Hours: Lunch: seven days; dinner: Thursday
Tony Mantuano's (Spiaggia, Bar Toma) restaurant in the Art Institute's Renzo Piano-designed modern wing; the chef di cucina is Meg Colleran Sahs.
When I told a friend I thought Terzo Piano looked like a colorless 1950s cafeteria with its white-on-white minimalism, long walls of windows, molded-plastic chairs and translucent resin tabletops, she—in a kinder mood—said she saw it as a blank canvas with the patrons as the paint. Maybe. A diverse crowd certainly comes for lunch (dinner is Thursdays only) to the dining room with the double-entendre name ("third floor" and a reference to Modern Wing architect Renzo Piano), drawn by everything from the star power of chef-partner Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) to the views, though the best vista of Millennium Parkfrom the north end of the terrace—can't be enjoyed from any of the tables. The one-page menu alone wouldn't attract many people, even if it is lavish about listing the midwestern sources of ingredients in the mostly Italian-inspired dishes. But frankly, I don't care if the piccolo lamb burger on the uno, due, tre burgers started life at Pinn-Oak Ridge Farms in Wisconsin, since it ended up an overdone, overspiced, dry puck of meat unredeemed by Indiana's Capriole goat cheese or ketchup made from McWethy Farms tomatoes. The shrimp burger with Calabrian pepper spread reminded me of Chinese shrimp toast, only spicier; the midwestern Piemontese beef burger with Wisconsin Colby was at least better than the limp organic fries. Oddly, much of our meal was as pale as the decor. Satiny but slightly boring potato-fennel soup of the day with a melt of Parmesan practically matched the white oak floors, as did an appetizer of crispy fried Lake Erie perch perked up by tart fried caper berries and sweet fried lemon slices. Handmade spaghetti with a few Oregon porcini mushrooms and a dollop of lemon ricotta tasted as beige as it appeared. Mizuna salad was green with promise—sugar snap peas, fresh favas, avocado (underripe), slices of raw artichoke heart—but the bland ginger-raw cashew dressing didn't pull it together. Colorful pizza-size flatbreads headed for other tables made me wish I'd ordered one. While many dishes feature cheese, the cart with a dozen selections—more than half midwestern—languished on the sidelines because servers didn't bother to offer them. I might return for desserts like espresso doughnut holes with a mini glass of cherry soda and zeppole (fig-filled pastries) with vin cotto and dark chocolate ice cream, but given that lunch for two cost more than $100, the food—and service—should have been better.
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