Reportedly Jeanne Gang, the architect of our skyline’s stunning Aqua building designed it such that every terrace in its curvilinear body looks out at a famous Chicago landmark or destination. That’s a lot of forethought but one new destination is impossible to see from those vantage points—the beautiful Filini restaurant in stunning structure’s lobby.
We recently dined at Filini with friends, and we all agreed that anyone who assumes Filini is just another hotel restaurant with so-so fare for dull tourist palates is very mistaken.
Much of the clientele does in fact come from the Radisson Hotel, where the restaurant is located, but that’s likely because local word is not out yet about the excellent fare and wide range of modestly-priced Italian wines.
We chose two wines from Umbria: a white La Carraia ‘Poggio Calvelli’ Orveieto, 2011, and a Falesco Merlot, 2010. What impressed us most about the wine list was the inclusion of excellent moderately-priced wines such as these as well as very choice $350/bottle wines for special occasions.
The first appetite tease at our finely appointed table were fresh cut pieces of the Grana Padana cheese that is scooped from a large round in the center of the room. This excellent parmesan-like cheese is also used as an accent in some of the dishes on the menu.
We started with a grilled octopus appetizer served with capers, carrot and an herb salad (parsley, cilantro), along with the arugula salad delicately seasoned with fennel, lemon and the Grana Padano cheese.
We were especially delighted by the freshness of the greens in both salads and the light touch of oil. No drowning of our salad in dressing here. The lemon touch to the arugula salad made it especially refreshing.
Next up were two pasta dishes: a fusilli with beet greens, chickpeas and the Grana Padano and a creamy garganelli with prosciutto, peas, truffle oil and chives. The latter would be a perfect winter comfort food meal.
The variety of pasta options on the menu make it easy to pair a rich pasta dish with a lighter one, as we had.
Filini offers an assortment of entrees, including fish, meat and poultry. The evening we went this included pheasant, sausage, lamb, beef and chicken. We chose three entrees, although the portions were such that we certainly would have been satisfied sharing two.
Our swordfish prepared with sage, prosciutto crust, and eggplant puree crowned with putanesca sauce was very tasty and made us very curious about the small burgundy-colored olives that give the dish a tasty tang.
Our very congenial server, Keith, helped track down the chef to find out where these delectable olives were sourced. They are Liguria niçoise olives, and the chef uses them with great skill to accent various dishes.
We also had arctic char, served with a broccolini, a citrus flavoring and some of those same Genoa-sourced olives.
Last of our entrees was very tender lamb porterhouse, served with fingerling potatoes cooked with artichoke and an Italian dry salami called soppressata. This potato accompaniment, in part because it is served at room temperature, - resembles a tasty potato salad. Our affable server, Keith, told us that he routinely advises people about the tepid potatoes so that they don’t think there was some sort of kitchen mistake. Our table found it an interesting touch.
What we did not have is reported to be the most popular dish on the menu-- the spaghetti with shrimp, clam, mussels, calamari, tomato and chili.
Not because we were hungry but because we had a duty to fully report to Splash readers:-)--- we enjoyed two desserts.
One was an assortment of homemade gelatos, including a hazelnut and pistachio with large tasty nuts within. The bomboloni is apparently the chef’s homage to New Orleans--not Italy—with four petite beignets served with three sauces (salted caramel, rhubarb and strawberry).
One dessert option intrigued us but we didn’t dare—perhaps you will. Keith reports that diners either love or hate “panna gelato,” a vanilla gelato topped with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.
That dessert list speaks to why this is a destination restaurant worth noting. It’s not just that you can get fine wines at reasonable prices but you can get predictably delicious foods with distinct touches to make them a cut above. Unusual menu options sate a desire for culinary experimentation.
In some ways Filini is not one restaurant but rather three.
The downstairs restaurant includes the bar, where some regulars from the condos -enjoy sipping the Filini Martini among other drinks.
The décor is a most fitting complement to the exotic Aqua exterior. As if to echo the unusual concrete curvature, the wall and ceiling tiles are angled to produce a sculptural surface.
Small red bottles perfectly accent the bar walls,
the floor is elaborately tiled
and throughout various lighting designs give it the feel of a restaurant in an upscale Modern Art museum such as one we have visited in Istanbul, Turkey. The elegant second floor where we dined has many plush booths to accommodate comfortable private conversation.
Off the bar is a patio, which is a perfect place to order one of the small plates or pizzas offered at the bar.
Unlike other city restaurant patios the traffic on this street is light and the sidewalk wide enough so for you to feel truly relaxed sipping drinks or sharing small plates with a group of friends during balmy evenings after Grant Park concerts or Harris Theatre events.
To sum up our dinner: "The fusilli was fantastic; the swordfish is superb; the gelato has real bits of nuts, and the modestly-priced wines are delicious."
For a delightful dining make your way to Filini Bar and Restaurant, 221 North Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL 60601 (312) 477-0234. Breakfast and lunch as well as dinner are served daily.
Photos: Peter Kachergis