I’ve been meaning to visit Chicago’s Siena Tavern for a while, but I’ve never gotten around to it. Back home, for nostalgic reasons, the sight of the abandoned former China Grill space always saddened me. Luckily for me, I now get to enjoy Siena Tavern in my own backyard and see the 5th and Washington corner come to life again. Problem solved.
Italian-born Fabio Viviani initially stole hearts across the country with his appearance on Bravo’s hit reality competition show, Top Chef. I don’t know about you, but my favorite Fabio TV moment is and will always be “boor-gor-vention.” If you don’t know about it already, please take a look here. With the right amount of charisma, comedic chops, business wits, and a charming accent, he has since taken over America: six restaurants (for now), countless TV cooking segments, a web series, a cookware line, multiple product endorsements, cookbooks, his very own magazine, and even a newly released wine collection. If you haven’t heard of Chef Viviani, you’ve been living under a rock!
Given Fan-Favorite Fabio’s popularity and his many business ventures, I wondered if Siena Tavern would be just a marketing ploy to get Top Chef fans through the door. The second I set foot inside, it was obvious this restaurant was no afterthought. Details, details, details, everywhere I looked. The design team deserves a standing ovation. I felt right at home walking into the sexy grand space that is now Siena Tavern. Plush tufted booths, casual high tops, dark wooden tables, and a buzzing bar all scream “Miami luxe.” Strategically placed dramatic lighting enhances the different textures found on the ceiling and walls. The back section of the restaurant, with a simple and effective floor-to-ceiling swooping curtain (spanning the width of the restaurant) is the perfect spot for semi-private events.
Siena Tavern’s expansive menu offers the expected traditional dishes such as lasagna, pizza, and ravioli. Quality ingredients and other items like crudos, a cheese menu, and a mozzarella bar give the menu an updated twist. Chef Viviani is not reinventing the wheel, he’s just sprucing it up a bit: comfort food, done exceptionally well. I’ve managed to try quite a number of dishes from the menu during my last two visits. For me, the clear standouts were the coccoli, squid ink linguini, porterhouse, and the monkeybread. In fact, I think I’m going to need these on rotation, on a monthly basis, in my life. Yes, I said NEED.
Wagyu Meatball: do you know it has its own Twitter account? Roasted tomato sauce, bellwether ricotta, and shaved basil
Truffle Mushroom Pizza: roasted wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, mozzarella, and white truffle oil
Pappardelle Bolognese: bolognese sauce and grated parmesan
Gnocchi: truffle cream, crispy pancetta, and fried sage
Squid Ink Linguini: grilled lobster tail, spicy lobster cream, and shaved green onion
Bomboloni: served with whisky caramel, chocolate hazelnut, and a raspberry chianti
Caramel Cookie Jar: Nutella mousse, hazelnut cream, and caramel cookies
Monkeybread: hazelnut cream, caramel, and candied hazelnuts
When comparing prices between the Chicago and Miami menus, I noticed some significant price differences. Almost everything on the menu here is priced at least a couple of dollars higher. The biggest difference was perhaps the porterhouse pricing: $75.00 in Chicago, yet $110.00 in Miami. That said, I found the menu to be reasonably priced given the restaurant’s prime location (and especially when comparing it to the many South Beach businesses that triple the price of everything, just because). The corkage fee to bring in your wine is $25.00. I’m pleased Miami’s very own Bar-Lab collaborated with Siena Tavern to create their cocktails. Also featured on the menu? Florida breweries. Wynwood Brewing, Funky Buddha Brewery, and Cigar City Brewing all have menu listings.
Service has been just right during both of my visits. It’s obvious the staff is highly trained. The usual stumbles and hiccups most newly opened restaurants exhibit were not evident here. Joining the wonderful Tongue & Cheek, trendy Prime One Twelve, and historic Joe’s Stone Crab, Siena Tavern is the anchor that has been missing in the South of Fifth neighborhood.
One more thing, in case you were wondering, there are no “burgers” listed on the menu. And that’s just fine with me.