Hours: Lunch: Monday-Friday; Dinner: seven days
CLOSED. Chicago outpost of Gino and Fernando Masci's NYC restaurant, franchised by Phil Romano (Macaroni Grill, Fuddrucker's).
Every time a new clone of this Old New York establishment opens somewhere--Vegas, Tokyo, Long Island--a Darwinian struggle for reservations commences among a certain species of diner that loves to be the first to throw down outrageous amounts of money to make the scene. Granted, for those who prevail there's a lot of free stuff: thin fried zucchini, house-cured salume, mussels and bruschetta, several kinds of garlic bread, and a server whose sole purpose seems to be to haul around a giant wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano. And yes, portions are huge. Steak cartoccio, from an epic list of specials, was a formidable brick of cow smothered in sauteed mushrooms and guarded by a circular battlement of fried potatoes. I ate it, but the question remained: what possible justification is there for this $60 steak? I can only guess that the majority of food ordered at Il Mulino is taken home and eaten over a week of lunches, or perhaps presented to the servants in lieu of wages. Another problem is that many of the dishes are overrich and oversauced; my Flintstone-size osso buco was slathered with a thick port gravy more suitable for ice cream. The same goes for the porcini ravioli in champagne-black truffle sauce--highly adhesive, and with barely a hint of fungal funk. For dessert we went for fresh mixed berries with zabaglione, impressively prepared by a waiter who whipped the eggs, marsala, and sugar over a burner at the table, then poured it over two glasses filled with about a third of a cup of berries. Nice--until the check came. Those berries cost $15 per glass; the zabaglione show was an extra $22. Then again, the production values are part of what you're paying for all night, the whole shebang sound tracked by Andrea Bocelli, Carmela Soprano's favorite popera singer. It's tightly choreographed, but there's nothing stuffy about the chummy, Italo-accented, tuxedo-clad waiters, captains, and servers, whose frantic bustle recalls the mating scenes in March of the Penguins. I don't think I've ever met anyone who could become a regular at Il Mulino, but I imagine if there are such creatures they're the sort who insist on tooling around the golf course in a yellow Hummer. There's no question that this is a fun place to throw away several hundred dollars--preferably not your own.
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