The windows at 51 W. Kinzie are papered over, concealing the latest big-name River North Italian project lurking within. Inside sits 10,000 square-feet of a rustic-Italian-meets-urban-Chicago balancing act, where Lucas Stoioff and David Rekhson (Bull & Bear, Public House) and Fabio Viviani (Top Chef) hope bringing together a confluence of expertise and inspiration will bring a timeless and new brand of Italian cuisine and atmosphere to the neighborhood and city. This weekend, the paper comes off the Siena Tavern windows.
College buddies Stoioff and Rekhson (DineAmic Group) have been building a mini-empire, opening Stone Lotus, Bull & Bear, Public House, and now Siena Tavern roughly two years apart, gradually moving from clubs to bars to restaurants. They secure a space and tailor the concept to the area and clientele, which is what happened with Siena Tavern two years ago, before Piccolo Sogno Due and RPM Italian opened down the street. They knew Viviani for three years at that point, asked him to work together, and he came aboard.
The concept is a blend of DineAmic's bar and club background and Viviani's Italian simplicity, inspired by a weeklong Italian excursion. In Siena, they found themselves in a tavern and eatery with a large open kitchen, old stone pizza oven, herb garden with Christmas tree lights, and pizza, fresh pasta, and mozzarella. They were so taken by "the tavern in Siena" that they urban Americanized it, and named Siena Tavern after it.
"The design was a balancing act between how much of the space is a comfortable restaurant, and how much of the space is a lively bar," Stoioff says. On one side is a large oval-shaped island bar, on the other side a cushy 200-seat dining room filled with upscale leather booths. A communal crudo, pizza, and mozzarella, and cocktail bar sits in the middle, blending and dividing the eating and drinking sides. It will serve until the 2 a.m. close. A 100-seat wraparound patio will open in April. The private dining space is reminiscent of a throne room, and a lounge area complete with a DJ booth hides in a back corner.
The menu is traditional Italian with modern tweaks, straddling that line. Dishes like coccoli (fried dough balls, stracchino cheese, proscuitto) and Fabio's Mom's lasagna are more old-world. All pasta and dough is made in-house, such as the farro pasta with oven-dried tomatoes and pesto.
They brought in Femme du Coupe's Revae Schneider to mastermind the cocktail menu, which is simply numbered 1-11 ($12 each). It's mostly brown-liquor themed, with twists like the Limoncello cocktail (No. 1) and the No. 11 (patron silver, grappa, St. Germain, chamomile, orange bitters, lime, basil). The house Siena draft, designed by former Goose Island brewmaster Jared Rouben, will be ready next month. It's a wheat beer brewed with farro and the house pizza yeast. The wine list is predominantly Italian, with some Napa and Sonoma reds to accent. There's a handful of glass pours, bottles run from $32-$240.
Viviani will be present two weeks a month due to his L.A. restaurants and TV requirements. DineAmic corporate chef David Blonsky captains the kitchen. DineAmic and Viviani are "constantly synergizing" and working on more projects.