(Left) Terzo’s soothing vibe; (right) tomato flatbread with burrata, leeks, chilis, and chervil
As I headed out of the galleries up to TERZO PIANO in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, nightmarish images from Bruce Nauman’s Clown Torture video installation flashed in my mind. I figured a Death’s Door martini was the proper course of action. The artisanal Wisconsin gin did the trick: I was primed and ready for Tony Mantuano’s locavore Italian cooking in the Loop’s new cultural temple. (Yes. Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia fame and Obama favor.)
To find Terzo, you could enter the museum on Michigan Avenue and work your way over to the Modern Wing or duck into the new wing from Monroe Street. I prefer to stroll through Millennium Park and climb the Nichols Bridgeway to Terzo’s crowded doorway, where the panorama of the park, the lake, and Chicago architecture is mine to behold. Cleverly titled by combining the name of the new addition’s architect, Renzo Piano, and the Italian word for “third floor,” the restaurant boasts yet more views of the skyline and Frank Gehry’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion. I envied every diner who had snagged one of the 60 seats on the sheltered terrace, but inside the sparkling glass-curtained white room, I admired the Eames and Herman Miller furnishings—as well as the view—while sipping drinks and munching on addictive brick-cheese crisps. The seamless connection between Terzo Piano’s interior and the city that surrounds it brilliantly creates the sense of dining in an art installation. And service is so slow there’s plenty of time for contemplation.
The style at Terzo, just as at Spiaggia, is deeply Italian. But where Spiaggia imports everything from the old country, Mantuano and Meg Colleran—his chef di cucina at Terzo—rely on ingredients from the Midwest. So while you can get a terrific thin, crisp focaccia in the style of Liguria’s Recco area, it comes filled with Capriole Indiana goat cheese. The two true Italian touches are the olives and Mantuano’s private-label olive oil, both put to good use in a fluffy mound of olive oil–whipped Midwestern smoked fish accompanied by meaty red, green, and black Cerignola olives.
When I see a lunch salad with chicken breast, I always think boorring, but not Terzo’s cleverly named What Came First salad, a sophisticated array of arugula and shaved celery crowned with a boiled organic chicken egg and bordered by moist chicken breast rolled in house-made celery salt. Like a flattened Giacometti sculpture, soft-shell crab legs stick out from the fresh brioche bun of the delicious seasonal sandwich with avocado slaw and pepper bacon. The most popular entrée around the room seems to be the cute little Uno, Due, Tre burgers, a fun trio of lamb, beef, and shrimp burgers that resemble fugitives from a Joseph Cornell box.
If you serve dinner only one night a week (Thursday, when admission to the museum is free), your menu had better be a showstopper. Terzo’s is: It has evolved from a repeat of the lunch menu to an extravagant $45 three-course affair with three options in each category. As long as it’s in season, go for the fried mussel shells stuffed with chopped mussels, La Quercia prosciutto, Swiss chard, and Michigan manchego cheese. Soft, wide ravioletto packets filled with tart crescenza cheese, spring onions, and spigarello greens make a fine pasta course (also available at lunch).
From the ever-changing menu, roasted trout with herbs and little knobs of cauliflower won over my companion, while I fussed that my pair of grilled Illinois quail needed a tad more moisture. However, the soft white polenta and bright-flavored romesco bolstered the crisp birds, and a peppery 2007 Sicilian Cusumano syrah ($25) made them soar. Desserts shuffle every Thursday night; I enjoyed American artisanal cheeses and an almost traditional fried cherry pie with tart fromage blanc sorbet. Both very enjoyable, but next time—just to play it safe—I’ll linger at Brancusi’s soothing Golden Bird before venturing upstairs to Terzo Piano.
* * *
Photography: Nathan Kirkman
The kitchen at Fred’s
Barneys New York doesn’t carry Manolo Blahniks in my size, but I still enjoy gawking my way through the shoe salon before I take the elevator to the sixth floor of this Gold Coast swankerie for a meal at FRED’S. I’m easy. I’ll happily sit on the little balcony, with its views of Rush Street, Oak Street, and the lake, or in the smart white-linen dining room sporting a stone fireplace and blue sheers over expansive windows. Gorgeous, but can a designer-label department store run a credible kitchen, too?
Fred’s at Barneys New York is bustling at lunch, and the waitstaff act as though they are being paid by the mile. One server cruised around and around earnestly offering Parmesan on the pizza, the salad, anything—even once when there was no food on the table. Our main waiter paused long enough to explain that the Flintstones connection is nil: The place is named after Fred, a grandson of the original Barney.
The managing director behind the scenes is Mark Strausman. He helped open Coco Pazzo here in 1992 and has been with Fred’s since its Manhattan inception 13 years ago. Strausman’s lunch menu leans Italian with pizzas and pastas that overlap the dinner menu, along with upscale entrée salads and sandwiches.
The steak salad is more steak than salad: thick slices of medium-rare Angus beef next to a tasty toss of arugula, red onion, and Parmesan. I also liked the fine turkey club sandwich—or much the same thing sans bread in the well-dressed club salad of greens, shredded roasted turkey, double-smoked bacon, and crumbled blue cheese. But my favorite lunch was the crispy ciabatta with rich canned Italian tuna, smoked mozzarella, and fries, followed by mascarpone cheesecake with caramel sauce.
At dinner, the Neapolitan-style pizzas made with King Arthur flour are wonderful, particularly the chewy-crusted number sporting bianco mozzarella and Parmesan drizzled with 12-year-old balsamic vinegar. My friend goes nuts for the balsamic, so after the pizza, we order Parmesan-crusted asparagus drizzled with . . . balsamic. She was happy. I was more than happy with the sautéed chicken livers and shallots in port wine sauce on crostini.
As at lunch, you can get honest spaghetti and meatballs and more interesting cavatelli with broccoli rabe and ground hot and sweet sausage. Osso buco with creamy white polenta is also a winner, but—a first in this town—an Italian dish that needed salt. A lucky organic chicken gets brined, pan flattened, and roasted, then served with pattypan squash and fingerling potatoes. A briar-toned 2007 Easton Amador County zinfandel ($35) uplifted all our entrées, and a warm white chocolate bread pudding with raspberry sauce was light enough not to damage my waistline. Forget the shoes: Fred’s at Barneys is much better than I expected.
FRED’S AT BARNEYS NEW YORK 15 E. Oak St.; 312-596-1111 Model Meal Pizza, osso buco, white chocolate bread pudding Tip Tote in a Barneys shopping bag to signal your status. Hours Lunch and dinner daily; weekend brunch Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) Lunch $40 to $50; dinner $50 to $60
TERZO PIANO Art Institute of Chicago, 159 E. Monroe St.; 312-443-8650 Model Meal Smoked whitefish, What Came First salad, artisanal cheeses (for lunch) Tip Reservations are a must; even then, expect a wait. Hours Lunch daily; dinner Thursday Tab (without wine, tax, or tip) Lunch $30 to $40; dinner $45
Photography: Nathan Kirkman