When a restaurant group has a popular franchise, as is the case with Siena Tavern and Bar Siena, two popular Italian American restaurants in River North and the West Loop, expansion seems the next logical move. The owners of DineAmic Hospitality had been pondering a second Bar Siena for several years, but the pandemic thwarted and then delayed their plans. But now it is finally opening, not in the city, but in Westfield Old Orchard mall in Skokie.
“A lot of people that live in the suburbs want to have a city dining experience at a city brand they have been to before, but they don’t want to go all the way into the city,” says DineAmic co-owner Lucas Stoioff.
Several other restaurants and restaurant groups, including Le Colonial and Ballyhoo Hospitality (Sophia Steak, Pomeroy), have recently announced ventures into the suburbs to cater to customers who for whatever reason — working from home, road construction, sheer laziness — no longer feel like commuting into the city for dinner. DineAmic itself will be opening a second location of its new Mediterranean restaurant Lyra in Oakbrook in the fall, and Old Orchard is already home to outposts of Hampton Social and Uncle Julio’s. But Bar Siena Old Orchard has a special sentimental value to Stoioff: this was the mall where he hung out as a teenager. More specifically: it’s just a few doors down from the movie theater where he spent so much of his time.
In most respects, Bar Siena Old Orchard isn’t much different from the original Bar Siena. The menu of pasta, steak, pizza, and bomboloni for dessert will, for now, be exactly the same, though Stoioff and chef Fabiano Viviani plan to add special location-specific dishes in a few months once they get a better sense of their customers’ tastes and preferences. “We don’t like to open prototype restaurants,” Stoioff says. “We try to put in a personal touch for a specific market.”
But the restaurant’s design takes advantage of the suburban virtue of space. It sprawls across 8,500 square feet with two entrances, one from the mall itself and one from the parking lot. The mall entrance will lead directly to a wine bar with a patio and lounge seating that Stoioff envisions as a refuge for weary shoppers who just want a glass of wine and a quick bite. The parking lot side, meanwhile, will feature a 3,000-square-foot pergola with seating for 100, a living wall with flowers and ivy, and a retractable roof and heaters where, Stoioff says, customers can dine outdoors all year round.
The main dining room is, like its downtown counterpart, decorated with exposed brick and hand-painted murals and an enormous sculptural iron tree decorated with LED lights that forms a canopy over the entire restaurant, giving it the feel of a festive garden. At the heart of the space is an open kitchen with a handmade brick pizza oven.
Already, Stoioff says, Bar Siena Old Orchard has received overwhelming support from the North Shore community through social media. As a gesture of goodwill, the restaurant will donate 100 percent of the proceeds from its opening weekend to a GoFundMe to support victims of last Monday’s shooting in nearby Highland Park and their families.
“We’ve been building our business in the city,” Stoioff says, “and now we’re opening up a place for people who have been some of our biggest fans. It means something to us.”
Scroll down to see some highlights from the menu.