Wednesday, September 9

Siena Tavern vs. Bar Siena

By now you've probably been to or at least heard of Top Chef Fabio Viviani's Siena Tavern and Bar Siena. Both restaurants feature wonderful Italian dishes in unique settings. Siena Tavern, the older of the two restaurants, is situated in River North and features a large dining room and bar with an extensive list of cocktails, wines, and reserve wines. Bar Siena, the younger of the two restaurants which opened in July, is in the heart of restaurant row on Randolph Street in the West Loop. Bar Siena is two floors, with the first acting as a bustling bar area with an open kitchen, while the second level also offers a more traditional dining room. Bar Siena also has a walk-up window for its BomboBar, or dessert bar, featuring a selection of homemade bomboloni (Italian donuts), gelato, Italian ice, and coffee.

I'm reviewing both restaurants so you can compare them, but don't ask me to pick my favorite!

Siena Tavern

The BF and I stopped by Siena Tavern on a Thursday night and the place was hopping with a large corporate party in the bar, and a full dining room. Although we had a reservation, we had to wait about 15 minutes for a table.

We were seated next to the windows lining Hubbard Street which afforded us great people watching of those on the outdoor patio and passing by. I asked some friends for menu suggestions before our visit to Siena Tavern and the overlapping suggestion was the coccoli, crispy dough served with stracchino cheese, prosciutto di parma, and truffle honey. You pull the dough apart and top them with the meat and cheese, forming a mini sandwich. These dough balls were delish!

Siena Tavern
Coccoli
We passed on the selection of soups, salads and meat and cheese boards, in favor of some pizza and pasta. Our pizza choice was the carne pizza with housemade fennel sausage, pancetta cured bacon, sopressata, prosciutto sausage, mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil. This pizza was fully loaded and almost too pretty to eat. The crust was perfectly crispy yet chewy and the sauce and fresh basil were fantastic. We could have taken that pizza down, except we had to save room for some pasta.

Siena Tavern
Carne Pizza

Siena Tavern
Carne Pizza
Our pasta was equally heavy and meaty (go big or go home), a rigatoni with lamb amatriciana. Unfortunately, this dish is not on the menu. Chef Fabio was making it as a special the night we dined, but you might get lucky if you ask for it. It was perfection...I loved the housemade pasta and large chunks of lamb. This is the perfect dish for a nice big, bold glass of red wine.

Rigatoni with Lamb Amatriciana
Rigatoni with Lamb Amatriciana
Even though our previous three dishes all were carb-heavy, we somehow mentioned to save room for a monkeybread dessert. Yes, we're crazy. Yes, we love carbs. The dessert featured generous amounts of caramel, candied hazelnuts, and hazelnut whipped cream. Dessert is certainly not an afterthought here.

Monkey Bread
Monkeybread
So, what are my thoughts overall? Honestly, I didn't expect much from a celebrity chef restaurant, but boy, was I blown away. Everything we ate packed a punch of flavor and we never wanted the dishes to end.

Bar Siena

The BF also joined me at Bar Siena when we stopped in on a weeknight. The restaurant had only been open for about one month when we dined so it was certainly buzzing. The lower level bar was jam-packed with large groups of twenty- and thirty-somethings. You could barely get in the revolving door it was so crowded! The open kitchen on the first floor also features a red Italian pizza oven lovingly named Bella. Luckily, we were escorted upstairs to the main dining room where we had more room to breathe. Upstairs includes another bar where a private party had rented the space the night we were there. Every table in the dining room was taken and included large leather booths lining the perimeter and smaller tables in the middle. There is a large opening in the center of the second floor dining room uniting the first and second floors.

Bar Siena takes a more casual approach than Siena Tavern, offering a selection of antipasti, crudo, pizzas, calzones, pastas, and larger plates meant for sharing. The wine and beer list is very diverse, offering a range of options for different budgets.

We started off with the burrata wedge salad with heirloom cherry tomatoes, crispy coppa, pickled red onion, and crostini. The salad was tossed in an incredible blue cheese dressing. We loved the flavor and mixed texture in this salad. I'd highly recommend it!

Bar Siena
Burrata Wedge Salad
Because we are carb lovers (and we wanted to compare the carb-heavy options to Siena Tavern), we ordered a pizza and pasta to share.  The pizza we had was similar to the carne pizza at Siena Tavern. The spicy coppa pizza included smoked mozzarella, pecorino, oregano and coppa of course. This pie didn't have as much meat as the carne, but that didn't negatively impact the flavor. However, I wish the dough was a big crispier. While the crust was crispy and had a slight char, the middle of the pie was soggy and difficult to pick up. In this case, the pizza at Siena Tavern wins hands down.

Bar Siena
Spicy Coppa Pizza
Next up was the sweet corn ravioli. Typically, this would not be the first pasta dish I'd choose, but it came highly recommended. Holy cannoli was it delicious. Each homemade ravioli was packed with fresh sweet corn, and tossed with chioddini mushrooms and truffle butter. Yes, truffle butter. How bad can that be? This was one of the best dishes I've had this year and that's saying a lot. The pasta at Bar Siena wins over Siena Tavern (but trust me, it was pretty close).

Bar Siena
Sweet Corn Ravioli
At this point we were stuffed but knew about Bar Siena's extensive dessert list. The bomboloni are a must-try. They are sold individually and you can pick from several flavors including salted caramel, mixed berry, maple butter cream, chocolate fudge, and vanilla bean custard. Each hole-less doughnut is injected with one of these flavors. We chose the salted caramel and chocolate fudge. Don't get the chocolate fudge, the salted caramel is insanely delicious. The dessert menu also includes several varieties of gelato, Italian ice, and even a Nutella calzone which also is very popular. If you're passing through the West Loop, stop by the BomboBar window and grab some of these delicious Italian sweets!

Bar Siena
Salted Caramel Bomboloni
Bar Siena
Chocolate Fudge Bomboloni
As with Siena Tavern, I was again impressed with the quality of food at Bar Siena. This is certainly the place to be right now too. On the night I dined, some guy from The Bachelor and Michael Jordan were there. Yes, Michael Jordan. Make a reservation well in advance and get ready for a delicious night!

Because I loved different aspects of Siena Tavern and Bar Siena, I'm giving both spots 4.5 ghosts out of 5!



Siena Tavern
51 W. Kinzie St.
Chicago, IL 60652
312.595.1322

Siena Tavern on Urbanspoon
Bar Siena
832 W. Randolph St.
Chicago, IL 60607
312.492.7775
Bar Siena Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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