During a visit to New York City a couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to experience a tiny restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen called Nook. The name “Nook” was quite appropriate given the fact the space consisted of no more than seven tables and a tiny aisle which leads you form the front door back into the tiny kitchen in about 20 steps making use of every square inch of its NYC real estate market premium. One lone crazed guy served as host, waiter, bus boy and occasionally chief refresher of table water. Despite it’s size and frantic solo jack-of-all-trades superhuman waiter, the array of items we ordered from the menu were extraordinarily delicious and clearly made with a great deal of love. The menu, itself, contained a small yet tactical variety of offerings. Translation… instead of offering a monster menu, Nook’s philosophy is to master a small number of unbelievably delicous items rather than attempt to offer a larger number of inconsistent dishes.
Having eaten in all types of restaurants throughout the many great food cities of this country and in some parts of Europe, one thing that always scares me about a restaurant is an ambitiously varied menu with a huge multitude of options. I’ve found that truly great restaurants tend to focus with great obsession over a smaller menu versuses offering a surplus of options. The moral is the fact it is truly difficult to master a wide array of menu items with a high degree of consistency in quality and flavor.
With that said, one of the newest additions to the fast-growing South Naperville restaurant scene is Biaggi’s Ristorante Italiano located at Rt. 59 and 95th Street in the partially finished Naperville Crossings retail/entertainment complex. Having talked for weeks about trying Biaggi’s, my wife and I dined there for the first time tonight.
Biaggi’s Naperville is one of around 20 other Biaggi locations throughout the country. My impression is they have created a high-end restaurant feel yet moderately-priced dining experience which doesn’t immediately feel like a chain. Their most expensive menu item is only $20.99.
I would like to start with a number of positives that I really liked about Biaggi’s. In addition to moderate prices, the restaurant space is absolutely beautiful with plenty of dark wood in the walls and large light fixtures and ceiling features complimenting an open kitchen which is reminiscent of a higher-end, higher-priced establishment. The bar area is ample and as inviting as a classic downtown Chicago restaurant bar. Large wooden booth spaces provides intimacy and solitude in the towering open main dining space.
The service was gracious and friendly despite some lingering signs of new restaurant opening jitters. Despite it’s high-end feel, Biaggi’s surprisingly is a family friendly destination complete with the standard issue crayons, coloring paper and kids menu. This will be good news to all parents of young families who long for something more than redundant casual dining chicken finger-induced hell when it comes to taking the family out for a nice meal. Biaggi’s seems to have figured out that families can get in an out early in the evening before the dinner crowd crush arrives, thus avoiding the timeless clash between stressed parents and empty-nesters who seem to have forgotten the fact that they, too, were once stressed out parents fearing that embarrassing projectiles might be unexpectedly launched by their own pint-sized researchers who insist on constantly testing the laws of gravity.
Next we turn to the menu, which draws upon the introduction to this review for context. Biaggi’s presents a tempting yet slightly ambitious menu of offerings which strives to provide at least a couple of options for each and every taste preference (I counted 82 menu items in total). Upon a first glance, I knew Biaggi’s had it’s work cut out as I pondered my choices.
One glimpse of their amazing wood-fired brick oven guaranteed our appetizer choice, which was the handmade thin crust Chicken Piccante pizza. This was our first introduction to what will most likely prove to be a love/hate theme for Biaggi’s menu lineup, which is… spicy. The pizza consisted of spicy grilled chicken with tiny cubes of smoked bacon, leeks and a generous layer of four cheeses included one of our family favorites, goat cheese. Despite it’s ultra thin base, the crust was quite flavorful with a nice yeast fermentation presence. The cheeses where of high quality and the spicy grilled chicken provide an interesting balance to the competing flavors. Overall, we loved the pizza.
My wife opted for the “small” house salad which turned out to be enough for an entire meal. Fresh mixed greens accented by carrots and roasted red peppers joined together by a rich and appropriately tangy herb-garlic balsamic dressing. We both concluded the salad was also a hit. However, the bread basket, which excited us when our waitress mentioned it included three different types of bread, turned out to be somewhat of a disappointment. The selection included an oily breadstick-like onion bread, small slices of somewhat stale italian baquette-like bread and what appeared to be a seed rye bread.
For entrees, after seeking counsel from the waitress, who unfortunately weighed her recommendation heavily on menu best-sellers rather then her own first-hand experience, I selected the Fettuccine with Lobster. Given the fact the dish was $14.99 I should have been a little more skeptical about it’s inclusion of “lobster” in the dish title. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the thought of black fettuccine tossed with lobster and wild mushroom in a white wine and scallion cream sauce. The end product embodies the “hit and miss” reference in the title of this posting. First of, the black fettuccine pasta seemed to be homemade and was quite delicious. The sparce wild mushrooms, which I believe were baby portabello wedges and possibly oyster mushrooms, were also tasty. I found the white wine and scallion cream sauce to be rather thin, watery and overly infused with the flavor of the slightly less-than-fresh taste of the lobster claw meat. The portion of lobster claw meat itself was generous, but was somewhat rubbery and carried the taste of a crustacean which endured a long journey to the table. In all fairness, lobster claw meat is cheaper and can often find itself tasting a bit fishy. The damage to the dish was the fact the cream sauce had been overly influenced by the dicey claw meat flavor.
My wife opted for one of the evening’s specials which was a basic rigatoni in a fresh tomato and basil sauce. Again the pasta was good but the sauce seemed unnaturally sweet as if extra sweeteners had been added. As an accompaniment, we shared a side order of meatballs. Though the meatballs themselves were average, the red sauce was rich and delicious.
To cap off the dinner, we had Sue’s Chocolate Chip Banana Paradiso, which is a chocolate chip banana cake served with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce. While I personally believe that tar-like Hershey’s chocolate syrup is perhaps the greatest insult to all that is chocoloate, I was comforted to see this dessert did not come topped with the same Hersheys-tasting chocolate syrup that was on my son’s kids sundae. The cake was moist with the character of banana bread, yet with a strong chocolate influence. While it didn’t seem as rich as we thought it might taste, it was pretty good.
Though we did not order a bottle of wine, the wine list carries a strong Italian-focused influence heavy on the reds with Prosecco and other ultra-sweet Italian sparkline wines.
Overall, I think Biaggi’s shows signs of greatness and has terrific potential; however, the occasional “hit and miss” incompleteness leaves me concerned about other dishes on the menu as well as whether or not they might be banking on volume of selection over solid quality. Nonetheless, we will definitely go back for the pizza and perhaps simpler pasta dishes not to mention the high-end feel yet moderately priced family friendly atmosphere. I would conclude by saying Baiggi’s should do well in South Naperville as an anchor to the Naperville Crossings development.
I invite others to share their own comments on Biaggi’s below.