Inside Spiaggia

Few awards mean more to a chef than a James Beard Foundation Award. But it can be particularly meaningful for those chefs who have grown with a restaurant for more than 10 years — an accolade saved for the Outstanding Restaurant Award, presented by Acqua Panna Natural Spring Water.    

This year's nominees run the spectrum of location and cuisine: August in New Orleans; Blue Hill in New York City; Highlands Bar and Grill in Birmingham, Ala.; The Slanted Door in San Francisco; and Spiaggia in Chicago. We teamed up with Acqua Panna to go to each restaurant, share a meal, and discuss with each chef how their restaurants have maintained their quality and continually evolved over the years.

After our first stop at Blue Hill, we next made our way to Chicago to visit Spiaggia, the Italian fine dining staple on the Magnificent Mile. Opened in 1984, Spiaggia has maintained its luster because of chef and partner Tony Mantuano and in recent years executive chef Sarah Grueneberg as well. The restaurant has won multiple accolades during its almost 30 years, including the James Beard Award for Best Chef Midwest. It has also already been a contender in the Outstanding Restaurant category.

At my recent meal I sampled the kitchen's take on a variety of pastas. Some were perfectly executed classics like true fettuccine Alfredo and others introduced new combinations of exceptional flavors such as the spaghetti marinara with uni and shrimp. Spiaggia reminds you that bold Italian flavors can come with a white tablecloth and beautiful presentation — and it makes you forget why rustic dining ever became so popular.

We sat down with Mantuano and Grueneberg to cover both the origins of the restaurant as well as how they are continually pushing forward. Grueneberg cited Mantuano's continued dedication to the pursuit of perfect ingredients while Mantuano hailed his mentee's passion for Italy and for finding new products — including her own artichoke honey that she is producing with Italy's only mono-floral honey producer. They both believe that the balance between modern Italian cuisine and classics matters less than the desire to create the best food. As Gueneberg notes, "The balance is that you're cooking with an Italian heart and serving with an Italian heart."

One big piece of news that Mantuano shared is that "We're actually going to do a major 30th anniversary remodel." Plans are not yet finalized but there are some elements that will definitely not change, including the restaurant staples like the marble, granite, and private booths.

For more, watch the video above! And make sure to look out for our visit to August in New Orleans next week!