The reopening of 312 Chicago, a Theatre District icon, has gained plenty of buzz lately. Right before they activated their dinner services, we had the chance to try their lunch menu. We had very high expectations for the menu since the restaurant is headed by an experienced chef known for authentic Italian cuisine. Plus, we all know any Italian restaurants taking the stage at the Theatre District face diners’ existing expectations for Italian food with Petterino’s dominating the scene.
So, how did it go? Below is our editor’s rating
Before we break this down, let me just say: this is a great place if you’re grabbing a quick lunch, or need to do a follow-up lunch with someone you’ve met at a business function. However, we wouldn’t consider this one of the best Italian restaurants in Chicago just yet. Would their new dinner service change the impression? Maybe. Reopening is always tricky, and maybe they’re just getting back into the groove.
Three stars is a fair rating for 312 Chicago’s interior decor. The seatings are comfortable and well spread, and it felt like walking into a classic European home: like the miniature models you see in museums. This feels like a good place for lean-casual business meetups. For example, if you are catching up with an industry friend, a colleague or touching base after meeting someone at a networking event. Our favorite part was the large windows facing the street. As you know, people-watching is part of the fun behind dining in the Theater District. So, if you enjoy a chill, simple lunch with sunshine pouring through the window, 312 Chicago is a good pot.
The best we can say about the menu is that it is has all the classic items you’d expect at an Italian restaurant: cheese and meat spread, calamari, pasta, etc. So, if you aren’t looking to be surprised, but instead just want a simple eat-and-go menu, this would do. But that really is all we can give regarding the food.
To provide a thorough and fair review, we tried a few different items. For appetizers, we tried the charcuterie board and the calamari: the two items you should always get if you’re evaluating an Italian restaurant, to be honest. And frankly, if you are a fan of Lardon or any other Chicago restaurant with great charcuterie, you’re not going to be impressed. We did enjoy the brandy infused fruit on the board, but not much with the meat and cheese selection.
For the main course, we tried their burger per our server’s recommendation, and the Sphagetti allo Scogio, which is basically a seafood sphagetti. Again, we felt like if we came in here for a quick lunch, this would have been sufficient. But if we’re having a day out in the theater district, we wouldn’t be satisfied with the food presented to us. Both items were flavorless and felt like it had sat in the kitchen for longer than necessary, considering the restaurant was fairly empty during our dine. Anybody who knows their pasta knows it’s all about harmony. The sauce, ingredient, and the pasta are meant to blend together into a flavorful yet balanced delight on your tongue.
With Petterino’s sitting practically around the corner, any Italian restaurant entering the Theater District dining scene should understand the competition they face, and we’re sorry to say that, at this point, 312 Chicago is not living up to our expectations. Of course, the restaurant has just reopened and they do have a very experienced chef. So, to be fair, we’d say there are definitely a lot of room for improvement, and their menu is obviously still in the embryo stage. Therefore, we look forward to seeing growth and evolution coming to the table.
If you’re a wine enthusiast, definitely add 312 Chicago to your list. They do have an extensive wine list including white, red, rose, and bubbles in various ages and origins. For lunch hours, there are plenty of lighter wines for diners to choose from, whereas their new dinner is the perfect time to explore their wide selection of reds and red blends.
Meanwhile, no worries if you’re not the biggest wine lover as the restaurant does have a cocktail program with classic recipes and seasonal specials. We tried their spring cocktail and definitely enjoyed it. However, their cocktail is leaning on the sweeter/heavier side, especially the ones on the menu. If you prefer dryer cocktails that puts more focus on the spirit, just go ahead and order something you’ve always enjoyed.
There are always a few things we look for when evaluating a restaurant’s service: attentiveness, knowledge of the menu, ability to make recommendations, and finally, the overall quality of service beyond our own table. And we must say, 312 Chicago earned their four stars from us fair and square.
Our server was wonderful: polite, attentive, and very knowledgeable. While he didn’t really make any recommendations, he was able to answer our questions regarding the menu and provide his personal highlights from each item we pointed out without feeling too “salesy.” We were given new plates throughout the dining experience when necessary, and leftovers were immediately packed and placed somewhere that wouldn’t affect us finishing our meal. The floor was well tended, and the staff was friendly and on-point.
Yay or Nay?
As far as lunch goes, we see 312 Chicago as a great place for professionals to meet up for a quick lunch where the connection is the real focus of the gathering instead of the food. However, if you’re a picky foodie dedicated to check all of Chicago’s best Italian restaurants off your list, this might be a disappointment. Again, with Petterino’s leading the Italian dining scene in Chicago, and definitely in the Theater District, 312 Chicago is in a tough spot and definitely need to go the extra mile to impress.
Finally, since they are changing their menus, be sure to check www.312chicago.com to see what’s being offered right now!
Featured Image: UrbanMatter