May 23, 2017
May 16, 2017
By Elaine Glusac | November 5, 2015 | Food & Drink
Star chef Fabio Viviani follows up his River North hit Siena Tavern with Bar Siena, another delectable Italian destination.
The fontina and wild mushroom pizza showcases Bar Siena’s signature crust—perfectly puffy around the edges — at its earthy best.
There are few sure bets in the high-risk restaurant business, but these two things improve the odds of success: a bar with great food, and chef Fabio Viviani. The latter was, with all due respect to Stephanie Izard, the most popular Top Chef contestant ever, who, to the city’s great fortune, settled down in suburban Chicago (with a wife, much to the dismay of the hunky star’s fans). In 2013 he opened Siena Tavern with Chicago-based hospitality gurus Lucas Stoioff and David Rekhson of DineAmic Group, whose hits include Public House and Prime & Provisions. Now Viviani is expanding with an odds-on spin-off: Bar Siena.
The perpetually thronged, 8,000-square-foot Randolph Street newcomer is, in many ways, the restaurant the partners envisioned after a 2012 research trip to Italy. The rustic tavern in Siena, outside Florence, that so captivated them with its mismatched tableware and flea-market furniture didn’t fully fit glossy River North. In the more industrial West Loop, it did. “This whole concept is a nod to the original inspiration for Siena Tavern,” says Stoioff.
Loud and loose, Bar Siena is the everyday Siena. Stools picket the centerpiece bar. An iron tree sculpture branches into the open second story, each limb wrapped in hundreds of white lights that romance the outback upstairs. Back downstairs, the main foor bustles with runners rushing from the exposed kitchen in the rear where Bella, the affectionately named pizza oven, presides.
“She goes to 850 degrees and cooks pizza in 90 seconds to two minutes,” says Viviani. Joking, he adds, “That makes Bella the hottest girl in town.”
Italian-made, the Ferrari-red Bella, its name inlaid in black tile, can handle 12 pizzas at a time. The pies are smaller and rounder than the free-form versions at the Tavern, but the crust is remarkably light, a bread-lover’s pizza topped at its best with wild mushrooms and fontina.
Beyond pizza, servers in skinny black jeans describe the menu as “cicchetti,” using the Venetian term for snacks. Small plates include chile-dusted octopus with blistered shishito peppers. Pastas skew indulgent with truffe-buttered sweet corn ravioli.
A handful of curious additions — Scotch eggs, potato skins, and pork ribs slicked in balsamic glaze — would seem to fit better at a sports bar. But Americans, Viviani insists, don’t own bar food: “We have plenty of baby back ribs in Italy. We call it ‘rosticceria,’ and it’s cooked the same way.” Bar Siena is grown-up enough for date night, dressed-down enough for mate night. “We walk the line between casual and high-end,” says Stoioff.
Down-to-earth desserts, including sugar donuts injected with salted caramel, are available at Bombobar, a to-go window modeled on Italian dives. Try one with the spicy bourbon-ginger No. 8 on the numerical cocktail list devised by Revae Schneider. “Italian favors are the most prevalent,” says Schneider, who favors green favors: sage, basil, and arugula. “I think it makes it easier to pair with food.”
That you can bet on, safely. 832 W. Randolph St., 312-492-7775
PHOTOGRAPHY BY NEIL BURGER