Prosciutto and grilled zucchini at Enoteca Spiaggia preview at Spiaggia in Chicago (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Two years ago this month, my esteemed predecessor, Steve Dolinksy, listed his then top 5 Italian restaurants in Chicago:
1. Piccolo Sogno (WARNING AUTOPLAY MUSIC)
4. Riccardo Trattoria
5. Pelago Ristorante
But a lot changes in two years. Piccolo Sogno now has a second location, Piccolo Sogno Due
(WARNING AUTOPLAY MUSIC). Spiaggia's Executive Chef Sarah Grueneberg made it to the top two in Top Chef
. Terragusto closed, became Pastaterra, which closed, became MörSo, and that closed too — but that may have been cursed restaurant space because chef/owner Theo Gilbert opened Ripasso to good reviews, including Tasting Table's Heather Sperling
. Ricardo Trattoria now has Riccardo Enoteca
. Pelago's owners actually opened a Japanese restaurant, Masaki
, of which the Reader
's Mike Sula wrote
, "It may not yet be Chicago's answer to Sukiyabashi Jiro
, but there's really nothing like it in Streeterville, or anywhere else in town."
Which made me wonder, what defines an Italian restaurant? Steve's top 5 list had three criteria: housemade ingredients, nuanced flavors, and Italian pedigree. But how about a restaurant like Nellcôte
or even J.P Graziano
? What do old country identities mean to us in this country? How far are national cuisines allowed to evolve?
What even makes a restaurant top? And what are now the top five Italian restaurants in Chicago?
I have some ideas, but I'd love to hear yours.