Although I’ve never been to the full Spiaggia restaurant, its younger sibling restaurant Cafe Spiaggia is my go-to Italian restaurant in Chicago. The food is always well-executed, and of the half dozen-plus times I’ve visited, I’ve never had a bad dish there.
The complimentary foccacia is fluffy; the parmesan-dusted cracker is savory and crisp; the olive oil is flavorful. Although they offered half as much as they typically have, it is a nice way to start the meal.
For my first course, I chose the mozzarella. The mozzarella is clean and soft, so the savory prosciutto with the fruitiness and complexity of the mostarda balanced it nicely. It is, however, rather small: two bocconcini, two slices of the apple mostarda, and a piece of prosciutto. The plate itself is also irritating – if I use pressure on the plate anywhere not perfectly in the center, it tips and makes noise.
The nicely seasoned skate wing entree has a lovely sear. The texture is almost like crab but with a meatier, and not nearly as sweet, taste. There are capers, perhaps too many; I don’t think they quite worked with the sweetness of the raisins and the faintly licorice taste of anise. The portion, however, is a nice size.
Since I’ve previously ordered the bomboloni, I had the sorbet and gelato for dessert. They all have a nice, creamy texture and good flavor. The passion fruit is bright and tart; the gingerbread is spicy and darker; the salted caramel is salty and bitter, like proper caramel, with bits of crunchy caramel. The portions seem small, but the three together are enough.
The restaurant has an expensive air without being formal. Little elements like the murals on the walls, tile floors, and candles give it personality. Cafe Spiaggia is, overall, a reliable choice for a really solid meal, with occasional excellent dishes. I wouldn’t have paid $44 for it, and it wasn’t one of my most memorable meals of the year, but I enjoyed it, and I think it was better executed than the meal I had at Riccardo Trattoria.
Cafe Spiaggia – 980 North Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor, Chicago