Cafe Spiaggia is the less formal of superstar chef Tony Mantuano's two Michigan Avenue restaurants. The casual cafe doesn't pack the firepower of its four-star sibling Spiaggia, yet still creates beautifully crafted Italian masterpieces that absolutely explode with authenticity.
Mantuano is decorated with James Beard awards. He is recognized for as a contestant for season 2 of Top Chef: Masters on Bravo, and he has written a shelf full of cookbooks. President Barrack Obama ate his victory dinner across the hall at Spiaggia. Democrats and Republicans agree that the man can cook.
There are always a couple of menu options at Cafe Spiaggia for vegetarians. Some items need to be altered for vegetarian diners. Since it's an Italian restaurant, many of the dishes contain cheese.
The combo starter is served with romano and black pepper potato chips, olives and a selection of roasted nuts. The chips a thin with a great crunch. The olives picked up flavors of the fennel and orange zest in which they were marinated. This appetizer is a great one to share.
I dined early enough in the season to get a Caprese salad. The tomatoes and basil were from a small regional farm while the olive oil was a Spiaggia brand house oil. It was flawless in its simplicity.
The beet salad had fried ham on the menu, but it can be prepared without it. Sweet red beets and apples were laid on a bed of crumbled quartirolo cheese and olive oil. The sweetness was perfectly contrasted by the bright acidity in the cheese.
The bucatini (a thick spaghetti with a hole in the middle) is topped with crispy kale chips, and dressed with citrus, walnuts and romano. It has a great range of flavor and texture that is delightful.
The house made gelatos are rich and intense. The gianduja was a great combination of chocolate and hazelnut.
The cavernous wine reserves of Spiaggia are also available in its Cafe. The cocktail made with house made limoncello looked interesting. The bar has a limited selection of drafts from Goose Island and select other breweries.
Service at Cafe Spiaggia was gracious. Vegetarian requests were properly addressed.