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If you haven’t paid attention the first 10,283 times I’ve said it, I grew up with an Italian grandmother. As such, I feel like I have a certain edge over most people when it comes to Italian cuisine. Snobby… maybe, but my opinion (or review) can be trusted.
I hadn’t heard much about the menu at the newly opened Filini other than that it was “modern Italian.” So, I was excited by the possibility of being swept off my feet by Chef Christian Fantoni. Walking into the hip Aqua Tower, both the bar and restaurant are as swanky as it gets and neither feels like a typical hotel space. Truth be told, I was a little surprised. This is what happens when you go with no expectations. It’s a good thing. I snuck off to the ladies room before getting seated, and on my way back I spied a huge wheel of fresh cheese… with a spoon to pit out chunks of Grana Padano! Oh the glory of it all! That is the absolute best way to eat Grana or Parmigiano… by the chunk, right from the wheel. I felt my feet a little higher off the ground already.
The menu is set up in eight columns starting with Affettati (Italian cold cuts), Antipasti, Bruschette, Pasta, Secondi, Contorni, Dolci and Piatti del Giorno (plate of the day). As much as I would have loved to try everything, I just couldn’t; but we did manage to indulge in a hefty tasting. The Blue Prawns with artichokes, orange, black olives and chives were served with the head on and perfectly grilled; I loved the oranges. The Octopus Salad with black and white chick peas, radicchio and mint was interesting, but we added a splash of balsamic to boost the flavor with some much needed acidity (I’m quite the chef myself).
We skipped the Bruschette and moved straight to the pasta for the Garganelli with prosciutto, radicchio, mascarpone, truffle oil and chives and the Gnocchi with braised oxtail and vegetable ragu with pecorino fonduta. Both sauces were superb. I was disappointed that the Garganelli was overcooked, but the creamy sauce flecked with truffle oil was exquisite. The Ragu’s rich sauce was reduced oxtail broth with pillowy gnocchi, yet there was little oxtail meat – which was my only complaint since it was soooooooo good. We even flipped a quarter to see who got the last bite. Lastly, we shared the Rabbit, Chef Christian’s favorite childhood dish. It was lovely and makes me wonder why no one else offers Thumper on their menu; the classic Italian dish was served with tomato and rosemary over polenta. Reading the daily specials enticed me to return basically every day of the week, but be prepared: this is higher-end Italian and the bill adds up quickly. Go prepared to share items across the large menu.
For an above-average Italian meal, check out Filini in the Lakeshore East neighborhood inside the Aqua Tower.