The dark days of the pandemic–a reality managed, throughout the meal, unerringly by Alinea’s team–have led the restaurant back towards the fountainhead of its inspiration. No “smoke and mirrors,” just creative cooking–just the drama of the table. Alinea “3.0” is the return to the source from which Achatz–during the decade he helmed Alinea 1.0–made his name.

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.

Gaijin has garnered praise as one of Chicago’s most ambitious openings of 2019, and, while the last year saw little by way of new concepts in this city, the restaurant’s reputation is well-earned. You have visited the establishment four or five times following its first day of service in early November and must attest that the space is inviting, the food is delicious, and the experience flows with nary a hiccup…