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I would never have expected one of the most enjoyable Italian restaurant experiences I've had in Chicago to take place inside Symphony Center. Yet there I sat in Tesori, digging into wood-grilled octopus on a bed of smoky cannellini beans with pancetta, looking around to find not the senior set you might expect, but a diverse crowd of people who all seemed as happy to be there as I was. This, in the culinary wasteland of the Loop, in a prime location right across from the Art Institute no less? No wonder they named it Tesori (in Italian, "treasures").
The former Rhapsody underwent a transformation back in the fall of 2012, and I wish I'd checked its replacement out sooner. Where the Gage, one of few other halfway decent options nearby, is almost inevitably packed, Tesori was full but not crazy busy, and that was prior to an all-but-sold-out CSO performance of Verdi's Otello. For a cheap-seats denizen like me prices are a little dear, but they're more than reasonable, with plenty of options under $20—the house-made pastas top out at $19, and you can get a Neapolitan-style pizza for less than the price of a couple Subway combos.
Chef Andrew Deuel offers a unique prix fixe option for groups of ten or more: a six-course dinner centered on one ingredient (this month it's olives), another comparative bargain at $65 per person. But I was most impressed with the handling of dishes so popular as to be cliches—a kale salad, for example. Is there one on the menu of every midrange contemporary American restaurant in town yet? Here, though, it was perfectly balanced, with little cubes of roasted butternut squash, texture-providing pumpkin seeds, and salty Grana Padano. Fettuccine with pork and porcini was treated as judiciously, and if not quite a knockout, certainly made a persuasive case for trying some of the other primi.
Where Rhapsody had a very 90s feel (that's when it opened), Tesori is current down to the farm sourcing, seasonal menus, and craft beer list. One of the most refreshing changes, in my view, is that staff now wear casual clothes along the lines of what you might see at those kale places—our young server was in neat jeans and rolled-up shirt sleeves. Maestro Riccardo Muti, a native of Apulia, is anything but stuffy; how nice to have the in-house restaurant follow suit.
Tesori, 65 E. Adams, 312-786-9911, tesorichicago.com