980 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago Illinois 60611United States
A wine-paired meal at Spiaggia is a lesson in history, geography and gastronomy at one of the country's finest Italian restaurants.
While "Top Chef" Master Tony Mantuano is one creative force behind Chicago's Spiaggia, it's a different narrator entirely escorting diners through the restaurant's Aceto Balsamico tasting menu: the grape. The experience was phenomenal, from the balsamic vinegar progression (made from nothing but grape must, which is a mix of pressed juice, seeds, skins and stems) to the masterful wine pairings and the excellent menu. Each of the seven courses demonstrated how the balsamic vinegar changes as it ages, from its early, light and sweet days when it's known as saba to the pungent, lingering incarnation that comes from more than 25 years aging in a wooden barrel. The meal began with a small spoonful of saba, which tasted more like a light, overly sweet wine than a vinegar. Along the way, the flavor and texture of the balsamics flirted with braised pork-filled ravioli (our favorite course, filled with intense flavors and served with a heavier 2006 Frappato); creamy Acquerello risotto (rich and pungent, served with a light 2005 Barolo Sori, Querciola, Piemonte that mellowed the snap of the food); wood-roasted honey-lacquered duck breast with grapes (a great continuation of the grape theme); and Italian-style donuts with balsamic zabaglione (a nice, not-too-rich finish paired with 2009 Moscato di Asti, which was a revelation). To bring the meal full circle, the dessert course was served with a tiny spoon of balsamic, aged for more than 25 years in wooden barrels. Eaten last, it was graceful, strong and lingering just like the meal. This extravagance doesn't come cheap. The tasting menu is $160 per person, wine pairings another $90. Ouch! A totally memorable meal, but the high price is certainly worth noting.