Like children staring up at Rainforest Cafe’s artificial night sky (or shaking from the booms and quakes of its fake thunderstorms), Alinea’s customers are served an illusion. They are led to believe that a food’s trappings are valuable even when divorced from satisfying flavors, from nature, or from nostalgia. They are tricked into thinking that a restaurant which denies dining’s transcendent, human dimension has any value as a conjurer of culinary gibberish. They are, ultimately, suckers who are being sold a future where a restaurant’s quality grows with how “Instagrammable” the experience is.

Reviewing restaurants with respect to “reality” rather than “hyperreality” means enveloping oneself in the insecurities of an audience that has little to no experience with “fine dining.” It means preserving the magic, educating the consumer when necessary, but never letting one’s cynicism infect the experience (let alone the political axes one has to grind). A critic should challenge their reader without ever blowing smoke up their ass.

Ciccio Mio is the red sauce joint of your dreams, the greatest common divisor of every good thing that every Italian-American restaurant has done in the century (or so) since the diaspora wove the trodden souls of Naples, Palermo, and Genoa into the fabric of domestic life. Does that mean Ciccio Mio is the best Italian restaurant in Chicago? Why, yes, it does. Tied for “best,” at least, depending on just what one considers “Italian” and whether diaspora culture the whole country over is destined for preservation or renovation. “Authenticity,” you guess, is the name of the game, and Hogsalt’s newest restaurant brings one of modern dining’s most contentious questions to the fore.