Nestled downtown and conjoined to the luxurious 4-star Hotel Allegro, the 312 Chicago capitalizes on impressive Italian cuisine and its centralized Downtown Theater District location.
Two floors of seating and beautiful spaces invite you to dine and then dine again tomorrow. But what level of food would this Italian-focused restaurant serve? I was eager to find out with such personal favorites as polpo (octopus) on the menu.
Friends advised me to expect a lengthy wait to eat in the city, but perhaps meal timing is everything in Chicago. Walking downstairs from the hotel to the hostess station, the staff quickly seated me and offered me a drink on a 8:45 p.m. Tuesday night reservation. A few smiling parties lingered at this time of night in the midst of their meals–personal and professional. Knowing my hunger level and not wanting to throw away calories on beverages, I opted for water and began to review the extensive menu in closer detail.
Menu Decisions, Decisions
Charmingly Italian dishes provided an immediate mouthwatering rush over a full page of creations like Orecchiette con Rapini, a seemingly lighter pasta of sausage, broccoli rabe, sundried tomatoes, and garlicky olive oil with pecorino romano. But wanting a unique meal, the waitress guided me to one of their house special salads and pastas. With bread, my meal was sealed and stuffed with carbs and more carbs. And what a bread-spread combo they delivered while I waited for the salad!
Bread ‘N’ Spread Heaven
Imagine an olive oil-driven sundried tomato spread with hints of olive or tapenade and a dash of heaven. Now, imagine that in your mouth as you sprout your angel wings and fly to Cloud 9.
I could have eaten their bread alone. Correction. I could have eaten their sundried tomato spread alone. It’s perhaps the best accompaniment to bread I’ve had at a restaurant (no exaggeration), and I wish I had the recipe. (If you’re reading this and work for 312 Chicago, send that recipe over, please and thank you!*)
The salad arrived just in time as I finished gorging myself with bread. A beautiful ensemble known as the Rucoletta featured arugula, shitake mushrooms, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette.
They worked fabulously together to lightly tantalize the taste buds. Had I wanted to go lean, I could have started and finished with Rucoletta alone if I had just a little extra. Wow, what an awesome starting 1-2 combo in bread and salad! I eagerly forged forward to the my final course–squid ink linguine.
Squid Ink Linguine?!
Squid ink linguine? I’d heard of the concept before but never actually had an opportunity to experience the pasta niche. This rendition, simply called Linguine Nere, added bay scallops, rock shrimp, hot Fresno peppers, and a saffron cream sauce.
That’s a deep set of flavors for a variety of palates. For those who are not pepper aficionados, Fresno peppers grow hotter as they mature from green to red; fully ripe peppers can be hotter than jalapeños. The peppers in this dish were bright red and brought the heat unless I dodged biting directly into those firecracker slivers. Needless to say, I tried one and quickly learned to dodge the rest.
The bay scallops and rock shrimp were fresh and delicious. I found myself saving the shrimp simply because they were the “rock” star of the seafood on the plate. Meanwhile, the creamy saffron sauce definitely caused me to think about guzzling that alone. I’m sure my doctor would approve of that heart-healthy activity.
312 Chicago Recommendation
I ended my 312 Chicago meal on a stomach more-than-full note. Carb overloaded, I needed sleep. For just over $40 total, I’d dined like an Italian queen. Recommended? For a nice night on the town, a theater district pre-show meal, or to take a step away from Chicago and into Italy, absolutely. Or do it just for the pre-meal bread and sundried tomato spread. Trust me; you’ll thank me later as you join me in rolling down the street carb-stuffed too.
*Seriously, send me the sundried tomato spread recipe! Don’t make me beg.**
**Okay, I’ll beg. PLEEEEEAAAASSSSEEEE…