Chicago's Mecca Of Modern Italian Cuisine Throws A Beach Party

Ferragosto is the August 15 Italian holiday that marks the beginning of the country's summer vacation. Chicago's storied Spiaggia celebrated the event appropriately last night — by throwing a stylish beach party. It was the first of the 29-year-old restaurant's ambitious "30 before 30" series of tasks and events that chef/partner Tony Mantuano plans to accomplish over the next few months.

Blessed with a pleasantly cool Chicago evening, with the stunning lakeshore on one side and Spiaggia, the Drake Hotel, and the stately apartment buildings of the Gold Coast on the other, it was the perfect setting for such an event. A DJ provided a mix of classic and current jams. (No Volare, unfortunately.) And exceptionally strong Negroni slushies (made with Letherbee gin), an impressive selection of chilled rosés, and crisp Peroni beers were flowing with abandon.

Of course, the reason we all gathered for this event was for the food, which didn't let anyone down. Antipasti included a full wheel of chunked Parmigiano-Reggiano, endless slices of Proscuiutto di Parma, salmon tartare, and marinated shrimp. The main event featured absolutely stunning salmon, slowly baked over a wood fire and slow-roasted Berkshire pork. A couple of wonderful salads and roasted Melrose peppers rounded out the sides.

It should come as no surprise that Mantuano, executive chef Sarah Grueneberg, and sommelier Jason Carlen can throw a good party. But this surpassed all expectations.

From the welcome cocktail of fresh watermelon and anisette to the salted peanut-butter semifreddo on a stick, it was a truly memorable Chicago evening.