Baffo Ristorante Enoteca is the upscale, white-tablecloth Italian restaurant located inside Eataly, albeit via a separate entrance off Grand Avenue in Chicago’s River North, and the only Eataly-housed restaurant that takes reservations. Unlike Eataly, Baffo is small and intimate, with only 65 seats in the dining room. The decor is sophisticated and refined, and the bar, located at the entrance to Baffo, is long, sleek, and modern. “Baffo” means mustache in Italian, and pays homage to Eataly’s founder Oscar Farinetti’s facial hair. The name is also in honor of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich’s New York City Michelin-starred restaurant, Babbo. While only time will tell whether Baffo can also earn that coveted star, the food that Baffo’s kitchen is producing is phenomenal.
After ordering, the kitchen delivers an amuse bouche – a complimentary small bite that sets the stage for delicious things to come. On our visit, it was a bite-sized fried cauliflower ball, similar to the look and taste of arancini, served right out of the oven. It was the perfect beginning to a stellar meal.
I recommend starting with a few items from the “antipasti” section of the menu for the table. The polpo alla piastra – lightly charred and tender octopus that sits atop marinated, hearty borlotti beans is a must. A limoncello vinaigrette gives the dish some acidic brightness and brings all of the various components together. Equally as tasty is the tonno – light and fresh kampachi crudo topped with citrus, Italian olive oil, and fresh red chile that offers a surprisingly flavorful and spicy finish to each bite.
Then, order a pasta or two from the “primi” portion of the menu to share. All pastas are housemade and delicious. My favorite was the garganelli – a quill-shaped pasta with wild mushrooms and parmigiano reggiano. The pasta literally melted in my mouth, it was so fresh and light. A little more substantial is the orecchiette con salsiccia di agnello – handmade pasta topped with lamb sausage and broccoli rabe. Pay attention to the daily specials, as well. At least one or two will be pasta dishes worth a try, such as a thick spaghetti topped with a venison ragú.
If you still have room, the “secondi” portion of the menu lists an extensive selection of main courses, such as whole roasted seabass, grilled lamb chops, and veal loin with foie gras and black truffles. I liked the calamari, a Sicilian dish that was served in a bowl with vegetables, large caper berries, and farro, all swimming in a spicy tomato broth. The calamari was tender and abundant and the flavors were outstanding.
We did not save room for dessert, but I did enjoy a nice glass of vin santo, my favorite kind of dessert wine, with a few complimentary biscotti-like cookies.
The bar produces some excellent and creative cocktails, and the wine list highlights exquisite Italian selections. Service is polite and well-informed. The kitchen even pre-portioned our shared main courses prior to service. Overall, we were extremely pleased with Baffo.
Just as a mustache can be a man’s unique, personal, and identifying characteristic, Baffo is Eataly’s refined, developed, and well-groomed dining destination.
44 East Grand Avenue, Chicago, IL 60611