Sunday, February 2, 2014

Siena Tavern

I generally am not a celebrity follower when it comes to restaurant.  I am concerned with whether the food is good, what the space looks like, and service.  If the restaurant draws celebrities or if it is owned by a celebrity it is worthy of note, but is not a deciding factor in coming there.  When Italian (by way of California) chef Fabio Viviani decided to open Siena Tavern, it went on my list, not because of his celebrity (he was on Top Chef and several commercials and talk shows), but because he has written a couple of best selling cookbooks and his food has reviewed well.  Located in the River North neighborhood, the restaurant takes it's inspiration from an unnamed tavern called simply La Taverna in Siena, Italy.  The room is large and open divided into a drinking side and the restaurant side.  The bar side has a large open bar with seating completely around it.  There are leather covered booths and several tables.  The restaurant side has a large crudo/pizza bar/open kitchen with several semi-circular booths and high banquette seating with high top tables.  The design is vintage and industrial with, besides the semi-circular booths, vintage incandescent hanging lights and a line of pictures along one wall that really remind me of Rene Magritte.  I came for lunch and was seated in the dining area at a high top banquette.  The menu is very wide and varied with selections possible from antipasti, salads, pasta, pizza, crudo, charcuterie, cheese, sandwiches and sides.  There were a lot of things that looked really good, so it was kind of hard to decide how I was going to put a meal together.  I started with an antipasto, Coccoli.  This started with Pancetta which was served with a couple of balls of Crispy Dough, Stracchino Cheese, and Truffle Honey.  Individually, each of the pieces of this dish were very good.  They were all very light and tasted very good.  The pancetta was delicate and flavorful, the dough had a nice and light crispy crust on the outside and was very soft and fluffy on the inside.  The Stracchino cheese tasted very fresh creamy and was similar to a Burrata, and the truffle honey brought both sweet and funk.  If the dough was opened, and eaten with everything else, it was like a rustic ham and cheese sandwich.
 I hadn't had a good pizza in a while and the pizzas here are flame cooked besides having good ingredients so I decided that a pizza was a must.  I would say that this may not have been the best decision except for the fact that pizza travels well and is good as a leftover.  This could also be considered as the best decision because it travels well.  I ordered a Truffled Mushroom Pizza with Wild Mushrooms, Garlic Cream, Mozzarella, and White Truffle Oil.  This was very close to a Neapolitan-style Funghi Pizza.  It was a white, thin crust pizza with a floppy body and crispy and chewy outer crust.  The truffle oil and mushrooms provided a lot of flavor and was very good but when it was served, I knew that it was more than I could eat.  I did want to have a dessert so I had half of the pizza boxed.

My dessert was Bombolonis. or Italian Doughnuts.  I was served four large, powdered sugar covered, fried dough balls which were texturally like yeast doughnuts.  They were served with three syrups that you could mix and match as you wanted.  The syrups were Whiskey Caramel, Chocolate Hazelnut, and Raspberry Chianti which were all good individually but I liked the combination of chocolate and caramel, and chocolate and raspberry best.  As one might expect, caramel and raspberry didn't really work, nor did a combination of the three.  It was fun trying them out though.

I really liked the look of the restaurant, and the food and service were very good as well, but it may not be the best place for a single diner to go.  I left stuffed and didn't eat for the rest of the day.  When I do return, it will be with a group.     

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