I had a wonderful menu tasting experience at Filini recently. Filini is a contemporary Italian restaurant and bar at the Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel downtown, headed by recently appointed Executive Chef Rick Starr who oversees their culinary program. The restaurant is multi-level, with the bar area on the first floor and a magnificent dining room on the second floor, with a beautiful glass wine wall.
I was invited in with a guest to taste their menu, which focuses on using fresh ingredients to present simple foods, exquisitely and artistically. Our very cordial waitress recommended that we try the Chef’s spontaneous five-course tasting menu with wine pairings, which would be catered pescetarian, of course. So thats what we did!
The bartender immediately brought out a few of their upcoming Fall cocktails (not on the menu yet) for us to try. The first one was the Deconstructed Bloody Mary, which also ended up being my favorite drink of the night. What a cool concept and presentation of peppercorn Vodka, Vida Mezcal, horseradish tincture, served with a side jar of cured tomatoes and mini cucumbers. I’ve always loved Bloody Marys, but I usually avoid them because they tend to be on the heavier side and the tomato juice is often too filling for me. But if I can have my Bloody Marys prepared this way- light, and with its taste preserved, this could quickly become my new poison. The Black Thyme Affair was a close second with CH Gin, lime juice and soda, and adorned with a dainty blackberry thyme shrub. This was only a preview and I was already impressed.
The first course for our food tasting that came out was the Maine Lobster Broth which I had been eyeing on the menu from the minute I laid eyes on it. The dish was lobster essence with lobster meat and summer truffle. Truffle and lobster together sound divine as is, but they are also two very bold flavors. I was mysteriously impressed at how well Chef executed this dish so as to preserve the individuality of both flavors yet combine them into a new one. The broth was so smooth that I just wanted to drink it from the bowl. And I’m sure the aromatic, fruity tones of the Michele Gavi it was paired with helped too. The Buffala Mozzarella di Campana was fantastic also. This milky, tender cheese came with heirloom tomatoes, garden pesto, and crisp Castelvetrano olives that were deliciously tangy leaving a little scratch in my throat.
Next on the list was the unassuming but very delicious House Salad with field baby greens, black walnuts, Gorgonzola, citrus and a sweet sassy Nectarine Mostarda. The consistency of the mostarda reminded me of a chutney and the candied taste was better than any sweet dressing I’ve had recently. A little salad always enhances a meal, especially when it’s this good and I was also happy to have my intake of greens.
Then came the Grilled Baby Octopus with braised fennel, pickled mustard and roof top vinaigrette. And this was served with a light, crispy Donnfugata Anthilia. If there’s an art to grilling these tentacled sea creatures, Filini has it mastered. The octopus meat was chewy without being rubbery with little hints of licorice that the fennel gave off; I thoroughly enjoyed this dish!
The Day Boat Scallops and Wild Alaskan Salmon that were next were both amazing in their own way. The sweet potato puree in both dishes, and the broccolini, which had a little char, went very well with the tender fish meat. And I don’t want to forget the overwhelming platter of Fritto Misto that was also sent out comprising of fried calamari, shrimp, cod, asparagus and Calabrian peppers.
I felt that every dish we ate during our tasting represented summer in some way. Chef Starr’s minimalist approach to food using seasonal flavors and fresh produce comes through in every dish he puts out, not to mention, the deliciousness. There was also something really calming about restaurant ambiance, and the service was flawless. An evening well spent!
Address: 221 N Columbus Dr, Chicago, IL 60601
Phone: (312) 477-0234
Hours: Sun-Thurs: 2:00pm-Midnight, Fri-Sat: 2:00pm-2:00am
Price: $12- $48.00