Lucky for Chicago, chef Mauro Mafrici, originally discovered by Lydia Bastianich (of the PBS cooking show, Lidia's Italy) in Rome, and former owner of New York's Lo Scalco in Tribeca, has hit the Windy City. His elegant restaurant, decorated to a perfect aquamarine and white dream by wife and architect Kimberly Anguil Mafrici, is tucked inside the Raffaello Hotel
in the Gold Coast.
Seated on an aquamarine banquette, I admire the giant, gorgeous still life by Italian artist David di Biasio. Staff is attentive but not sugar coated. The menu contains Northern and Southern Italian influences, such as risotto with mushrooms and square spaghetti with eggplant, tomato sauce and mozzarella. A two-course lunch is $22, three courses are $28, not bad for this posh setting and location.
My object of desire: the tagliolini (thin egg pasta) because I've never tried it, and it sounds intriguing. Like all the pastas here, it's freshly made, and tastes like it. Tossed with spinach, fresh crab meat, garlic and light butter sauce, the dish is luxuriant but not overly rich.
Following my delicious meal, chef Mauro Mafrici comes out for chat. He's clearly not just making rounds, but genuinely interested in how I find the food. We chat about how he hails from the Northeastern Italian city of Trieste, and how the influence of nearby Vienna can be found in the coffee and sweets tradition in his hometown.
Dessert is a cappuccino and plate of tiny cakes that make me want to take the first plane to Vienna.
Centerstage Reviewer: Marla Seidell