Applause for Symphony Center's Tesori
by j.p. anderson
Respected as it was during its 17-year run, Rhapsody, the Symphony Center’s longtime fine dining restaurant, was never particularly inviting. The crowd was hushed; the cuisine was serious; and the wide-open room and massive 12-foot windows removed any trace of intimacy. It was, frankly, the restaurant of another era.
“It was stuffy,” sums up general manager Amanda Su, a petite former dancer turned restaurant pro who was instrumental in transitioning Rhapsody to a new concept. “We wanted [the new place] to be approachable and comforting, to be a ‘third place’ for people in addition to work and home.... We’re so associated with the Symphony that people didn’t even realize we were open to the public when I first started—so shying away from that would be a good thing.”
To that end, in the dining room, window transoms were added to lower the ceilings and add intimacy, and rich chocolate-brown leather banquettes give the place a clubby feel. The biggest design change, though, is in the bar. “It glows,” says Su. “The architect said that people are like bugs toward a light—they go toward the glow—so it was really important for the bar to have an almost amber [light] to it.”
The result of all this tinkering is Tesori—and, as it turns out, it’s a very good thing. Though it opened to little fanfare in September, the casual, convivial, 180-seat Mediterranean spot is drawing more and more attention as a neighborhood go-to, not to mention a favorite of visiting and local celebs, from CSO figures Yo-Yo Ma and Riccardo Muti to Cloud Atlas codirector Lana Wachowski.
The much-improved atmosphere is certainly part of the appeal, but the lion’s share of credit for Tesori’s success falls squarely on the shoulders of chef Andrew Deuel, whose accessible, flavorful cuisine has made foodies take notice. A veteran of legendary New York kitchens Le Cirque 2000 and the Rainbow Room, the 38-year-old Ohio native’s cooking philosophy is straightforward. “I focus on using the best ingredients and preparing them simply; I let them speak for themselves by not adding too much or getting carried away.”
That less-is-more mentality expresses itself in remarkably flavorful dish after dish: delicate, full-bodied tuna tartare; utterly decadent pockets of agnolotti stuffed with a triple threat of duck confit, foie gras, and truffle butter; cavatelli with robust, meatball-esque beef cheeks and shavings of caciocavallo cheese; duck two ways (confit leg and roasted breast), a rustic, filling dish whose dark, meaty flavors are offset by the bright sweetness of Concord grapes; and an incredible wild mushroom pizza with white truffle oil boasting a nearly perfect, crisp-chewy crust. All in all, with Deuel’s menu and the bar’s smartly curated beverage program—including four wines on a tap and a selection of creative cocktails—it’s hard to make a wrong turn in this place.
Indeed, from the approachable menu to the neighborly vibe, Tesori is a different creation entirely from the super-civilized Rhapsody: warm, welcoming, and decidedly low-key, while still maintaining a real dedication to serious cuisine. According to Su, the restaurant has been received just as warmly. And though the CSO is still Tesori’s bread and butter, this place is anything but a typical symphony restaurant. Su says, “Now, people who have never been here say, ‘This is so beautiful. Why don’t we come here all the time?’ Laughing, she adds, “Well, yeah, you should.”
Photography by Nathan Kirkman; Steve Granitz/WireImage/Getty Images (Wachowski); Andreas Rentz/Getty Images (Ma)
We caught the hilarious Bob Odenkirk behind the scenes during his Michigan Avenue photo shoot.