A Squared: Dining at Eataly Chicago & Baffo

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Dining at Eataly Chicago & Baffo

I've been a fan of Eataly ever since my friend Maggie introduced me to the US flagship location New York City several years ago. It's everything I love: great food, artisinal products, genuine Italian flavors and ingredients... all under one roof. So when Chicago got its own Eataly outpost about a year and a half ago, I was ecstatic! Dining at Eataly Chicago is always a treat and they offer several options, no matter what kind of restaurant experience you're looking for: Fine dining, relaxed cafe dining, or prepared foods to take home for later. I've done the very difficult legwork of trying them all for you (in the name of research, of course) and today I'm giving you a rundown of your Eataly Chicago dining options.

La Pizza & La Pasta
Eataly, River North

Upstairs at Eataly Chicago you'll find a large open space reminiscent of the food and market halls commonly found across Europe. This is the hub for dining at Eataly and the space is separated into smaller cafes that specialize in dishes highlighting specific ingredients like fish, vegetables, or meat. One evening my friend Kit and I attended a class at La Scuola di Eataly and decided to grab a bite to eat there afterward. Both pasta lovers, we knew La Pizza & La Pasta was the spot for us. The menu at La Pizza & La Pasta is simple and traditional, with a great variety of antipasti, pizza, and pasta options.

I ordered one of my favorite traditional Italian pasta dishes, the Ziti Corta alla Norma. The ziti here was cooked to chewy al dente perfection and the sauce is a flavorful combination of tomato, basil, and eggplant. The sauce had a great slow cooked flavor and the eggplant almost melted into the sauce so it had a thick velvety consistency. It was finished off with some creamy buffalo mozzarella for a delicious and satisfying meatless meal.

via The Kittchen

Kit opted for one of her favorites that night: the tagliatelle with short rib ragu. Eataly's housemade tagliatelle ribbons were tossed in a slow cooked sauce filled with fork tender braised short rib meat. The ragu was rich and flavorful and rustic. It was a perfectly hearty bowl of pasta.

Whether you're looking for a spot for a casual date night, to meet friends after work, or to take a little break from shopping on Michigan Avenue, La Pizza & La Pasta--or any of the other Eataly cafes-- is a really solid option.

Eataly, River North

Tucked below Eataly with a storefront entrance on Grand Avenue is Baffo, a sleek modern fine dining option from the famed chefs behind Eataly. Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich opened Baffo (which translates to "mustache") here in Chicago as the sister restaurant to their flagship restaurant Babbo in New York City. Baffo feels considerably more upscale than the specialty cafes upstairs at Eataly, but it also lacks the stuffiness of traditional fine dining restaurants making it a much more approachable spot for a big date night on the town. Alex and I visited Baffo during Chicago Restaurant Week earlier this year (shame on me for only getting to this post now!), which was a nice more affordable way to sample several menu options and get the Baffo experience. And spoiler alert: The food was so good that I will definitely be returning!

For our first course, we had a few options but I knew exactly what I wanted: the Straciatella. A generous portion of Baffo's hand-pulled mozzarella was topped with local mixed greens, spiced almond, and shaved apple. It was a really nicely balanced dish. The cheese was rich, but the lightly dressed greens and crisp sweet apple were such a great complement to its flavor and texture.

Alex opted for the Salumi Misti, which was a surprisingly generous portion of assorted cured meats and accompaniments. The charcuterie was served along with a lardo spread (cured Italian pork fat), sliced apples, and a big basket of warm pillowy gnoccho fritto (fried dough). There was enough meat on this plate to serve several people, so Alex was in heaven right off the bat with this meal-- It was a really impressive antipasti dish. I should also mention too that when Baffo called to confirm my reservation they checked on food allergies at that point in time and were cognizant all throughout our meal of Alex's night and fish allergies, which made our dinner feel so much more relaxed. And it was a fabulous customer service experience.

For my entree, I went traditional and chose the Pappardelle. This wide and flat pasta was cooked to al dente and topped with a rich bolognese sauce. The sauce was thick and meaty with some nice tomato sweetness. And it was a perfect portion size-- just enough so that I was full, but still anxious for some dessert!

Alex ordered the Bisteca for his main course. This grilled skirt steak was simply prepared, juicy, and flavorful and served with fingerling potatoes, sauteed maitake mushrooms, all seasoned with a flavorful (but not overpowering) truffle vinaigrette. Alex isn't usually one to make a big deal about food (he's usually saying "it's okay" or "it's edible," ha), but he commented several times on how good this steak was-- so that's a big deal!

And let's not forget about dessert! I tried the Pere e Noci (translation: Pear & Walnut) and loved it! A moist walnut spongecake was topped with a pear gelee and touches of salted caramel and crunchy walnuts. Pear and walnut is a perfect flavor pairing and this dessert was just sweet enough with some delicious salty touches-- like that yummy salted caramel!

And while my dessert was good, Alex's was straight up amazing. The Cioccolato dessert looked small, but it was so rich and flavorful that he couldn't even finish it with my help. This deep chocolate sponge cake was layered with crunchy hazelnuts and covered in rich chocolate ganache. The cake itself was amazing with that almost Nutella-like flavor and delicious richness, but paired with a scoop of housemade gelato it was just perfect.

River North

After an amazing dinner, Alex and I decided to venture upstairs to Eataly and do a little shopping. There was a big snowstorm rolling in that night so we thought it would be fun to stock up on some of the prepared foods in Eataly's grocery section in preparation for the storm. They carry an amazing selection of meats and seafood, fresh pastas and sauces, in addition to a vast selection of beer, wine, produce, and dry goods.

We picked up some of their fresh fettuccine and bolognese sauce after it came highly recommended by the woman helping us. We enjoyed it the next night with some red wine and roasted broccolini (that we also picked up at Eataly) and it was the perfect blizzard dinner!

A Squared

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