was excellent. I would assume they've tried to uphold those standards. Good advice about the wine.

                          980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                          1. re: markabauman
                            uhockey Mar 18, 2010 01:40 PM

                            I much preferred the food, prices, and experience at A Voce. Don't go with too empty a stomach - you'll be heading to Uno afterwards $300 lighter in the wallet to eat some more..........though hopefully without getting elbowed in the head, rushed, and pestered like myself. :-)

                          2. re: HoosierFoodie
                            dpowers113 Mar 18, 2010 04:17 PM

                            $50 corkage fee, no wine from the list

                            1. re: dpowers113
                              markabauman Mar 24, 2010 09:02 AM

                              We had an excellent meal the first night at the Cafe- I've been there a number of times, my dining companion had not been to either restaurant. The following evening we dined at Spiaggia itself where they created a special tasting menu for us. Everything was excellent-the food and presentations, creativity of the menu, the service, ambience and the wine pairings. Worth the money? Probably from a value point of view maybe not but it was still quite special. Funny comment above that occurred to me early in the meal-that we might be heading out for pizza afterwards (a friend had the same comment when he went to the French Laundry), but after a few hours of dining, the cheese course and dessert, I did feel satisfied. Likewise, and although it might be difficult to make a close comparison, I might also say that I preferred my meal at A Voce the previous week.

                              980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                    2. nsxtasy Mar 24, 2010 01:03 PM

                      Congratulations to Spiaggia and chef/partner Tony Mantuano for being named a finalist for the 2010 James Beard Award for outstanding restaurant in the United States.


                      2 Replies
                      1. re: nsxtasy
                        uhockey Mar 26, 2010 07:45 PM


                        980 North Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611

                        1. re: uhockey
                          nsxtasy Mar 26, 2010 07:51 PM

                          I think it's a great honor and Spiaggia deserves it.

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