Terzo Piano is a restaurant that literally makes your heart skip a beat the moment you walk in.
With its high ceilings, crisp, white furniture, spare decor
and wall of glass windows providing a sweeping view of Chicago old and
new, it’s the embodiment and reflection of the city’s stunning Mies van der Rohe-infused skyline.
On a clear day, when light is pouring in, sending angular shadows shooting across the pristine, gleaming furniture, the space is just breath-taking. This restaurant, which just opened in the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern wing in May, truly does the city justice.
All of this, of course, combines to set some incredibly high expectations for the food itself.
But that, it turns out, is another story.
Our brunch started off well. Chef Tony Mantuano, who won a James Beard award in 2005 for his Italian offerings at Spiaggia, has created an Italian-tinged lineup with a Midwestern locavore bent for this restaurant.
On the menu, the antipasto’s prosciutto is highlighted as being of La Quercia, cured at the (relatively) close Norwalk, Iowa. The roasted trout comes from Rushing Waters Fisheries just north of Chicago in Palmyra, Wis., while the tomatoes and cilantro in a flatbread appetizer sprouted in the tiny McWethy Farms of Three Oaks, Mich.
(I have a soft spot for places that tell you very specifically where your food comes from — all the better if the farm is so relatively unknown that I have to look it up on my iPhone. Yes, I’m a sucker that way.)
We began our meal with a bang: an $11 appetizer of Lake Erie perch fried to crisp perfection — the batter was light; each bite was juicy and airy.
But what struck me as sheer genius were the thin slices of lemon lightly battered and deep-fried. These in themselves were so good that the accompanying caper and kalamata olive aioli was almost superfluous.
Perhaps it was because the perch was so hard to top that the $9 starter of smoked whitewish whipped with olive oil and served with a rosemary potato crisp and olives seemed lacking in some way.
The presentation was lovely — one of our brunch partners dubbed it the Berlin Wall of appetizers. And the consistency of the whip was light, smooth and nicely done. But the overall taste was mostly that of salt. (And believe me, I am a big fan of the salt shaker. It generally takes quite a bit of salt in food to make me complain.)
For entrees, our friends Angie and Geoff, who had both been enticed by the $18 hand-made spaghetti with Nueskes bacon from Wittenberg, Wis., sheep’s milk cheese, brussel sprout leaves and a poached egg, pronounced the dish a win and promptly polished off their plates.
But the $19 “Uno, Due, Tre” collection of “piccolo burgers” featuring one each of a beef, lamb and shrimp slider (topped with cheeses from Wisconsin and Indiana) was bland and forgettable.
Which was a pity because shouldn’t a girl definitely remember the first time she samples a goat cheese from Greenville, Indiana?
We were of two minds about the $16 frittata sandwich made with squash and mint from Nichols Farm & Orchard in Marengo, Ill.
Mike had an issue with the consistency of the frittata, which was a little wet and squishy for his liking. I, on the other hand, loved its silken mouthfeel — it was so soft it was more akin to a chawanmushi, the Japanese dish of steamed egg custard in a tea cup or small soup bowl.
Being a big lover of the stuff, I was more than happy to embrace the idea of a sandwich of chawanmushi peppered with bits of mint and squash and smushed between two perfectly toasted slices of buttery brioche.
The meal, overall, had not been bad.
Its main problem, perhaps, was that it just didn’t live up to the promise of its space. An outstanding setting deserves to be filled with extraordinary food. Anything less is just a disservice.
But here’s the thing about Terzo Piano: No matter what you’ve eaten, you can always end the meal on a high note.
Its view, after all, may well be the best dessert in town.
Terzo Piano, Located in the modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, 159 East Monroe, Chicago, 312.443.8650; http://www.terzopianochicago.com/