RPM Italian-- Sleek, Select & "Scene-y"

April 15, 2012 52 W Illinois St, Chicago, IL 60654, USA

As a die hard Lettuce Entertain You restaurant fanatic, I knew I had to make reservations as soon as possible for their newest restaurant opening in Chicago. This time around, Melman siblings RJ, Jerrod and Molly collaborated with chef Doug Psaltis and celebrity couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic, to open an Italian restaurant with a name featuring each of their initials, RPM Italian.

It's no surprise RPM Italian was inevitably bound to become a place to see and be seen in Chicago because of the names attached to its development. I made reservations about 1.5 months in advance to go with two girlfriends for a mid-week dinner. We were all very excited to try this hot spot and had high expectations from the hype that had surrounded the restaurant in its first few weeks of business.

When you enter RPM, it's obvious that attention was paid to create an elegant and sleek atmosphere. A cream and black motif are evident with sweeping cream brick walls and dark woodwork and leather throughout. The waitstaff is even decked out in white tuxedo jackets and dark slacks, adding yet another classy touch to the ambiance.

At 7:00 PM on a Wednesday, the place was packed, buzzing and energetic. We were seated at a table near the rear of the restaurant, affording great views for the inevitable people watching. It was obvious from the moment we stepped inside, people really dress to impress here. Imagine the pages of Michigan Avenue magazine coming to life and you have yourself a pretty accurate description.

We ordered a few glasses of wine, however, I was unimpressed by our server's lack of knowledge when it came to the wine and food offerings. I'm not sure if he was new or just uniformed, but it was obvious that my numerous questions would go unanswered.

RPM Italian features a fairly large menu of hot and cold small plates meant to be shared. We started off with the fresh burrata appetizer which was a scoop of fresh mozzarella served with arugula, roasted tomato and toasted bread. It was obvious the cheese was fresh and it had a slightly creamier texture than typical mozzarella because of its addition of cream.

Fresh Burrata
We also ordered a warm appetizer to follow our cold appetizer, the gnocchi. All of the pastas at RPM Italian are made in-house, and that is something I truly appreciate at any Italian restaurant. When the gnocchi arrived at our table, I was flabbergasted. Three little gnocchi were served in a metal pan and I had never been happier that there were only three of us dining that evening. I understand these are small plates meant to be shared, but three gnocchi?! Needless to say, we finished that plate very quickly, soaking up the buttery sage flavors and gooey gorgonzola cheese. I did appreciate the way the flavor of the sage came out in the dish, but was still stuck on the tiny portion size, even if it was an appetizer.

Gnocchi al Forno with Gorgonzola and Sage
Keeping with the pasta theme, we ordered two "entree-sized" pasta dishes that were homemade as well. The first was an interesting combination of wild boar sausage tossed with a corkscrew-type pasta in a creamy sauce sprinkled with kale and fennel. Upon first bite, I was immediately hit with the overwhelming taste of garlic. Don't get me wrong, I love love love everything garlic, but this was too much. It's one thing to enjoy a garlic sauce tossed with pasta, it's another to feel as if you are biting into a garlic clove with every morsel. Despite it's garlic nature, I found this dish to be one of the more memorable dishes of the evening.

Wild Boar Sausage Pasta with Fennel and Pecorino
Next up in the pasta category was Giuliana Rancic's mother's famous pasta recipe, Mama DePandi's Bucatini Pomodoro. Bucatini is similar to spaghetti, only slightly thicker. I could especially tell this pasta was homemade because of its tender texture and unusual shape. As a lover of all things with basil, I appreciated the sprinkle of fresh basil that helped balance the pomodoro's acidity. We all agreed this dish was tasty but then again, nothing out of the ordinary.

While these photos definitely make the food look larger, the pasta portions were larger than the appetizer portions. Each dish was about the size of your fist, but I definitely recommend ordering several options if you have a larger party than we did. Between the three of us, we were each able to take about two little servings of each. Interestingly, these dishes were probably about the size of a "normal" portion of pasta for one (talk about portion distortion!).

Mama DePandi's Bucatini Pomodoro
In order to round out our tour of the RPM Italian menu, we decided on the ahi tuna entree as well as a side of mascarpone polenta. All of the entrees are a la carte and other side dish options included grilled asparagus, parmesan potatoes and tuscan white beans. The tuna was served as six small pieces topped with olives and arugula. I'm not the biggest fan of raw tuna so I found it to be just OK, but my friends were pleased and the dish ranked as their favorite of the evening.

Big Eye Tuna with Olives
For me, my favorite part of dinner ended up being the creamy mascarpone polenta. I had only tried polenta on one other occasion prior to dining at RPM Italian so I was a bit skeptical of how it might taste. The bowl of polenta was very buttery and melted in your mouth along with the tuna we paired it with. It was definitely a good choice as far as side dishes go and I restrained myself from licking the bowl.

Mascarpone Polenta
It wasn't until after we had finished eating our main courses that my feelings about RPM Italian were really set in stone. The waitstaff and general manager promptly cleared our table and upon doing so, the manager dropped a fork full of polenta down the back of my friend's shirt. We all pretty much stared in silence waiting to see how the manager would amend the situation, and I have to give much credit to her for not freaking out at the thought of buttery polenta on her silk shirt.

The manager gave her his card and told her to take her shirt to the dry cleaners and bring her receipt back to the restaurant for him to pick up the tab. Really? You just spilled food on an innocent patron and you want her to come back on her own time for you to pay for her cleaning? No bueno.

Fortunately, the manager must have read my mind (I also let it slip that I would be reviewing the restaurant on my blog--although, I'm not sure you can really ignore my DSLR camera on the table) because he ended up comping a few appetizers and our dessert (see below). In that awkward situation, that was probably the best outcome, however, it just rubbed me the wrong way after the mediocre food and uninformed waitstaff. I do have to give him credit for making the situation right again; that was much appreciated.

Luckily the best part of the meal was next, and we went with our waiter's suggestion. The tartufo was a large hazelnut gelato ball rolled in rich chocolate and hazelnuts. It seemed as if every table around us had ordered the same option for dessert, so I knew it must be good. The tartufo was unquestionably the largest portion of the evening, and I couldn't have been happier (let's be honest, I was still hungry!).

The shell tasted just like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate candy and the gelato was creamy and not a bit too sweet. Although it was a bit difficult to cut and split, I did enjoy eating it from what I dubbed the "Willy Wonka spoon".

Tartufo Hazelnut Gelato Ball Rolled in Chocolate and Hazelnuts

I had to take a photo of the Willy Wonka spoon :)
Overall, I was impressed with the classy interior, but underwhelmed by the food, portions and service. RPM Italian gets 3 stars for putting the "small" in small plate (with hefty price tags), unknowledgeable waitstaff but killer dessert and a classy atmosphere (including unbeatable people watching). 

Maybe because RPM Italian had been hyped up by so many that my expectations were held high, or maybe it was the celebrity name attached that made me really want to like it, but I just couldn't see myself returning and forking over $130 for a few small plates and some wine. After all, looks can only take you so far...

RPM Italian
52 W. Illinois
Chicago, IL 60654
Reservations at OpenTable.com

RPM Italian on Urbanspoon


  1. Thanks for reviewing! I have been curious about RPM ever since I heard of its inception last year. It's hard to imagine an Italian restaurant being stingy with portions - that seems oxymoronic. I would die for a bite of that dessert, though :)

  2. I agree, Meg! Luckily the dessert was the largest portion of the evening :)


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