Translated literally, pane caldo means warm bread. Now take that image of warmth, the staff of life and the comforting, nurturing emotions all that stirs in you and youâ€™ll have a sense of the ambiance of Pane Caldo.
First thereâ€™s the soothing dĂ©cor.
Terra cotta walls with a deep, rich blue ceiling, fresh flowers, elegant china, linen, stemware and soft jazz, combine to create a welcoming, intimate atmosphere. Despite itâ€™s location just off bustling Michigan Avenue, Pane Caldo has the feel of a tucked-away retreatâ€” a special place for a special occasion.
Our very professional and capable server,
Michael Curtin, made us feel right at home even though it was our first visit.
French-influenced Italian cuisine--changes daily to capitalize on seasonal fresh ingredients. And the extensive, internationally recognized wine list presents over 1,200 different selections of wines from around the world to complement every course. Youâ€™ll seeâ€¦
We chose the
â€śChef Special 6-Course Sequenceâ€ť and let the chef-owner,
Maurice Bonhomme, surprise us. The manager-sommelier, did a fair amount of that, too! We donâ€™t eat red meat, so that was our only proviso. But since both the 4 and 6-course menus are available with a vegetarian option and all the stocks are vegetarian, we knew he could accommodate us.
Of course we started our meal with
crisp, warm bread and bread sticks (baked at
Pane Caldo, where else?) and a rich, walnut-laced black olive tapinade and fresh bruschetta to spread on our bread. To celebrate
Venetian Night, our first surprise was glasses of
Prosecco, the sparkling wine Venetians consider an ideal apperitivo or ombrette (pick-me-up). Chicago was celebrating
Venetian Night and so were we!
ANTIPASTI: My husband, Herb, had
Steamed Fresh Jumbo Shrimp that he said tasted ocean-fresh, garnished with shaved avocado, and tomato drizzled with light coconut juice.
I was equally delighted with a
Carpaccio of Tri-colored Heirloom Tomatoes, Buffala di Mozzarella, extra virgin olive oil with a tapinade of seedless eggplant. It tasted just as fresh and beautiful as it looks:
The next course was warm and served with
Pouilly-FuissĂ©. My course--
sautĂ©ed wild mushroomsâ€”brown and white Shimeji, King Oyster, Yellow Foot, Shitakeâ€”was earthy and flavorful. Mushrooms are a favorite if mine and I was so pleased that the chef chose them!
Grilled Fresh Calamari, Baby Arugula, and White Northern Beans was healthy balance of flavor, texture and color.
PRIMI, served with a
â€śMoshinâ€ť Chardonnay from Sonoma, was, for me,
Homemade Ravioli, Lobster, Avocado and Saffron-Fennel sauce that was subtle but distinctive, colorful and aromatic.
The chefâ€™s choice for Herb was
Risotto with fresh Dungeness crab, Asparagus and Saffron Broth.
Before SECONDI, we cleansed our palate with green apple sorbet dotted with little flakes of skin. Now we were ready for the main event.
I was delighted with my
Potato-Crusted Red Snapper, poached Brussels Sprouts and Lemongrass sauce. Everything was delicious but the big surprise was the Brussels Sprouts! They were tender but not overcooked and tasty (NOT bitter). Whatever they were poached in wasnâ€™t my momâ€™s recipe!
Herbâ€™s dish was
Seared Wild Striped Bass with Green Asparagus and White Truffle Sauce. We traded plates to share the delights of our flaky fish and lovely vegetables.
To complement this course, we were served
Oregon Domaine Coteau 2007 and
Barolo Sandiliano 2004.
And now for DOLCE, dessert! Once again, we celebrated Venetian Night, this time with individual chocolate gondolas called "Sweet Venetian Dream." The little dessert boats were filled with dark chocolate, white chocolate and heavy cream but appeared to float on the beautifully decorated plate.
And, of course, there was dessert wine!
Following our "Sweet Venetian Dream," we were served plates of cheese, fresh and dried fruit and homemade raisin bread andâ€”yes, you guessed it!--more wine! This time, it was a lively Port.
But wait! Thatâ€™s not all! Everybody always gets cookies and nougat at
Pane Caldo and how could we not get our cookies on
Venetian Night? We drank coffee with our cookies. And we did not whine.
We had had an evening full of delicious food and an unbelievable variety of wines. We were not uncomfortably full. We were not even tipsy. We were smug. We found one of Chicago's best kept secrets across the street from Bloomingdaleâ€™s and now we're sharing it with you. Celebrate life there!
72 East Walton
312 649 0055 t
312 274 0540 f
Photos: Herb Simms, Pane Caldo