Understanding TRE DITA

The last two tasting menu concepts you reviewed had their hits and their misses, but, in a more overarching manner, they thrilled you. Finer details aside, Bon Yeon and Cariño were both bold, independent restaurants that bet on Chicagoans spending hundreds of dollars to sample creative fare within novel genres (i.e., Korean “beef omakase,” pan-Latin American gastronomy) at intimate chef’s counters. They each spoke to the enduring primacy of design, of performance, of potential connection with the “master craftsperson” that undergird the emotional dimension of a meal. Further, they each introduced obscure ingredients and techniques to mainstream consumers, imbuing luxury with a trace of education that expands minds (and palates) well beyond the scope of one individual menu.

Though, in the end, only one of the two offered a value proposition that was tenable, these establishments jointly enrich the dining scene. Armed with marketing budgets, they revive the sense of mystery and discovery that suffuses new openings. They lure patrons, not yet guided by critics or Michelin, to deduce quality on their own. And, by focusing their efforts on consistency and pleasure (even to the detriment of depth), these restaurants can reliably satisfy their first-time guests: proving that metaphorically eating and drinking the cost of concert or plane tickets can feel rewarding even without those vouchsafed stars to fall back on. Of course, by visiting several times, you are able to perceive the small flaws that distinguish Cariño from Topolobampo or Bon Yeon from any steakhouse of your choosing. Just the same, you must always appreciate a certain baseline of intention, of aspiration, and of ideas—dreamt and realized—that characterize these openings. 

It now seems possible for the industry to dream about more than mere survival (or, cynically, to dream about more than mere brand expansion via offshoots, reboots, and bastardizations of all kinds.) If smaller hospitality groups and partnered chef-owners can take such big risks, achieve a minimum level of quality, and create sustainable models, others should follow. Doing so, dining culture will grow more decentralized (away from the major players) and differentiated (away from the moneymaking categories), empowering greater self-expression from small teams crafting singular products.

Such a sea change has already been brewing at the more approachable end of the market—though, surely, Thattu, Daisies, and Akahoshi Ramen were not the best examples of this phenomenon. If anything, these restaurants were victimized by a degree of hyperbolic praise (rooted, no doubt, in sincere excitement surrounding their success but also consciously cultivated from the press) that far exceeded the operational capabilities of their actual teams. (“Blessed is the man who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”) However, in places like John’s Food and Wine, Maxwells Trading, Obélix, and Warlord, you find the kind of dynamism, depth, and overall value that ranks favorably against the grandest properties operated by the most powerful groups.

And, with the success (tentative or continued) of places like Valhalla, Atelier, Jinsei Motto, Bon Yeon, and Cariño, you begin to wonder: when are Chicago’s hospitality luminaries going to get back in the game of creating refined, chef-driven concepts that drag local tastes forward, to some glorious new frontier, rather than squeezing existing preferences for all they’re worth?

When you ask such a question, Lettuce Entertain You inevitably comes to mind (though Boka Restaurant Group, Hogsalt Hospitality, and One Off Hospitality command your attention too). These major players have no real reason to care: they made their names and won their stars and, especially after the pandemic, are entitled to rest on their laurels while earning a safe, tidy profit. Instead, the question is more one of prestige. At what point does the vanguard become the old guard, and when does the old guard become irrelevant? Who gets to represent the gold standard in Chicago dining—maybe not in the sense of employing the “best” individual chef but through consistent excellence in world-building, menu execution, and boundary pushing? And are these groups even worth supporting (relative to their smaller peers) if they do not channel their eminence toward constructive, value-driven (both aesthetic and economic) projects that continually reward their loyal fans?

At its peak, LEY held five Michelin stars (still the highest total ever achieved here), with L2O (***), Everest (*), and Tru (*) taking home honors when Michelin released its inaugural 2011 Chicago Guide in November of 2010. Laurent Gras’s departure two weeks before the announcement, L2O’s subsequent plummet to one star in the next edition, and Richard Melman’s declaration that it would be his last “fancy restaurant” are familiar pieces of gastronomic lore.

L2O, under Matthew Kirkley, would win back a second star, and LEY’s star tally would increase again to four. In 2014, the restaurant, which had “never been a money maker,” would close to make way for Intro. Melman reiterated at the time that he doesn’t “want to do four-star restaurants anymore, at least for the foreseeable future.” Tru, nonetheless, would nab a second Michelin star in November of 2016, restoring the total count to three. Then it would close the following year, Melman would reiterate he doesn’t “want to be doing 4-star dining in the future” (at least “not in the immediate future”), and the LEY honcho would also note that “a city like Chicago needs places like Everest and like Alinea—but not more than five or six.” Personally, he didn’t want a “four-hour meal” or to “eat that [way] any more.” When Everest closed (after nearly 35 years of operation) in 2020, the hospitality group would be without any Michelin stars for the first time ever.

With his father remaining as the company’s chairman, R.J. Melman took over as LEY’s president (from Kevin Brown, who remains CEO) in 2017. Joined by siblings Jerrod and Molly, the younger Melman’s tenure has been distinguished by openings like Sushi-san, Aba, Bar Ramone, The Bamboo Room, Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Seafood, Lil’ Ba-Ba-Reeba, The Omakase Room, and The Oakville alongside continued expansion of their Beatrix and Ramen-San brands. This period has also seen the group expand in Florida (Aba, Summer House on the Lake), Las Vegas (Happy Camper, RPM Italian, Summer House), and Texas (Aba).

Of these concepts, Sushi-san certainly impressed you early on: challenging the sort of trappings Chicagoans associated with Japanese fare while offering an approachable, inventive “omaKAZE” that anticipated the omakase boom that would follow later in 2018. Aba, a partnership with Top Chef and Intro alumnus C.J. Jacobson was also a hit. The restaurant, in your mind, really marked the company’s generational change, comprising a bright, airy rooftop terrace space with plants galore, an upbeat electronic soundtrack, and a greater range of vegetarian offerings. At the same time, the beverage program (and especially the wine selection) was superb while an event hall named The Dalcy, situated within the same building, allowed Lettuce to further monetize what was then their Fulton Market flagship.

Bar Ramone offered the group’s take on an intimate wine bar (their first ever), with Spanish tapas from chef Hisanobu Osaka and an extensive bottle list from RPM beverage partner Richard Hanauer. You only went once but did, indeed, enjoy the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it collection of the wine team’s obsessions,” rather fairly priced, with food (including suckling pig) you found to be good. The restaurant would reopen on the other side of the pandemic but adopted the Lil’ Ba-Ba-Reeba name in early 2021 (to celebrate the original Cafe’s 35th anniversary). Given Bar Ramone’s beverage offerings stretched far beyond Spain, it likely made sense at a certain point to excise the wine bar’s ephemeral quality and allow the space to focus solely on food under a more recognizable brand name.

The creation of The Bamboo Room allowed LEY to transform a fairly anonymous section of seating at Three Dots and a Dash (the tiki bar they first opened in 2013) into a separate, more premium concept. On paper, such a move sounds a bit cynical: as if someone asked, “how can we squeeze more money out of the space?” However, the opening allowed beverage director Kevin Beary to push the practice of craft to a higher level, with only 22 seats allowing “friendly interactions and casual moments of education” with bartenders utilizing rare and expensive spirits while taking “more liberties” from a “technique and presentation standpoint.” In fact, there was some real intention in subverting the experience offered at the “high-volume tourist hub Three Dots,” and it succeeded in luring you back to a place you only typically visited with out-of-towners.

Of course, the opening of Pizzeria Portofino (in July of 2019) followed by RPM Seafood and RPM Events (in January of 2020) has, thus far, formed the shining moment of this new era. With four floors’ worth of space and pristine views of the water, this set of concepts (complete with a “marina menu”) represents LEY’s grand entrance into a revitalized riverside district. Though only situated a few blocks from RPM Italian and RPM Steak, the restaurants effectively extend the group’s influence toward The Loop, bridging the gap between that area—particularly its hotels and theatres—and River North’s assemblage of eateries. Plus, with the event space, Lettuce could automatically claim one of the city’s finest venues (and one that has allowed them to serve a sizable number of additional guests during busy holidays).

Though the pandemic certainly put a damper on the opening of these properties, Doug Psaltis’s departure (during the period between the opening of Pizzeria Portofino and RPM Seafood) from the group also, you think, proved consequential. The chef-partner was the “P” in RPM and had long shaped the concepts on the culinary side. Bob Broskey, his replacement (chef de cuisine of L2O, executive chef of Intro, and now a partner in his own right), was certainly not a poor choice. However, despite essentially forming LEY’s crown jewel, RPM Seafood has struck you as surprisingly static: a gorgeous space, offering the group’s usual enthusiastic service, but churning out cuisine that, while eclectic on the surface, feels a bit anonymous. To be fair, Hanauer’s work with the wine program there (both the actual selections and the team he has developed) is tremendous. Plus, your thoughts on the food could be applied to all the RPMs: concepts that Lettuce has brought to other markets and that must be iterative and approachable across a range of demographics.

With a steakhouse, an Italian steakhouse, a Spanish place, and two other seafood restaurants (to say nothing of sushi) located in the same neighborhood, the group cannot really be blamed. What else is there to do but cook and serve as many fish as possible (black bass, black cod, branzino, dover sole, halibut, tuna, salmon, and swordfish by the current count) alongside a concise menu of pastas and steaks? The building is on the river after all, and the dining room would get filled on the basis of that view alone. So why not play it safe, ensure the food is dependable, and cement RPM Seafood as the glamorous institution it was destined to be? With pizza (though not an example that has ever ranked among the city’s best) and event space also to sell, why risk pushing anything too novel or challenging at the flagship?

Really, RPM Seafood is a respectable, smartly conceived place capable of offering a memorable experience based upon LEY’s usual pillars of quality. The restaurant, over the long run, has just failed to entice you as a lover of food (and of the kind of low wine markups that enliven more straightforward fare). The concept stands as a success—just not a paradigm shift—and you still find yourself preferring Joe’s (coming up on a quarter century in Chicago) for a similar fix.

In February of 2022, Lettuce made, in your mind, its boldest move since the younger generation took charge. They had opened Sushi-san, with its hip-hop soundtrack and late-night appeal, near the beginning of their tenure. Though the restaurant, as previously mentioned, offered an enjoyable “omaKAZE” in early 2018, it would soon be eclipsed by the dedicated omakase concepts that sprouted up later in the year (and into 2019): Yume, Takeya, Kyōten, and Mako. Lettuce seemed content to stay out of the fray as these and other establishments sought to convince Chicagoans that set menus of nigiri, intimately served, and running hundreds of dollars per person had a home here. (The “omaKAZE” cost $108 and was staged within the larger dining room. It would subsequently be replaced by a 45-minute, $45 offering.)

As it happens, LEY was only biding its time. In truth, the group was already thinking of “building out a dedicated omakase dining room upstairs” at Sushi-san in September of 2019. The “12-seat bar” with “separate tables” would “feature a 16-course dinner, showcasing luxury ingredients” and be “deserving of Kaze.” The was “no time line” for its opening, but “late 2019 or early 2020” was said to “be a reasonable guess.”

Whether or not an omakase concept counts as the kind of “4-star” restaurant the elder Melman had sworn off opening for “the immediate future” is unclear. (For what it’s worth, high-end sushi rarely yields the kind of “four-hour meal” he looked to avoid—though Kyōten certainly hits the three-hour mark). However, this planning certainly demonstrates that there remained an appetite for luxury dining at LEY even within a couple years of Tru’s closure.

The pandemic would end up pushing The Omakase Room’s opening to February of 2022, with the group showing understandable prudence regarding the intimate, 10-seat space. By that point, the genre had really taken root. Pricey sushi counters had not only succeeded in charming Chicagoans. They earned Michelin stars, spawned imitators, and encouraged interlopers to try their hand in this market too. Observing this boom from its comfortable position at the summit of the dining scene, LEY could enter the arena with all its usual resources and a certain insight into what’s been done, what’s worked, and what could really distinguish their own property.

Chefs Kaze and Kitano, along with the concept’s managing partner and other members of the opening team “traveled around the world, sampling traditional omakase experiences in Japan and some others closer to home like at Masa and Sushi Ginza Onodera in New York” in order to find inspiration. They were “blown away” by what they saw and, “unanimously, wanted an experience that was of that quality and of that standard, but that just felt more approachable, a little bit less formal.”

In reviewing The Omakase Room, you found that the restaurant did, indeed, offer a unique experience centered on a slick lounge, cocktails from Kevin Beary, a whisky collection, an expanded wine/sake selection, a lower guest-to-staff ratio, the familiar Lettuce warmth of service, and a raised, stagelike counter that played home to an irreverent two-man show. Nonetheless, focusing solely on craft, Kaze and Kitano committed the mortal sin of mass-producing their nigiri—detracting from the texture of the rice and the temperature of each piece—as all other sushi chefs in town (save for those at Kyōten and Kyōten Next Door) do. Further, despite claiming to source the ”best ingredients from across the globe” through “a partnership with the Yamasaki family at the Toyosu Fish Market,” the restaurant favored heavy-handed toppings that obscured the fish. In truth, tasting the “Otoro Tartare” (ripped off from Masa) confirmed that the product used simply lacked any noteworthy flavor to begin with.

Despite these gripes, you still enjoyed yourself at The Omakase Room and could appreciate the concept’s ability to attract diners, trusting of Lettuce but wary of raw fish, who might not otherwise give the genre a chance. The restaurant, by your measure, ranked among the best of the city’s examples of the form (clearly superior to Mako and challenging Jinsei Motto and Yume based on one’s individual preference) but did not seriously look to redefine quality or take the top spot from Kyōten.

It is right to wonder if LEY would ever ask for the kind of sum Otto Phan does in order to secure singular ingredients, with a $450-$490 ticket price (though inclusive of service) being well beyond what L2O, Tru, or Everest charged to get through the door during their heyday. However, while it was surprising that Michelin did not reward The Omakase Room with a star, you can see the logic. Lettuce, with all its advantages, chose style over substance. It looked to compete with smaller, chef-proprietor concepts but did not, at the level of food, do so convincingly. The group translated the omakase experience using its particular style, a culture that has earned consumer trust, and a litany of resources (particularly beverage) unavailable to its competitors. Still, the concept met—but did not exceed—expectations for any lover of the genre. With the recent addition of a chef de cuisine, The Omakase Room has seemingly acknowledged its food needs work if the restaurant is to reach its full potential.

April of 2023 would see LEY meaningfully expand its Fulton Market footprint with the opening of The Oakville Grill & Cellar. A collaboration between newly-minted culinary director Max Robbins (former executive chef of Longman & Eagle and culinary director for Land and Sea Dept.) and Richard Hanauer, the concept celebrated “the food, wine and lifestyle of California, capturing the feel of a neighborhood restaurant” with a menu “inspired by the team’s partnerships with farms, ranches and wineries throughout California and the Midwest.” Additionally, it could tout “the largest, exclusively California wine list in Chicago, with more than 750 wines hand-selected” by the team and The Cellar Door, a “a private six-seat tasting room” that would partner with a California estate each month to pour and sell its offerings.

Whereas Aba was situated toward the northern boundary of the neighborhood (in an area that is now only seeing full development), The Oakville saw the group plant its flag closer to Randolph Restaurant Row. It was positioned primely to attract foot traffic, and, perhaps even more importantly, came bundled with 167 Events: located on the 17th floor of the same building (167 Green) and offering the kind of sweeping views, amenities (i.e., a rooftop lawn and enclosed basketball court), and full range of catering options that may even rival LEY’s riverside venue.

You visited The Oakville a few times in its opening year and think a comparison to RPM Seafood is apt. The restaurant risked very little with a food menu that included deviled eggs, burrata, salads, pizza, pastas, a burger, brick chicken, a barbecue pork chop, steaks, and pies for dessert. The wines options spanned many of the most recognizable California brands and charged healthy markups but ignored niche producers (e.g., Enfield, Phelan Farm, Sandlands, Under the Wire) that would actually offer outsized value under such a system. Generally, the food was enjoyable (discounting one brunch service in which the dishes were closer to Wildfire quality) but not transcendent (either in terms of ingredient quality or overall creativity). Likewise, the approach taken with the beverage program robbed the concept of any repeatability that would help justify the straightforward fare.

Really, like RPM Seafood, The Oakville represented a safe way to expand the Lettuce empire and anchor another big event space that, via weddings and corporate clients, could draw from other existing properties (Bub City, Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Italian, RPM Steak, and Sushi-san being among the catering options) and more or less print money. The restaurant itself was a decidedly mainstream option in a neighborhood undergoing its next phase of growth: not quite a ”steakhouse” (in fact, quite adept at offering greener fare in a brighter environment) but still offering the expensive frills and experiential aspects that could appeal to a business crowd. However, for those seeking the best in quality and value, The Oakville barely registered as a blip in the dining scene. It was there because it could be, because it would surely do well, and it did not need to attract guests from across the city with the promise of anything new or exciting. Aba, to you, remains the stronger concept (though its wine program has, undoubtedly, fallen off from its prime).

Looking that these openings from 2017-2023— Sushi-san, Aba, Bar Ramone, The Bamboo Room, Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Seafood, Lil’ Ba-Ba-Reeba, The Omakase Room, and The Oakville—you find a lot to like but little to positively love. Perhaps only The Bamboo Room can be considered a best-in-class establishment (albeit within a niche category), especially with the demise of Lost Lake. RPM Seafood offers signature views, a pulsating social scene, a “Sommelier Experience,” and LEY’s gold standard of service but plays it safe with the food. The same could be said for The Oakville (minus the views) while Aba, now franchised, remains good but is no longer the golden child it once was. Sushi-san, Pizzeria Portofino, and Lil’ Ba-Ba-Reeba are fine in their respective contexts but also products of expansion and standardization.

Finally, The Omakase Room promised the most—a splashy entrance into an emerging genre—but did little to exceed expectations. If anything, the concept revealed that the Lettuce playbook has started to wilt: you can expect great design (in collaboration with the usual partners), great beverages (sourced from existing collections), and great service (drawn from an established pool of practitioners), but the company does not have the willingness (or know-how) to really push technique and ingredient sourcing beyond what is already being done by comparably puny independent operators.

It is hard to look at this list of properties and think that any of them represent the best of what Chicago has to offer (though again, you will concede that RPM Seafood, viewed as an overall experience, possesses real “special occasion” appeal). However, you must also consider what LEY’s competitors have opened during the same period:

  • Boka Restaurant Group had Alla Vita, Cabra, Cira, Dutch & Doc’s, GG’s Chicken Shop, Itoko, Lazy Bird, Le Select, Somerset, and Swift & Sons Tavern (a rather sorry assortment)
  • Hogsalt Hospitality had Armitage Alehouse, Aster Hall, Ciccio Mio, The Front Room, The Lobster Bar, Radio Anago, Small Cheval, and Trivoli Tavern (a couple good options but none that can touch Bavette’s)
  • One Off Hospitality had Avec River North, Bar Avec, Big Star Mariscos, Café Cancale, Pacific Standard Time (technically a collaboration with Underscore Hospitality), and Publican Quality Bread (a couple gems but mostly derivations)
  • The Alinea Group had St. Clair Supper Club (no comment)

Looking at this list, you think only Armitage Alehouse, Cabra, Café Cancale, Ciccio Mio, Pacific Standard Time, and Publican Quality Bread formed meaningful additions to Chicago’s dining scene. Two of them (Café Cancale and Pacific Standard Time) ended up closing, and you are not sure the remainder dramatically outperform any of Lettuce’s stronger openings, especially if you consider differences in scale and depth of offerings. (Publican Quality Bread, you might say, occupies a delightful niche in the same way The Bamboo Room does.)

So, relative to its peers, LEY really hasn’t disappointed. The group has opened more restaurants in a wider range of genres and maintained a baseline of quality that deserves respect. Aba trounces Cira, The Oakville (somewhat) revived Pacific Standard Time’s theme, and RPM Seafood makes Armitage Alehouse, Ciccio Mio, and Trivoli Tavern seem small-time (even if you prefer the food at the latter properties). Even The Omakase Room, despite not realizing its full potential, still represents the priciest, riskiest move made by any of these companies during the 2017-2023 period (though keep in mind the concept’s nesting within Sushi-san minimized exposure).

Including The Alinea Group as part of this cohort might seem strange. They represent Chicago on the gastronomic world stage but are not interested in expansion—in building out big dining rooms in new neighborhoods—so much as they are evolution of existing concepts: a new menu at Next every four months, a novel centerpiece for the flagship’s gallery, a different sandwich every week at Roister, and a dastardly plan to monetize the latter restaurant’s basement. Yes, St. Clair Supper Club, which retains an average rating of 4.0 (98 reviews) on Google and 3.2 (95 reviews) on Yelp, promised nostalgia (“a nod to midwest tradition”) but stinks of the worst opportunism. It all but confirms The Alinea Group has nothing interesting to offer when it comes to fundamentals of texture and flavor: core aspects of pleasure stripped, here, of the usual smoke and mirrors.

But the story of Tre Dita dovetails, ever so slightly, with The Alinea Group and with the earliest plans to feed residents of (and visitors to) Chicago’s third-tallest building. Lettuce, in essence, wasn’t the first choice to spearhead dining at the site, an architectural monument deserving of its own digression.

Originally named the Wanda Vista Tower, the 101-story skyscraper located at 363 East Wacker Drive was first announced in April of 2015. It marked a partnership between Chicago-based Magellan Development, China’s Dalian Wanda Group, and Studio Gang—being located on the same block as Jeanne Gang’s 82-story Aqua skyscraper (then the world’s tallest building designed by a woman).

From the start, Vista Tower planned to offer a “mix of condominiums and hotel rooms” without “any room for retail” but with “a number of infrastructure improvements to both Upper and Lower Wacker Drive” alongside “improve[d] pedestrian circulation through Lakeshore East.” In April of 2016, the first 15 of 406 total units in the building went on sale, “with prices ranging from $1.32 million for a 1,300-square-foot one-bedroom up to $2.87 million for a 2,500-square-foot three-bedroom unit.” By June, developers had sold “$200 million worth of condominiums” to a mix of “Chicago locals” and buyers in “Hong Kong, Singapore, and the Middle East.” By July, “no less than 110” of the residences were “under contract.” In September, the project finally broke ground.

By the time Vista Tower reached the midpoint of construction in June of 2018, Wanda Group had begun looking to offload its 90% stake in the project. Chinese government regulators were “cracking down on what they viewed as excessive (and risky) offshore spending by its largest conglomerates,” necessitating the move and throwing the fate of the “210-room Wanda-branded luxury hotel slated for the building’s lower floors” into question. Despite that, work continued. The skyscraper reached its total height of 1,191 feet when the final structural beam was installed in April of 2019. By that time, the number of hotel rooms had decreased to 192 while the number of residences, “due to some buyers combining units,” had dipped to 396.

In July of 2020, Wanda Group finally sold its share of Vista Tower to Magellan, who took full control of the building. At that point, there were contracts to buy “about half” of the skyscraper’s condos, and the first residents were slated to move in late that year. Who would operate the hotel portion remained “unclear,” but, that fall, the details would dramatically fall into place.

In November of 2020, Vista Tower was formally renamed The St. Regis Chicago as Magellan partnered with St. Regis Hotels & Resorts (part of Marriott International) to manage what was now a “191-room hotel on the bottom 12 floors.” Better yet, The Alinea Group had joined the “dream team” to operate “restaurants and bar-lounge spaces on the second and 11th floors.” Magellan framed the collaboration as having “one of the top hotel brands and one of the top restaurant groups coming into the tower.” At the time, there were no further details on Alinea’s plans, but Nick Kokonas noted that they had been in discussions “for several years” about being a part of this “amazing architectural wonder.”

The partnership was a bold move from a group that, in 2017, had opened branches of The Aviary and The Office on the top floor of the Mandarin Oriental in Columbus Circle. In the lead up, these concepts were touted by New York City’s press as serving “luxe drinks alongside Chicago’s best food.” However, they were skewered by critics—earning one star (out of four) from Ryan Sutton, two stars (out of five) from Adam Platt, and two stars (out of four) from Pete Wells—while also failing to convince the public: The Aviary NYC earned an average of 4.4 stars on Google and 3.8 on Yelp while The Office NYC earned an average of 4.1 stars on Google and 3.3 on Yelp.

In April of 2020, both properties closed, a decision Kokonas noted “was not related to the pandemic.” Though The Alinea Group “ceased having any influence on operations” that February, employees felt “blindsided” by the news and thought that “Alinea should have notified them that the bars were going to shut down permanently” before they were furloughed by the Mandarin Oriental in March.

On the back of this Manhattan misadventure (truly a laughable representation of what Chicago has to offer other cities), The St. Regis would seem to offer The Alinea Group a chance at redemption: two major openings, on their home turf, in the hottest new skyscraper, with the chance to still please an international audience, but all supported by an existing population of diehard fans.

However, a year later, the lone update on the St. Regis partnership revealed that The Alinea Group had pulled out. In November of 2021, Magellan informed its investors that Achatz and Co. made their decision “due to the impacts of COVID on staffing shortages and supply chain issues,” determining “that now is not the right time for them to take on the project.” In response, the developer could only promise a new culinary partner “that will align with the high-level of luxury and quality of dining that is expected by our residents and hotel guests.”

Looking back with some knowledge of the concepts that ultimately filled the hotel, it is hard to imagine The Alinea Group was ever serious about operating at such a scale. After all, The Aviary NYC and The Office NYC were bars first and foremost that got roped into serving their dainty, technical fare throughout the day: dishes like “Tempura Shrimp” ($15), “Fried Pickles” ($14), “Vegetable Crudités” ($32), “Watermelon Salad” ($19), “Asparagus Salad” ($19), “Chawanmushi” ($22), “Scallop Almandine” ($22), “Kampachi Ceviche” ($24), “Fluke Crudo” ($24), “Mussels” ($35), “Prime Ribeye Tartare” ($45), “A5 Miyazaki Wagyu” ($29), “Pork Belly Curry” ($24), and “Ricotta Gnudi” ($65) that impress contextually but do not a full restaurant make.

Roister, which held a Michelin star in the 2017-2019 editions of the Guide, might have formed more of a blueprint for what could be done at the St. Regis. Yet it, too, operates with a fairly modest number of tables and has been subject to mixed impressions during its lifetime: maintaining an average of 4.5 stars (1,469 reviews) on Google but only an average of 3.9 stars (927 reviews) on Yelp. Where would The Alinea Group suddenly find inspiration for two restaurants that were larger than anything they had ever done? How would they field an army of servers and cooks (to say nothing of an additional chef or two) while maintaining their lofty reputation and reckoning with the revolving door of talent their restaurants have become?

You would have loved to know some of the directions the group had considered before pulling the plug. Could a concept or concepts centered on recipes from Next’s compendium of past menus (a bit like SFMOMA’s In Situ) have worked? Or would The St. Regis have proven to be The Alinea Group’s Waterloo? You are inclined to believe the latter, but it remains one of the contemporary dining scene’s greatest “what-ifs.”

In May of 2022, Magellan would disclose that The St. Regis’s prospective June launch had been pushed back eight months to February of 2023, “roughly a year and a half after it was originally meant to open.” The 11 lower floors had been “delayed by supply chain issues” and by The Alinea Group’s exit, which caused the developer to “re-evaluate the designs for some of the hotel space.” At the time, “about 51% of the building’s 353 [residential] units” had been sold, the guest rooms were “mostly completed,” and work was “underway to build out a fine-dining restaurant that is likely to be run by Lettuce.” Officially, the restaurant operator had “not been determined,” but it seemed like an open secret—albeit one that Crain’s Chicago Business observed it was “unclear how buyers would respond to.”

Some owners of those $1 million to $18.5 million condos had already “sued to back out after Wanda’s departure from the project.” The “loss of a renowned operator in Alinea,” the three-Michelin-star brand that would be helping to feed the residents, seemed like another big blow. Did millionaires and billionaires really expect to trade “Black Truffle Explosion” and “Hot Potato Cold Potato” for yet another serving of RPM Italian and Steak? Just the same, who else but LEY could just swoop in and execute projects of this size?

Boka Restaurant Group was already entangled with The Hoxton, Hogsalt Hospitality had never shown much interest in expanding beyond their boutique concepts, and One Off Hospitality had somewhat done this kind of work with Nico Osteria (at the Thompson Hotel) but was clearly on the back foot after Blackbird’s closing. Yes, who else but Lettuce could tout a history of Michelin stars, a robust corporate structure, and a real appetite for continued expansion? They had already run notable restaurants within Las Vegas resorts and were getting ready to serve Disney Springs. Plus, after the opening of RPM Seafood, The St. Regis would really allow the group to plant its flag in a resurgent area of The Loop.

In October of 2022, Lettuce formally announced its plans for the hotel. On the 11th floor, there’d be an all-day Japanese restaurant from Hisanobu Osaka, whose credits include Daniel, Japonais, Intro, a stint “as private chef for the general consul of Japan in New Orleans,” and work on menu development at Wow Bao and Aba. This concept, later named Miru, would debut at the time of The St. Regis’s opening and combine both a “sushi program” and “hot food as well.”

On the second floor (and at a later date), LEY would open a “Tuscan steakhouse” in collaboration with Evan Funke, “the critically acclaimed Los Angeles chef and restaurateur behind Felix and Mother Wolf.” This concept would later be named Tre Dita, and Funke, at the time, gushed that “it is a privilege to be working with two champions of hospitality in the great city of Chicago.”

Now, while the Tribune was happy to carry Lettuce’s water in touting Funke’s bona fides, you prefer the description given by Crain’s, which labelled him merely as a chef who “runs Roman-inspired Mother Wolf in California.” Truth be told, the Tre Dita chef-partner is not quite a household name. He may not have even attained national prominence yet. Surely, Funke can claim some of the most popular (among whom?) restaurants in his home city, a Las Vegas spinoff, a documentary film, a cookbook, an eight-part docuseries, and a tenure (since 2022) as “official chef of the Vanity Fair Oscar Party.” But we’re talking about someone in Los Angeles (an untraditional if presently explosive dining scene), without Michelin recognition, who boldly declared he refuses to “eat pasta in North America, whatsoever” in 2019—that is, back when Spiaggia was still around. So, who is this guy?

Evan Funke was “born in Santa Monica and raised in the Palisades” as a 6th-generation Californian. In fact, his family resided there “since before it was Californian,” having “used to ranch cattle on land that was granted…by General Vallejo of Mexico” with a great-grandfather, additionally, “that rode shotgun for Wells Fargo Stagecoach.” More recently, Funke’s father (Alex) “won back-to-back Oscars” as a visual-effects specialist on the Lord of the Rings films. The chef, subsequently, has described himself as a “photographer’s son” with photography in his blood. His father was an “absolute master at his craft,” and there was nobody else he “wanted to be like.”

Perhaps for that reason, Funke’s path to the kitchen was an incidental one. One of five children (including an eldest brother “who’s opened for bands like the Foo Fighters”), he “grew up in a free-spirited household.” Funke tried “a lot of things” in order to find his way and “eventually signed up for the Marine Corp” because he was just “completely lost.” His relationship with food up until that point was fairly typical: “it was always spaghetti and meatballs growing up,” and “in California, I don’t think there’s a family that doesn’t relate to pasta.” But, “about two weeks” before Funke “was to ship out to boot camp,” the mother of the woman he was dating (“an exceptional Italian-American cook”) said, “you know, why don’t you go to culinary school?” To the aimless young man, “it was like a snap. It was an epiphany.”

Funke “signed up to go to culinary school” at Le Cordon Bleu and, about three months in, “got a job with Wolfgang Puck at his catering facility in Hollywood.” After another 18 months, he “got promoted to Spago in Beverly Hills” where he began by “washing salad greens.” Over a six-year period, Funke rose to the position of sous chef under the “legendary” Lee Hefter and learned “the foundation and the fundamentals that define the way that…[he] run[s] kitchens today.” As it happens, his station was “directly behind the pasta maker at Spago, where he made agnolotti.” Funke “watched him make thousands and thousands every single day” and “always wanted to get to do it.” It was “actually the one shape that drew…[him] to Italy.”

Upon leaving Spago, the chef “did a couple of off culinary jobs” before landing somewhere that he “really did not like.” It was at a hotel in Beverly Hills, and Funke was “absolutely miserable.” His boss’s family was from Bologna and, “here and there, he would make Bolognese food.” Funke “really wanted to learn from him” but was rebuffed. After working more than seven years in the industry, he was “really pissed…off,” “completely unhappy with…life as a chef,” and “didn’t want to do it anymore.” Yet, just as when Funke first felt drawn to cooking, an epiphany struck: he said, “you know what, I’m going to move to Bologna and learn from the horse’s mouth.” He made that journey in 2007.

As recounted in his book American Sfoglino:

“While battling bouts of hopelessness, a singular thought struck me one day and it would, ultimately, change my entire life: I wanted to make pasta by hand. To achieve this goal, I wanted the best teacher in Italy (therefore, the world). In those days, the internet was not what it is today—think: dial up and web pages. After scouring the web for months, I stumbled across a page with a link to La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese run by a woman named Alessandra Spisni. Through a series of emails and phone calls in broken Italian, I eventually secured a position as a student….

Back then La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese was a tiny ground-level laboratorio with a shoebox kitchen and a 12-table private dining room. Alessandra was not yet the powerhouse celebrity chef she is today, but she was surely impressive. She was a teacher, a mother, a cook, and Emilia-Romagna’s preeminent sfoglina. Over the next three months, she would lovingly bestow upon me the fundamentals of making sfoglia—sheets of pasta rolled with a rolling pin called a mattarello. Included in these lessons was a veritable master class in the richness of the bolognese kitchen.

During my pivotal stay in Bologna I also encountered another masterful character, Kosaku Kawamura, who opened my mind to a different perspective, one that allowed me to see past some of the dogma surrounding Italian culinary traditions. The fundamentals that lie herein are a confluence of these two perspectives and define this book.”

Later, Funke would reflect on how, in Bologna, “all of the French and Asian techniques that were pounded into me at Spago just went out the window.” His time there “completely changed” his “outlook as a chef” and his “trajectory one hundred percent.” He “started to take on the perspective of the pasta maker versus the chef,” to pursue a path of “seeking out pasta makers In Italy who are still practicing handmade pasta,” and also “seeking out rare, obscure and close to extinction pasta shapes and sitting with those people who are still practicing.” In essence, Funke would “become a tuning fork for the tradition, a custodian for the continuance of the history” in order to “continue the passage of technical and practical knowledge, and also the historical value and the anthropology behind the shapes.”

Of course, he “failed miserably a lot” when putting himself out there with these “housewives, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, and daughters” that fed his obsession through teaching their myriad techniques. American Sfoglino, published in 2019, was really a distillation of his time in Bologna “followed by 10 years of trial and error, curiosity, and repetition.” It was not a cookbook, but a “hardcover apprenticeship,” a “technical novel with a little bit of story,” and a means of educating those “starting from scratch” as he did. In 2017, Funke already noted that he is “not really a chef anymore” so much as a “teacher.” In truth, the book formed a capstone for a career that was hardly smooth sailing after his time in Italy.

Returning home from Bologna, Funke took a job as executive chef of “Santa Monica’s Rustic Canyon, a beloved neighborhood institution at which he helped triple net revenue from 2008–2012.” The restaurant had opened in 2006 and, during his tenure, “the food became much more Italian.” At the same time, the role helped Funke cultivate “his ongoing passion to gain a better understanding about weather and farming” in order to craft menus that change “really every day according to what’s coming out of the ground.”

During this period, the chef developed an approach through which he cooked “as if California is its own region in Italy” (a tagline, you might remember, that has been shamelessly stolen and totally bastardized by Joe Frillman of Daisies about a decade later). Funke found it “very easy to cook Italian food in California because of its similarities in region and climate and produce,” viewing “great cooking” as being “80% ingredient and 20% technique.” Just the same, the chef viewed certain products (like Parmigiano-Reggiano and Prosciutto de Parma) as “absolutely indispensable” in creating the “best representation” of certain dishes.

Though archival menus from Funke’s time at Rustic Canyon are hard to come by, you note dishes like a “fresh white fig, pear and endive salad,” a “panzanella and burrata salad,” “Carlsbad mussels steamed in white wine with garlic and wild herbs,” “fried soft-shell crab…with a vibrant sweet corn succotash,” “mandilli…sauced with a fragrant pesto and Parmigiano,” “farfalle…tossed with cherry tomatoes, wild arugula and prosciutto,” “tortelli…stuffed with a cauliflower cream,” “moon-shaped pasta” (with butternut squash stuffing, brown butter, and sage), “pan-roasted Jidori chicken” (with baby artichokes and fingerling potatoes), “rack of Colorado lamb with sautéed escarole, toasted pine nuts and golden raisins,” and a “juicy and full-flavored” burger (“cooked in a hot cast iron skillet”) described as “one of the best in town.” For his work, the chef earned a semifinalist nod for the James Beard Foundation’s “Rising Star Chef of the Year” award in 2009.

When Funke left the restaurant in 2012, he planned “a little R&R” in Spain but was “incredibly eager and excited” to be moving forward with his own projects. By November, just what that entailed had taken shape. Bucato, a name that “insinuates the ancient way of doing the wash by hand and drying it on the line,” would open in an old Culver City laundry turned “pasta laboratorio.” Yes, the 100-seat restaurant would include “a temperature-controlled, glass-enclosed pasta lab” where Kosaku Kawamura, the chef’s old friend, would assist in “executing a menu of ten handmade pastas, tapping into the team’s knowledge of roughly 300 shapes.” They would also “break down whole animals,” “bake their own sourdough bread,” and “employ a spit for making tronchetto di porchetta and wood-roasted whole fish.”

Bucato would not open until July of 2013 (originally being planned for December of 2012), with the intervening period allowing Funke to operate a temporary “porchetta-serving food truck.” At launch, the restaurant could claim “the strictest cell phone policy in the city,” proclaiming that “diners are absolutely not allowed to use cell phones for photos, texting, taking calls, or doing anything else” outside of “designated cell phone areas” in order to counter what it called “gastro ADD.” It also insisted on a day-of reservation policy in order to “adjust for the amount of people coming in” and instill a more “democratic” process. However, while these restrictions drew criticism, they did not detract from diners’ perception of the food.

Less than two months after opening, Funke earned three out of five stars (“very good”) from LA Weekly’s Besha Rodell, who praised “some of the most glorious pastas this city has ever seen, each bowl a small miracle” alongside a vegetable section displaying some of the chef’s “best work.” Nonetheless, the layout was said to be “awkward, never allowing the interior to feel bustling or vibrant.”

Jonathan Gold, writing for the Los Angeles Times in October of 2013, praised a cacio e pepe that “breaks almost every rule” but is “rather glorious.” He also highlighted “hand-rolled pici…with a long-cooked rabbit sauce,” “corzetti…with a mortar-ground walnut sauce,” “macaroni di busa…with a crumbly white ragù and wild fennel,” and “gnocchetti…with pesto and aged pecorino.” Describing Funke’s “mission” as combining “strong pungencies and seasonal vegetables with the suppleness of fresh, well-cooked pasta,” the critic only really had a problems with meats (a “curiously bland” ribeye, “mushy” sweetbreads,” porchetta “a little bouncier than it should be”) that “seem almost an afterthought.”

That same month, Ruth Reichl would term the food at Bucato “a surprise,” praising “superb breads” and pastas that “are in a class by themselves”—”the hand-rolled shapes strangely soft and seriously sexy.” She even found more pleasure than Gold did in a “serious hunk of ribeye,” spending “the rest of the evening chewing happily on the bone.”

Bucato ended 2013 by earning the eighth spot on Los Angeles Magazine’s “10 Best Restaurants in Los Angeles” list. LA Weekly, in turn, named it the city’s “Best Pasta Restaurant.” And, looking back a year after the Bucato’s opening, Funke was looking forward to becoming “one of those iconic restaurants,” “a classic restaurant,” a place that would be there “for the next 10-15 years,” while always “striving for excellence” and exploring new ingredients and techniques.

The chef would go on to plan another restaurant—a “modern American diner” named Thoroughbred—during this period while also starting to put “videos and photos of his pasta making up on his Instagram account.” The 15-second features began attracting a wide range of followers (“chefs, customers, pasta makers, farmers, artisans, bakers, painters, architects, tattoo artists”) as it spread more obscure shapes to restaurants “in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Portland and Brunswick, Ga.” The content also allowed Funke to tap into the flair for photography he gleaned from his father, leading to even more professionally shot footage of his work.

Approaching two years since Bucato’s opening, the chef seemed unstoppable. He “was at the pass nearly every night” until, very suddenly, he wasn’t. Funke departed the restaurant in May of 2015 under mysterious circumstances. A month later, the chef revealed he bowed out due to “irreconcilable differences,” having “trusted someone…[he] shouldn’t have”—a story he noted was “not unique in the…business.” Eventually, “lawsuits from unpaid vendors ensued,” leaving “the young chef with a 3.5 million personal bankruptcy and sorely learned lessons.”

Still, years later, Funke would reflect that “failure is the sharpest weapon” and that “failure leads the conversation.” Bucato’s implosion taught him that “it’s not enough to just be a cook anymore”; rather, “this is first and foremost a business where art and science happen to intersect.” To that end, the chef actually sought out Lettuce Entertain You in order to “work on his weakness.” Wanting to learn from Rich Melman, he “moved to Chicago where he lived in a hotel for nine months” and consulted with the company, “helping them open Italian restaurants like Il Porcellino” (and, many years later, RPM Italian in Las Vegas). LEY offered Funke a chance to “relearn the business” and “recalibrated…[his] understanding.” Speaking at the time of Tre Dita’s opening, he also characterized Lettuce as “just a very very forward-thinking progressive company” that recognizes and grows talent with the kind of “leadership infrastructure” he “found very important to kind of key in on.”

Going back to the immediate aftermath of Bucato’s closure, the chef resolved that his style “will not change” and his “dedication and devotion to handmade pasta will never die.” He would take a trip to Italy, heading “south to see Puglia and Calabria…where…the true exercise of la cucina povera is.” He would go “back to where it all began,” to—once more—”get at the heart of the craft, where these practices are still sacrament.”

Funke also remained upbeat about the L.A. food scene in general. He thought “the dining public is fickle and doesn’t necessarily invest in restaurants like San Francisco, New York, or Chicago does.” He also found that cooking schools like Le Cordon Bleu (where he attended and later taught for 12 weeks) were flooding the market with “under-qualified, under-motivated, and under-educated cooks” that had to be taught “from scratch.” Nonetheless, Funke argued his peers were “really swinging for the fences” with “small-batch…beautiful smart food” made “with the best ingredients” from a Santa Monica market that, due to “the sheer bounty and diversity available,” was “a chef’s wet dream.” He affirmed that “this is going to be the dining mecca of the next decade,” one that “will literally change dining in the U.S.,” and he “hope[d] to be a part of that.”

In February of 2016, Funke was ready to announce his triumphant return: partnering with Gusto 54 (a Toronto-based restaurant group) to take over the space that housed a “fine dining stalwart,” which had just closed after 24 years of operation, on Venice’s famous Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Named Felix (after the Latin word for “happy” or “lucky”), his new restaurant would offer an “expanded version” of what the chef was doing at Bucato. That meant “handmade pastas, market-driven ingredients, but with the addition of wood-fired pizzas”—a skill that demanded the chef plan “a trip to Naples to apprentice under some master pizzaiolos” during construction. Once more, there’d be about 100 seats and a “pasta laboratorio” on location.

Felix’s debut was planned for the summer, and, as so often happens, to project was hit by delays. Doors opened in April of 2017 (a little under two years since Funke’s departure from Bucato), welcoming guests into a space where that “standalone temperature-controlled pasta laboratory” acted as a “focal point for the entire primary dining room.” The chef himself would be inside, “manning the station with plenty of hand-rolled noodle prowess” when he wasn’t “around the corner in the open kitchen, working the wood-fired oven, turning pizzas and making the rest of the menu shine.”

One month in, Funke was running “one of LA’s busiest restaurants, serving upwards of 250 covers a night already and booking reservations a month out.” He had been “working straight since March 29, his last day off,” and didn’t have “another day off scheduled until June 5.” The idea was “to lead by example” and, rather than being “motivated by accolades,” to be “regarded highly among…[his] peers.”

This attitude would be tested in December of 2017, when Felix found itself excluded from Jonathan Gold’s list of the city’s “101 Best Restaurants” for the Los Angeles Times. The critic would note that he likes Evan Funke, “who possesses a rare gift for central Italian flavors” and that the restaurant “is deservedly popular.” However, he characterized Felix as “primarily a pasta restaurant” and “disagree[d] with Funke on what pasta might be.” In particular, Gold was “on the side of suppleness, noodles that feel almost alive under your teeth.” In contrast, the chef’s aesthetic leaned “toward the severe end of the spectrum, where pasta is wet on the outside and barely cooked at the center.” While this style, “cooked just a few seconds short of al dente,” is respected in Italy, Funke’s pasta was said to go “a few steps before even that.”

The chef, to his credit, responded graciously enough, saying he disagreed “so strongly with [Gold’s] opinion” and affirming he cooks pasta “with geographic specificity”—“not an interpretation”—based on the “doneness levels from those regions” he experienced firsthand. Funke was “flabbergasted” by the omission but found that “it drove more people to take a look at…[his] style of pasta, so that people could make up their own minds.” Ultimately, there wasn’t “any beef with Mr. Gold.” In fact, the restaurant had plenty to be thankful for.

Felix had earned four out of five stars (“excellent”) from LA Weekly’s Besha Rodell, who praised a focaccia sfincione of “stunningly simple beauty,” a “platonic ideal of broccoli” sourced from four different farms, “delicately fried squash blossoms stuffed with fior de latte,” “raw ridgeback prawns with a gloriously creamy texture,” “pork meatballs that…burst with porky flavor,” a “bright and snappy” panzanella, and a cavalcade of pastas “presented on the menu in sections relating to their respective regions of Italian origin.” These included a “practically silky” pappardelle “bathed in a mellow Bolognese,” “saffron-tinged malloreddus (tiny Sardinian gnocchi),” “multiple variations of spaghetti,” “hearty ragus,” “orecchiette with sausage,” and rigatoni with a sauce “like the very soul of egg yolk.” While the Neapolitan-style pizza could be “floppy bordering on soup in the middle,” she concluded that “many dishes at Felix will be the best goddamned version of that thing you’ve ever had.”

2017 would also see the restaurant named one of Eater’s “Best New Restaurants in America.” Saveur would feature Funke in an article on “How to Make the Perfect Stuffed Pasta.” Esquire would grant Felix the top spot on its list of the 18 “Best New Restaurants in America” that year (the concept beating places like The Grill, Roister, and Kitsune). Eater LA would also name it the “Restaurant of the Year.” And, despite the “101 Best Restaurants” snub, Jonathan Gold had a great time at Felix when writing his full review.

Setting the scene, the critic noted that “Evan Funke will probably be in the pasta room for most of your visit, rolling out huge sheets of pasta with a long, wooden dowel, fluffing the edges, dusting them with flour, aiming big electric fans at them to help them dry.” A wine list “priced a bit high but…rich in the mildly funky Italian wines that go well with Funke’s rich, peppery cooking” earned praise. So did food like “crisp but meltingly tender” fried baby artichokes (maybe “the best version of the dish I’ve ever had in Los Angeles”), “impeccable” stuffed tortellini in light broth, “correctly thin and springy” pappardelle in a classic Bolognese-style meat ragù, “a special of soft, gooey strappatelle…with a mouth-shattering jolt of black pepper and sharp cheese,” and a “magnificent grass-fed bistecca Fiorentina.” Gripes about Funke’s “house style” of “ultrafirm” pasta aside, Felix was “an easy place to be happy.”

With some form of lasting success finally under his belt, the chef could begin to dream about what might come next. That included “two cookbooks to write in the next year” along with “three concepts in the works.” Of those restaurants, which Funke had been developing “for the past five years,” two were Italian, “and the third one might not be Italian.” The prospective openings, first mentioned in December of 2017, would also fit a career that the chef viewed as evolving: “At this point, I’m not cooking as much anymore. I’m here to mentor. I’m at the point in my career where there’s very little cooking to be done. Cooking on the hot line is a young person’s game. What I can do is teach technique.”

In February of 2018, Funke revealed that “as soon as…[he] opened Felix…[he] started looking for spaces.” Growth, at that point, was “almost inevitable”—“not a matter of concepts…not a matter of ideas…[but] a matter of real estate.” This search led the pasta impresario to consider New York City for “a restaurant like Felix” that would “do very well” in appealing to the metropolis’s “very elevated” taste. (“The most important thing” would be that any such concept avoids being “an invasive species.”) Likewise, back in Los Angeles, the chef was thinking about some kind of “very elevated fast casual” in “neighborhoods like West Hollywood and Silver Lake” that could sustain the kind of “lower price point” Abbot Kinney couldn’t.

Both of these plans, as best as you can tell, totally fizzled out. (Though, to be fair, Funke insisted his “sophomore album” was “extremely important” and worth “taking…[his] time.”) Instead, 2018 was principally defined by the release of Funke, Tastemade’s “first full-length documentary” detailing the chef’s “obsessive journey to mastering the pasta craft.” More specifically, the work would recount “the crushing blow of having to walk away from Bucato” and follow “the lengthy, expensive remodeling of Felix to become the pasta palace of his dreams.” Along the way, audiences would be treated to a kind of “high art on pasta photography” that “slow[ed] down the magic trick” of how Funke’s “hands moved, going from a nondescript ball of dough into one of these oeuvres.”

Funke would earn mildly positive reviews, with The Hollywood Reporter noting the director’s “well-trained eye for shooting delicious-looking food” but criticizing that he “appears way too enamored with the chef to develop much objectivity.” The documentary maintains a 7.4 rating on IMDB (from 94 users) and a positive distribution on Letterboxd, with 71% of reviews coming in at three out of five stars or higher (139 users). On the latter site, one rater opines: “JIRO DREAMS OF SUSHI, but with an ego to feed and an unnecessarily annoying capitalist touch to it. The orecchiette looked fucking amazing, though.”

Funke would also be nominated for best documentary at the James Beard Foundation’s 2019 Broadcast Media Awards, losing out to Modified (a documentary-memoir about GMO labelling). Despite this nod from peers within the industry, it is hard to get a sense of the work’s lasting influence on the chef’s career. Rather, considering Funke’s affinity for creating social media content that shows off his pasta-making, it may be best to think of the documentary as a crystallization of his personal mythology up until that point—Spago, the training in Italy, the collapse of Bucato, and the phoenix-like rise of Felix—interspersed with a good dose of food porn. Yes, though Funke “offers a fairly conventional dramatic arc tracing a renowned chef’s efforts to realize his dream project,” it also affirms the chef’s seriousness about being “known as the best pasta maker in the U.S.” by, most importantly, showing him dramatically and romantically practicing his craft.

It would take until April of 2019 for the first word regarding Funke’s future plans. At that time, the chef announced he’d be coming to Beverly Hills “with big new Italian dinner plans.” More specifically, he’d be partnering with art dealer Larry Gagosian to divide a 9,500-square-foot “premium and private gallery” space and develop a restaurant slated to open some time in the fall of 2020. This concept, though “definitely happening” and set to be defined by that “very big art component,” was scuttled by the pandemic.

However, September of 2019 would see Funke’s first cookbook come to fruition. American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta won the 2020 James Beard Foundation Book Award for Photography and can tout complimentary blurbs from luminaries like Sarah Grueneberg, Danny Meyer, and Missy Robbins. Looking beyond the ratings (4.8 out of five stars on Amazon from 1,433 reviews) and the practical knowledge within, the work—particularly in the visual domain—bolsters Funke’s personal brand as a learned, hands-on craftsman capable of conjuring myriad pasta shapes using a few simple tools.

In August of 2020, the pandemic would present Funke with an opportunity to expand—albeit carefully. At the time, the chef noted that if “given the opportunity to create more jobs” and if he had “the time and the juice to do it,” it would be his “responsibility” to do so. Thus, Fingers Crossed was born: “a six-month residency at a prime Hollywood restaurant and bar space” that would “create some jobs in the community” and keep Funke busy while Felix was still “operating at a 60 percent dining capacity.”

The restaurant, “located in an intimate piazza,” was billed as the chef’s “love letter to the Roman Pizzeria.” That being said, Funke made clear “this is straight up Rome, not my interpretation,” with “dogmatic” dishes being prepared as they were taught to him “by Romans.” That included a “serious approach to cacio e pepe, made with a bit of butter at Felix but true to the Roman form here in Hollywood with just pecorino romano and black pepper.” There’d also be “tonda-style” (thin-crust, crispy) pizzas topped with “seasonal fresh produce” from “many of the local farmers who have supplied his restaurants for years alongside “fried oxtail meatballs,” “heirloom tomato bruschetta,” and a “mortadella-stuffed ‘sandwich’” made using the pizza dough.

Due to the cessation of outdoor dining in December of 2020, Fingers Crossed would only operate for about four months before permanently closing. Nonetheless, the restaurant maintains a respectable 4.4-star rating on Yelp (46 reviews) as a record of its work.

September of 2021 would confirm that Funke’s deep feeling for Roman cuisine was not just a passing fancy. Finally, more than four years after Felix’s launch, the chef had a new restaurant—with a name, a (permanent) location, and a prospective opening date—to announce. He’d be returning to Hollywood, just a block away from where Fingers Crossed had done its limited run, and doubling down on “the culinary traditions of Italy’s most storied city.” Mother Wolf, as the concept would be called, represented “years learning about, traveling through, and studying in Italy” with a “particular focus,” this time “on the specific pizza, pasta, and antipasti of Rome.”

When the restaurant began welcoming guests in January of 2022, it could boast “a 3,000-square-foot open kitchen loaded with pasta tools” (accounting for “more than one-third” of the space overall) joined by “150 dining room banquettes, booths, and two- and four-tops.” Though this proportion meant “fewer seats for paying customers,” it would allow “more room for Funke and his team to hone in on the history and shape of Rome, one pasta at a time.” In the press, the chef yet again touched on his role as a “culinary custodian” telling the stories of his chosen cuisine “in a true and authentic manner.”

The “tighter focus on Roman cooking” was “very different from that of Felix, which Funke sees as ‘Italy’s greatest hits.’” Further, the chef explained that “Felix is a trattoria, while Mother Wolf is this grand room that feels very adult and luxurious.” That would be rendered through “imported Murano glass chandeliers, marble tabletops and bars, waitstaff in waistcoats, and Gio Ponti-inspired seating.”

It would also be expressed through dishes like “Puntarella alla Romana” (dressed in anchovy vinaigrette but “respectfully altered” with the addition of a “soft, super-creamy sheep’s milk cheese”), “Supplì al Telefono” (the “Roman dialect” version of arancini made with rice cooked in guanciale fat), “Pizza Boscaiola” (dressed with wild mushrooms, housemade fennel sausage, fior di latte, fennel pollen, and green garlic salsa verde yet possessing “the delicate crispness of a Dorito”), “Tonnarelli Cacio e Pepe” (set apart by “the toasting of the black pepper”), and “Scottadito” (grilled lamb ribs with braised chicories and salsa verde).

Just a month after opening, Mother Wolf was already attracting celebrities like Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Rihanna, Usher, Mark Wahlberg (who termed it his “favorite restaurant in the world”), and Kanye West. Michelle, Malia, and Sasha Obama would follow not long after. And Bill Addison, reviewing the restaurant in April of 2022 for the Los Angeles Times, would confirm that the place is “a power summit.” Funke himself was said to have “an insider’s instinct for coddling the Hollywood elite,” and his newest concept was a “Hollywood production in every sense”: “every night is a party, loud and posh and rowdy.”

Still, the piece praises service that proceeds “graciously and efficiently,” a somm team that “expertly guide[s]” patrons,” and a range of dishes like “satisfying meaty” fried squash blossoms, “springtime favas in their pods with hunks of melting pecorino,” a precise spaghettone alla gricia, a “potent” rigatoni all’amatriciana, and a “heady” bucatini with pesto. Funke’s insistence on pasta cooked “two shades firmer than al dente” remained the hill he “will forever die on,” yet the critic noted that the noodles were “cooked a moment or two longer” by the kitchen when the boss was out of the building. This inconsistency extended to a “gluey” plate of carbonara one night (costing $31) and an “overcooked,” “unremarkable” saltimbocca. However, desserts formed a “grand conclusion” to the meal, and Mother Wolf was credited with pulling off “serious cooking” while pulling in all those celebrities “and the rest of us jockeying for reservations.”

Though other serious reviews of Mother Wolf are hard to come by, the concept earned an 8.3 rating (out of 10) from The Infatuation, who noted that it “makes eating at other restaurants feel like waiting in line at the post office.” Michelin, though not awarding the establishment, listed it as part of their Guide and remarked that “everyone and their mother, quite literally, is here for dinner.” Such buzz, they continued, was “par for the course for Chef Evan Funke, a pasta maven whose restaurants are full the moment the doors open.”

At present, the aggregate sites paint a less rosy picture, with Mother Wolf maintaining a 4.2-star rating (518 reviews) on Google and a 4-star rating (950 reviews) on Yelp. The latter average is particularly concerning—but also par for the course at hotspots where regulars and high-paying customers overshadow first-time, one-time guests whose business (during that first flush of popularity) an establishment may take for granted.

By November of 2022, Funke was ready to pursue the kind of persistent growth he had hinted at after Felix’s success. After all, the “sophomore album” had certainly gone over well, and the chef’s reputation among the glitterati was never higher. That month, he announced “a partnership with real estate magnate Kurt Rappaport” on “an eponymous Beverly Hills restaurant” set to open in 2023. The project was described as the “culmination” of all his “time spent in Italy over the last 15 years.” It would comprise a “180-seat, three-level” space (slightly less than room than Mother Wolf but much more than Felix) serving “regional Italian fare.”

On cue, Funke (the restaurant) was ready to open in May of 2023: “a legacy restaurant that delivered peerless fare and service inside a sumptuously appointed Beverly Hills address.” At that time, it was revealed that the concept was actually born from “three years of ideation and extensive construction.” Rappaport had purchased the “10,000 square feet…1930s Art Deco building…for $40 million in 2018.” He and the chef shared a “passion for exquisite things.” And they built Funke while guided by the idea that “you can only put your name on something once, and that has a lot of gravity.”

Rather than just spanning those 15 years in Italy, the restaurant—at launch—was framed as “the culmination of the past 25 years of the chef’s career” and an effort to speak to who he is not only “as a chef” but “as a person, and as a mentor and a teacher.” The so-called “atelier,” thanks to Rappaport, spared no expense in doing so, with Evan noting that “most of the time when you open a restaurant, things get value-engineered out because of budget constraints.” Here, his partner told him to “Dream. Make it exactly what you want it to be.”

That took the form of two main dining rooms, a private dining room, three kitchens, and three bars with “a very clean, Italian, contemporary feel” that “felt like a residence.” Funke was “lit up by 273 handblown Murano glass lightbulbs that dangle from the ceiling at varying heights,” and works from Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol lined its walls—along with “acoustic panels shrouded in Loro Piana linens.” At the “center of everything,” guests would find a “two-story glass-and-steel workshop” where the chef and his team would make a dozen types of the “most beautiful, detailed, bespoke pieces of pasta by hand the way it was done 150 years ago.” This iteration of the “pasta lab,” always a fixture at Evan’s concepts, was described as a “theatrical environment” providing a “transportive experience” that would connect “more deeply” with diners. On the rooftop, “walk-ins-only” Bar Funke offered “an abbreviated food and dessert menu” with panoramic views of “gorgeous architecture, swaying palm trees, [and] the city of Beverly Hills to Hollywood.”

In terms of food, Funke would continue to showcase the “generational histories and the anthropology of the women that…[the chef] studied handmade pasta with,” and, on this occasion, the menu would “provide attribution to the Italian city, region, and teacher” from whom he learned each pasta. These would span old favorites like “tagliatelle Bolognese, cacio e pepe, and all’amatriciana” alongside “newcomers like the Piemontese classic agnolotti dal plin.”

Elsewhere, guests could find an antipasti section “littered with seasonal vegetables” (like artichokes, asparagus, and fava beans), a secondi category offering “whole-roasted fish, a large-format steak, and the popular rib-eye cap available at all of Funke’s restaurants,” and “half a dozen or so Neapolitan-style pizzas made in one of the only wood-fired ovens in Beverly Hills.” More uniquely, the chef would be embracing “the flavors of Sicily” at Funke: namely the “staple pan pizza sfincione,” “a savory puff pastry stuffed with onions, provolone, and tomato” (known as cipollina), and a “vastly diverse lexicon of desserts” drawn from the region’s “Arab influence.” Joining the cuisine, the beverage program would feature “seasonal cocktails based on classic Italian drinks” alongside “an all-Italian wine list (with the exception of French Champagne).”

Reflecting on the opening, Evan would note that his customers “were denied for years sitting at home” and “were denied anniversaries and denied birthdays and denied vacations, and they’re looking for experiences, especially in restaurants, that make them feel.” Mother Wolf, he said, was a place where “people come to eat like they’re going to die tomorrow,” and he finds that energy “very attractive.” Funke represented a continuation of that style: “really fun, boisterous places” that juxtapose an “opulent atmosphere with brutally rugged food, austere plating—fine dining.”

Funke has not been subject to any professional reviews since its opening but earned a 7.9 rating (out of 10) from The Infatuation, which termed the restaurant “a strong third act with pasta that earns its high price tags” while criticizing it as “tacky and self-aggrandizing in ways Mother Wolf’s party atmosphere and Felix’s stoic pasta museum mostly avoid.” Michelin, likewise, would include the concept as part of its Guide (though, yet again, the chef did not earn any honors). Bibendum called Funke “a stunning tribute to Italian cooking” and praised dishes like “pillowy focaccia,” “tender South Pacific blue prawns in a garlicky salsa verde,” “perfectly al dente” handmade agnolotti “with a rich and creamy filling,” and a “wonderful” torta di cioccolato.

As with Mother Wolf, the aggregate sites suggest that the average customer response is a bit more mixed, with Funke maintaining a 4-star rating (137 reviews) on Google and a 4-star rating (259 reviews) on Yelp. Again, to be fair, you are talking about a place that was consciously conceived to be a “dealmaking, scene-shaking ‘modern-day Cheers,’ in the vein of the late Morton’s” with a “1,500-name wait list for reservations” and a parade of “heavy hitters” (like Kris Jenner and David Geffen) on display at time of opening.

Nevertheless, the tepid response to Funke from the unwashed masses would not delay further expansion. In December of 2023, the chef opened a Las Vegas location of Mother Wolf within the 24.5-acre Fontainebleau resort and casino. When introducing the sister property, he noted that Sin City’s extravagance wasn’t “too far of an extension” from what they already did in Los Angeles. Just the same, Funke (i.e., Evan) wanted the restaurant to be “accessible to local clientele, not just casino-goers and convention-goers and game-players.” He wanted it “to be very much a neighborhood” place that presented caviar and lobster and big steaks—along with those signature pastas and “the same vegetables” utilized in California—with a sense of “grandeur” but also “in a tasteful way.”

Though not professionally reviewed, Mother Wolf Las Vegas maintains a more respectable 4.2-star rating (121 reviews) on Google and a 4.5-star rating (208 reviews) on Yelp—signaling that Funke’s personal brand is, perhaps, more warmly received outside of a home market that has grown accustomed to his favorite tricks.

That brings you to the year 2024 and, with Funke’s first out-of-state of expansion in the rearview mirror, back to Chicago. There, The St. Regis had officially opened in May of 2023 along with Miru, Lettuce’s “modern Japanese restaurant” on the hotel’s 11th floor.

The concept boasted “iconic views of Lake Michigan, Navy Pier, and the Chicago River from its dining room and expansive outdoor terraces.” Its all-day menu came courtesy of chef-partner Hisanobu Osaka, chef-partner Naoki Nakashima, executive chef Helmy Saadon, and executive pastry chef Juan Gutierrez with drinks curated by beverage director Diane Cocoran, sake specialist DeAnn Wong, and wine director Kat Hawkins. Such a stacked team (with experience drawn from Daniel, Momotaro, Morimoto, RPM Italian, RPM Steak, and Three Dots and a Dash) befit a nearly 500-seat property spread across “dining, bar, and lounge spaces.” The restaurant’s menus, likewise, would comprise everything from pastries, parfaits, omelets, pancakes, and a burger to tempura, crispy rice, robata skewers, wagyu, and a wide range of sushi.

Though not reviewed extensively, the initial response to Miru was mixed. The Chicago Tribune awarded the concept two-and-a-half stars (“very good to excellent”) by day and one-and-a-half stars (“good to very good”) by night—a doubly convoluted approach from a feckless publication. The review highlighted a “simply stunning” Tokyo breakfast while grumbling about a server who didn’t know from where the bluefin tuna was sourced, a dessert that arrived with melted matcha ice cream, and a dinner menu (made up of 72 items) that was too long while also questioning “why the restaurant at a luxury hotel in Chicago is Japanese-inspired.”

The Infatuation, sticking the concept with a 7.0 rating (out of 10) in September of 2023, would offer a 244-word review that makes the Tribune’s seem exhaustive by comparison. It singled out a “satisfyingly rich” dark chocolate souffle tart, a “tasty” black sesame praline, and the Japanese breakfast set for praise while decrying “rubbery” chicken teriyaki, “mushy” duck yakisoba, and sushi that is “generally fine” but “also unremarkable and pricey.”

Now, you’re not inclined to be a Lettuce Entertain You defender, and, from the start, you never felt motivated to give Miru a formal review. However, rating an establishment having only tried something like 10% of its dishes seems like malpractice, and complaining about the length of the menu (whose item count is only really inflated to the number of maki, nigiri, sashimi offered) strikes you as the sign of a lazy, aging “critic.”

In your experience, Miru must be judged relative to sprawling, Japanese-inflected restaurants like Nobu, Momotaro, Sunda, and TAO. It must also be considered in relation to the other concepts that grace Chicago’s finest hotels: places like Adorn, Brass Tack, Cabra, LH Rooftop, The Lobby, NoMI, Shanghai Terrace, Somerset, Terrace 16, Torali, Travelle, and Venteux. In this company, Miru comports itself well as an all-day restaurant, with superlative views, a wine list that offers a surprising degree of depth/value, and food that—for your taste—bests its closest competition in both breadth and quality.

Looking at the numbers roughly a year after opening, Miru maintains a 4.3 rating (228 reviews) on Google and a 4.3 rating (149 reviews) on Yelp. This compares favorably to the figures for Nobu (4.2 from 574 reviews; 4.0 from 338 reviews), Momotaro (4.6 from 2,213 reviews; 4.1 from 1,282 reviews), Sunda River North (4.5 from 2,489 reviews; 4.0 from 3,280 reviews), and TAO (4.3 from 3,115 reviews; 3.7 from 674 reviews). Of course, it remains to be seen how Miru will age (though, with its privileged perch and a steady stream of hotel guests, you expect it will remain relevant—and thus hopefully consistent—for quite some time). However, contextually, you think it was a good opening that does not outdo The Omakase Room or RPM Seafood as a pure “restaurant” but feels far more interesting and repeatable than The Oakville.

Ultimately, Miru only represented one half (the more casual, approachable half mind you) of LEY’s plans for The St. Regis. Tre Dita, at the time of the Japanese concept’s opening, was designated as “coming soon.” It was also labelled “Funke’s first [restaurant] outside of Los Angeles,” a proud proclamation that would have held true if the second-floor space opened in the fall as intended. Unfortunately, delays meant that Mother Wolf Las Vegas stole Tre Dita’s thunder as the first extension of the chef’s brand outside his home market. Nonetheless, the latter concept would be no mere reboot.

For Tre Dita, Funke would plan a “research trip to Tuscany” in order to get a sense of the “12 to 15 different types of pasta” he would serve there alongside vegetables and steaks. More than a year before the restaurant’s eventual opening, the chef had already honed in on dishes like “tortelli di zucca, pappardelle al cinghiale…and pici with wild duck” as well as “lesser-known pastas like testaroli…with pine nuts and marjoram.” That being said, certain tropes from his other concepts would remain, like the “250-square-foot, temperature-controlled and glass-walled pasta lab” that was intended to create “a conversation with the guest” and “achieve a connection between a person who is enjoying the pasta and the pasta maker.”

Fall of 2023 would pass with nary a word about what Funke and Lettuce had planned for The St. Regis. However, December would see Michelin name Tre Dita as one of “The Most Anticipated Restaurants for 2024 from MICHELIN Chefs,” noting its 8,600-square-foot, bi-level space designed by London-based David Collins Studio. The “Tuscan-inspired aesthetic” would include “columns, marble, and 40-foot windows” along with “an open-hearth wood-fired grill” and the aforementioned “pasta lab.”

The new year dawned, and January yielded to February with little other fanfare. Yet, you could tell through Culinary Agents that Tre Dita was hiring. The moment was approaching, but there’d be no grand announcement—just a sudden update of the concept’s social media pages (with pictures of the finished space) and a post announcing that reservations were now available. Reservations for Bar Tre Dita that is.

Yes, on February 15th, Lettuce invited Chicagoans to picture themselves “nestled into an intimate candlelit corner, sipping a glass of Barolo or a handcrafted cocktail, enjoying plates of handmade pasta, ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms and antipasti, with the Chicago skyline sparkling in the background.” They could do so not in the 130-seat dining room, but in the 120-seat space adjacent to it: one filled with “a mix of buttery velvet banquettes, leather ottomans, lounge-y sofas and floating tables,” one “steeped in rich wood and gleaming Italian marble.”

There was no real rationale given as to why Bar Tre Dita debuted on its own. Doing so could have offered Lettuce an opportunity to work out some of the restaurant’s kinks before totally filling the space. However, this is not the company’s standard operating procedure (you think back to RPM Seafood’s opening for example) as opposed to a traditional “friends and family” or explicit “soft opening” period. Bar Tre Dita was open, without qualifications or asterisks, and ready to begin charging full price for its wares. As to the main dining room, the prevailing rumor was that the kitchen’s ventilation had been improperly installed. This meant that when the titular steaks were cooked on that wood-fired grill, the Tuscan sanctum would (presumably) slowly fill with smoke.

The fact that Bar Tre Dita did not serve any steaks during this opening period would seem to confirm something was actually inhibiting the kitchen. Instead, the concept offered “a selection of pastas and house specialty dishes previewing what’s to come” alongside “nine new specialty cocktails” (from Diane Corcoran) and a “wine list of more than 700 exclusively Italian wines” (from Kat Hawkins). The early response from the restaurant-going public was overwhelmingly positive, with a couple customers decrying delays (in being seated or receiving their food) but most enjoying their first taste while eagerly awaiting the opening of the full venue.

March 16th would be the official day, with Tre Dita having hosted an “opening night” party on March 13th that attracted “cast members from The Bear and Chicago PD” alongside names like Jim Belushi, Lori Lightfoot, and Phil Vettel, “who consulted on the restaurant” (something that strikes you as a bit slimy even in retirement). Funke himself was on hand to affirm that his food reflects “the stories of the people…[he’s] learned from in Tuscany” and that he desired to present the cuisine “in the most authentic and respectful way possible.” (No matter how thorny the notion of “authenticity” may be, LEY could claim that Vetrina Toscana—a project of Tuscany’s Chamber of Commerce—designated Tre Dita as “the first certified Tuscan restaurant in the United States.”)

The restaurant’s formal opening would signal the start of Funke’s first real Chicago press tour. Across a range of articles, the chef revealed he had “been in and out of Chicago the last three months training staff” with the goal of “really sweeping people off their feet and taking them outside of their daily lives through delicious Tuscan traditional food and excellently executed hospitality.” Just the same, he didn’t want to “force education down people’s throats” when it came to the reverential approach to pasta, preferring the experience to be “approachable,” “delicious,” and “fun.”

Digging further into the food, Funke noted that Chicago’s inability to grow ingredients year round (compared to California) “presents a challenge,” but that the restaurant would “fly in produce from across the country” while utilizing “fruit and veggies from Michigan and farms in the area” when it could. The menu would draw inspiration from “many areas within Tuscany, including lesser-traveled towns like Pontremoli, Pienza, and Chiusi” where the themes and traditions of “handmade pasta, wood-fired cooking, and bistecca” formed a constant. To that point, the concept would be “meat-forward” spanning both “Renaissance court cooking and the food of the pastoral communities,” but “not a steakhouse.” Rather, Tre Dita is “cucina Toscana,” and “it just so happens that the Tuscans celebrate beef as much as people do in Chicago.”

The chef’s particular recommendations from the menu included “the schiacciata bianca,” “the tagliatelle ragù bianco,” and (of course) “the bistecca Fiorentina.” Meanwhile, the “Italian-inspired dessert menu,” it was also revealed, would be executed by Miru’s executive pastry chef Juan Gutierrez—who, you should mention, distinguished himself by winning Netflix’s School of Chocolate back in 2021.

Nearly two months after the opening of Tre Dita’s dining room (and nearly three months after Bar Tre Dita began accepting customers), reservations have become precious. Booked one week out (as are all of Funke’s Los Angeles properties), seats in the former space demand staying up until midnight while even the latter space, if one desires a prime time, requires a bit of dedication.

In the time since its debut, Tre Dita has been named the most beautiful restaurant in Illinois by OpenTable and People. It has also earned two-and-a-half stars (“very good to excellent”) from the Chicago Tribune in a review based upon only “two visits” and that neglected to appraise the restaurant’s namesake steak. (Therein, “well-intentioned, but so rushed” service and restrooms “littered with plastic water bottles” drew criticism. There was no disclosure of former critic Vettel’s involvement.)

Elsewhere, the restaurant maintains a 4.2 rating (87 reviews) on Google, a 4.8 rating (213 reviews) on OpenTable, and a 4.3 rating (32 reviews) on Yelp. Certainly, the two lower averages are concerning—with patrons noting a long wait (i.e., 30 minutes) upon arrival, discrepancies in how customers are seated, “pretentiousness,” “questionable integrity,” a bar “full of older men and trashy girls looking for sugar daddies,” food that “wasn’t memorable,” was “overpriced,” “slow” service, and a “mediocre experience” overall. Just the same, the OpenTable reviewers tend to be quite happy with a “beautiful room and view,” “fantastic” food and service, and an “amazing” ambiance being commonly referenced. Gripes aside, it is right to say Tre Dita has—especially considering these ratings in total—been warmly received by and large. And these averages (though it will take another thousand reviews for them to catch up to the California establishments) still rank among the highest Funke maintains in any market.

This brings you to the end of a whirlwind appraisal of Lettuce Entertain You’s last seven years of openings and Evan Funke’s entire career, an exhaustive study—no doubt—but the only proper way to frame a restaurant of such consequence for the city. Though not “fine dining” in the tasting menu sense, Tre Dita operates with a degree of scale and intention that demands the sharpest critical tools. Nearly unbookable despite its size, the restaurant’s dining room (that is, its full menu offering) also begs for an exhaustive evaluation.

In a city that is no stranger to Italian concepts, have Lettuce and Funke truly sought to redefine—or just further monetize—the genre? Should Chicagoans really wrangle for reservations and pay a premium to experience this vision? Or do you only encounter the same steak and pasta, garnished with a bit of that Beverly Hills glitz, that local diners have enjoyed for generations? From this posture, you will look to untangle what the restaurant and its celebrity chef have to offer.

You have visited Tre Dita a total of eight times since its opening (three visits to the bar area and five to the dining room), spanning a period from late February to late April of this year. Though this timeframe falls a bit short of the two-month mark for the restaurant’s full opening (i.e., May 16th), your experiences have been consistent. Moreover, given how difficult it is to secure a reservation in the dining room, you think there is some utility in providing consumers with a detailed account of what goes on there.

Lettuce, you acknowledge, is not going to be toppled by a bad review, and Funke, for what it’s worth, has also maintained a successful personal brand in the face of some middling (4-star) average ratings at his most popular Los Angeles properties. Still, they—and The St. Regis—deserve a bit of consideration. Indeed, Miru has become more polished with time, and it is worth gracefully acknowledging which of Tre Dita’s potential flaws can expectedly be ironed out by a hospitality group of such organizational prowess. Just the same, guests are being charged real money to eat here (in fact, they have been since the bar opened), and everyone, consumer and operator alike, benefits from the setting of the right expectations even in these early days. 

To their credit, Lettuce and Funke have shown surprising restraint in how they’ve billed Tre Dita, which boils down to a fun, transportive, “authentically” Tuscan concept that happens to be located in an important piece of real estate. Separating setting and style from substance will, as always, remain the foremost task. However, you intend that any criticism made at this early juncture constructively considers how these three forces (celebrity chef, hospitality group, and hotel) come together to define fine dining—nay, Chicago dining writ large—in 2024.

With all that said, let us begin.

Long before you finally weave a path to Tre Dita’s doorstep, chances are that the restaurant has already crept into the back of your mind. This likely holds true for most Chicagoans; they just have not put all the pieces together yet.

From Wanda Vista Tower, to Vista Tower, to The St. Regis Chicago—from pre-pandemic optimism to post-pandemic pragmatism—the city’s third-tallest building has yet to really define itself. The skyscraper is there, of course: three cascading frustums of mirrory blue that soar over Lakeshore East and slot neatly into that famous skyline. From due north (a quiet stretch of Streeterville near Robert’s Pizza and Dough Company) and due south (on Lake Shore Drive), the structure’s effect, framed by its older, shorter peers, is positively arresting. Nonetheless, Vista Tower (a name that, while technically defunct, is still referenced by Studio Gang) lacks the name recognition, whether drawn from fame or from infamy, of its two ever-bigger brethren.

With that St. Regis titling, the building described as “easily the most important addition to the Chicago skyline in a generation” is inevitably tied to the reputation of the luxury hotel brand. Surely, it’s a proud one—the original St. Regis having opened 100 years ago as sister property to the Waldorf-Astoria in New York—with 57 branches spread across China (12), the United States (9), the United Arab Emirates (4), Italy (3), and Mexico (3) and within cities like Bangkok, Bali, Bermuda, Cairo, Doha, Jakarta, Istanbul, Mallorca, Mumbai, Osaka, and Toronto. However, 30 of these locations have opened in the past decade, and it is right to view the brand (owned by Marriott since 2016) as nascent when compared to competitors like The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, and Grand/Park Hyatt properties.

With The Alinea Group’s help, The St. Regis might have introduced itself to the city as a generous proponent of gastronomy: an enabler of the kind of expansion Achatz and Kokonas never seemed interested in but that would dramatically increase their total audience on any given night. As their flagship restaurant has, over nearly two decades, become synonymous with Chicago dining, the development of two new concepts in sprawling hotel spaces would send a strong signal: St. Regis was here to partner with the city’s best talent and make them even bigger and better.

The dissolution of that agreement and The Alinea Group’s substitution with Lettuce Entertain You meant trading one synonym for another: the avant-garde, the three-Michelin-starred for the reliable, ever-approachable (if formerly well-awarded) style of the Melmans. Dogged by construction delays and smelling, just a bit, of desperation, The St. Regis could hardly have done better. Compared to taking a gamble on an operator from outside the market or running the restaurants under some kind of generic hotel branding, they signed a collaborator that could execute chef-driven concepts and tap a deep reservoir of local talent. At the same time, The St. Regis detached their aspirational pricing (with standard rooms costing between $600 and $1,200 per night depending on the time of booking) from Alinea’s $275 to $495 ticket scheme and recoupled it with a group doing a much broader mix of fast casual, small plates, and steakhouse fare.

The difference between The St. Regis Chicago: Home of Alinea’s Long-Awaited Sequel and The St. Regis Chicago: Lettuce Entertain You (Like We Do at 50 Other Places Across Town) is palpable. It represents a total inversion of exclusivity (for better or worse) with inclusivity and the substitution of a restaurant that would be a destination in its own right with one, for better or worse, that is just helping fill the space. To be clear, you cannot say such a thing about Tre Dita (yet), but Miru, even though you defend the concept, is still only contextually good. The restaurant improves on the social scene places like Momotaro, Nobu, Sunda, and TAO have created (thanks to the hotel’s natural advantages) without looking to provide the ultimate quality (whether technical or in terms of ingredients) in Japanese fare.

In this sense, Miru feels more like The St. Regis’s luxe terrace concept (“Sushi-san with a View”?) more than it does a dining destination in its own right. In the same manner, Tre Dita is faced with having to transcend the label of being an “RPM Italian: South” or an “RPM Steak: Toscana”—a safe, familiar brand extension in a new, shiny space whose novelty comes and goes with the next splashy opening. Without the implicit value of the Alinea name to draw on, The St. Regis (and Lettuce) have hitched their wagon to Funke.

The celebrity chef, you have already covered, is not quite a household name nor is he a Michelin star holder. However, to LEY, he is a known quantity, working within an ever-popular genre, and—having tracked his career—a natural showman. Within Los Angeles (and perhaps owing to the nature of the city), Funke has mastered his personal branding as a humble student of handmade pasta turned curator and teacher. In photographs and video, he demonstrates the alchemic prestidigitation that forms those myriad, forgotten shapes. He invariably looks the part—denim shirt, apron, neatly-trimmed beard, tattoo sleeves, a serious countenance, and a heartening rotundity—of the “master craftsperson” while lavishing praise on those whom he’s learned from (the grounding for all his talk of “authenticity”) and devising ways to stage his romantic, tactile work (via the “pasta labs”) within the overall dining experience. Speaking to the press, Funke is also an effortless promoter: hammering home ideas (about heritage, opulence, “brutally rugged food,” and eating like you’re “going to die tomorrow”) that dispel any sense of egoism by situating his restaurants within a grand tradition of hospitality—of “fun, boisterous places” that make people “feel.” Dare you say it might actually sound sincere!

Funke is the kind of larger-than-life chef Lettuce swore off of after Laurent Gras and who altogether disappeared with Everest’s closure (though you’ll never guess who can occasionally be found working Tre Dita’s dining room). At the same time, the California native is no finicky artiste—he just plays one on TV! Funke knows LEY’s culture, having admired it from afar, sought it out, learned from it, and even returned (at RPM Italian Las Vegas) to consult and collaborate as a peer. The chef is, really, a company man that happens to bring along with him a shiny personal brand built and perfected out west.

Funke is not just a storyteller and world-builder with a particular talent for working in a visual domain. He not only centers his craft on craveable, “authentic” pastas accompanied by tantalizing breads, small bites, and meats. Most notably, the chef unites these two specialties to create restaurants that capture that elusive feeling of “social scene.” You do not only speak of conventional celebrities—the most glamorous and recognizable—and the throngs of fans that would give anything to be in the same room. Funke, perhaps benefitting from his Oscar-winning father’s wisdom, has created restaurants that appeal to the studio executives, producers, and other movers and shakers whom many would never recognize but who do, in fact, control the levers of power. Typically, they eat and drink better than the vain entertainers and are the ones to call the dinner meetings that those actors, directors, and singers are attending in the first place. They make the deals that slowly lend a dining room its legendary status and perpetuate a reputation that (a bit like Spago) can last for generations.

As one television producer noted at the time of Funke’s opening: “What I like about Evan’s food is its accessibility. You can see the craftsmanship, the detail, the historical, contextualized approach he takes—but it’s also just delicious. It really works the moment it hits your mouth.”

With this in mind, you noticed how the press surrounding Tre Dita’s opening was sure to mention “plenty of private rooms, including one that overlooks the main dining hall that could make Tre Dita attractive to the rich and famous.” Funke also shared another “key”—making sure celebrities’ “security details are comfortable” by “having back entries away from the public eye.” The idea would be to let them “enjoy their meals in peace, or be seen if that’s what they want.” And this strategy aligns perfectly with Lettuce’s own increased showcasing of their celebrity diners—along with the legitimately high number of VIPs that find their way to the group’s restaurants.

With this in mind, Lettuce’s partnership with Funke would not need to break new ground in purely gastronomic terms or try to equal the kind of tasting menu concept The Alinea Group might have conceived. The chef would bring his visual branding, his storytelling, his stamp of “authenticity,” and a collection of recipes (some entirely new, others familiar) that balanced broad appeal with wanton deliciousness. The St. Regis would build out the space in line with its $134 million price tag (as well as the skyscraper’s own $1 billion cost), and LEY would provide its usual gold standard of hospitality.

Then, somehow, the hotel’s prestige, Funke’s celebrity snake charming skills, and Lettuce’s own inroads with the rich and famous would coalesce. Tre Dita would sidestep the “foodies,” the gastronomes, the destination diners and make an end run toward being the first of a new generation of Chicago social havens: the kind of smoke-filled room it feels intoxicating to even be a fly on the wall within. The restaurant need not present a value proposition based upon any ingredients or techniques the city hadn’t heard of, just the best pasta, the best steaks, and the most Italian wine in incomparable, totally buzzing confines.

Really, with the trajectory Lettuce Entertain You has been on as of late, the recipe posed little risk. The spark just needed to catch fire (the first flush of celebrities during the opening night party would surely help), and momentum would handle the rest. Tre Dita would soon boast some version of Funke’s 1,500-person wait list, the collaborators would begin brokering reservations for the most deserving of VIPs, and the restaurant would perpetuate its own reputation as a place to see and be seen.

The mainstream Chicago diner—at least those not obsessed enough to wake up at midnight—would hear of Lettuce’s new impossible-to-book property. They’d hear of handmade pasta and see the proud, tender approach of the chef from L.A. They’d wrangle for an opportunity to go and find themselves, suddenly, surrounded by the grandeur of The St. Regis. Whether seated in the bar or dining room, they’d take their place in Vista Tower: Chicago’s new monument, the city’s latest shining symbol. A flood of associations would, in a flash, combine and place this assembly of brands at the summit of the hospitality scene. That seems to be the idea, at least, and it marks the most notable example of a restaurant-as-spectacle (save for Barton G.) you can remember opening here: no challenge, no polarization, just vibes—and from a trusted name too.

With that in mind, following Wacker Drive to its eastern terminus has something of the feeling of a pilgrimage. For some diners, whether tourists themselves or merely hosting visitors to this fair city, the trek may be a brief one. Tre Dita is just a handful of blocks from The Art Institute, the Chicago Theatre, the CSO, Millennium Park, the Nederlander Theatre, Navy Pier, and a range of hotels charging a fraction of what it costs to stay at The St. Regis. Those traveling from a bit further away (choosing, perhaps, to stay in Fulton Market or River North) can, with the right weather and shoes take the Riverwalk much of the way: an appetizing bit of exercise before a carb-focused meal.

Of course, Chicagoans working in The Loop or residing in its surrounding neighborhoods (not least of all Lakeshore East itself) can find their way in a similar manner. However, the experience from an outsider’s perspective is fundamentally different. They are inclined to view Vista Tower alongside the Aon Center, Aqua, Harbor Point, Lake Point Tower, and Two Prudential Plaza as but one piece in a tapestry of skyscrapers (all impressive in isolation but impossible to exhaustively name) that define the city’s urban center. The St. Regis is new and shiny but a natural extension of the existing metropolis. It is a place (particularly when considering Miru’s views) that slots nicely into an itinerary of Chicago’s signature lakefront amenities.

For the resident (especially those living somewhere beyond the bordering entertainment districts), visiting Tre Dita is nostalgic bordering on eerie. It means returning to an altogether neglected part of the dining scene, a place of incidental eateries and Nutella Cafés offset by only the most occasional gem. It means embracing a part of the city—monumental as it is—that, for those who have made their home here, invites only the most purposeful activity. Simply wandering one’s way to The St. Regis is hard to imagine. Rather, with anticipation, you drive or walk up a road that only existed as a kind of scenic turnaround a decade ago. Before that, it led to a sales office for Lakeshore East—“the Best Location in the World” as the placard billed it. Now, this end of Wacker is marked by the manicured grounds surrounding Chicago’s newest coveted address.

Owing to its relative isolation—with only an office building, the Swissotel, an apartment building, and a couple condo towers as neighbors—the area surrounding The St. Regis is surprisingly subdued. It is easy to park, should you need to, or make your way to the valet (as a last resort). On foot, you pass Vista Tower’s residential entrance, an inconspicuous revolving door centered under the tallest of the skyscraper’s three sections, and a breezeway, running under the middle prong, that allows those privileged occupants to reach their garage. It is this slice of the edifice, which juts out from the rest of the façade, that offers the first glimpse of Tre Dita’s dining room (perched up on the second floor). A column, as you approach the hotel entrance under the shortest of the frustums, confirms the restaurant’s presence using the concept’s slick font.

Dodging the supercars that garland The St. Regis’s unloading area, you encounter a mix of waiting guests and uniformed employees. Busy as the latter sentries are, they unfailingly engage you with a polite greeting and even go so far as to open the double doors that lead into the hotel’s lobby (whether by hand or with the push of a button). As it happens, this often proves necessary due to a piece of malfunctioning equipment: a fancy, oversized revolving door (split into three sections) that is not infrequently cordoned off (you note stickers affixed to the glass warning against playing with soccer balls in the chambers). However, when it works, the automatic rotation proceeds smoothly and lends the feeling of entering a futuristic space.

The lobby more or less satisfies that feeling with its polished gray pillars, flooring, and backlit walls married with accents of natural stone. However, what seems clean and contemporary at first glance avoids any sense of coldness. This is accomplished through tones of “copper and rust”—found in the reception counter to your right, the concierge desk to its side, the elaborate seating area immediately before you, and in the patterned curtains that cover certain portions of the front windows—intended as a “nod to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.” Warm lighting, moreover, extends the effect of these colors and imbues the room with what feels like a sepia filter.

Turning left, as you learn only through experience to do, you come to a dramatic entryway: copper-colored paneling framing an absolutely towering room with sky blue carpeting, jagged metal chandeliers, and a distant installation of what look like metal shields staggered from top to bottom. Here, alongside some of the same gray pillars, you find startling tones of black. They clearly mark a point of transition from the lobby and, as you have learned, actually lead to The St. Regis’s expansive event facilities (a collection of boardrooms and ballrooms split across three different floors).

Intuitively, you bypass this portal and continue off toward the right and a hallway containing the elevator bank. There’s no signage or staff at hand to help lead the way; however, if you’re lucky, you might notice other guests coming or going from this direction. (More often than not, the comers will be standing around somewhat confusedly.) Before entering an elevator, you must look out for a digital panel that invites you to select a floor and points you to a particular car. Once more, those looking for the traditional buttons will be a bit flummoxed, and, even if you do find your way in front of the screen, it may not exactly be clear where you are going.

The buttons for the second and eleventh floors make no mention of Tre Dita or Miru (respectively). Further, while the latter’s OpenTable page does note its location, the former’s doesn’t. This even holds true for Google Maps and Tre Dita’s actual website—no mention of the second floor. While the hotel staff waits just around the corner to offer assistance, this seems like an unnecessary pain point for an establishment intending to offer a luxurious experience. (At the end of April, this was finally remedied via an update to the screen that lists Miru and Tre Dita among just five total options.)

Eventually, you find your way and take the short ride up to the restaurant. Upon arrival, another moment of confusion: which way to turn? Again, the flow of patrons should hopefully offer a clue, but, if you find yourself needing to turn around, a sign on the far wall provides confirmation: “Tre Dita: Cucina Toscana.”

Aesthetically, the transition feels immediate. The upper elevator bank is clad in black marble and wrapped with wallpaper that is brown like the tones you find downstairs but intricately tessellated. Following the hallway, you reach the lobby that leads to both Tre Dita and Bar Tre Dita through bifurcated archways. This chamber represents the concepts’ first real impression on its guests, and it is a classy one.

Though touches of the black marble remain, the feeling here is of the Tuscan sunset: varying hues of orange (some bordering on brown, others gold) with more neutral canvas of white set aglow by a central, orb-shaped lantern and a cut-out in the ceiling that is backlit. The blend of Italian marbles (Sienna Giallo, Rosso Alicante, Bianco Calacatta and Grigio Carnico) does the most to attract the eye. They define the room’s floor via an alternating checkerboard pattern of circles set within squares, and their natural differences in grain (even among repeating colors) make for a seemingly endless degree of depth. Highly polished, the reflection of the marble also lends the lobby an airy quality. Meanwhile, some bench seating, standing lamps (with ribbed shades), a triptych of mirrors, a touch of foliage, and another curtain (hung over the entrance to the restaurant side) form the final details.

In the corner between the two archways, the host stand sits: a cylindrical, wooden structure with its own marble surface and a team of four manning the monitors. Whether you arrive right at opening or later in the evening, checking in proves to be something of a scrum. This luxurious lobby is packed with bodies—reservations for the dining room, reservations for the bar, and hopeful walk-ins—each waiting their turn as other guests trickle out. These assembled diners dance around each other well enough, and, when you finally provide your name, the maître / maîtresse d’ promises your party will be seated shortly.

At 5 PM (that is, when the dining room is totally empty), that has taken anywhere from five to more than 15 minutes. Later in the evening (9:30 PM), you have waited more than 40 minutes with only a glass of Giuliana Prosecco (offered by the trayful to what, at that point, was a crowd of disappointment) by way of apology. On this latter occasion, the maître d’ ultimately tried to seat your party in Tre Dita’s bar instead of the dining room. At that point, you threatened to leave and were offered the compromise of being able to order off of the full menu. Accepting that, you ordered a bottle of wine and were then rescued by the sommelier, who decided to honor your more coveted reservation and led you back over to the dining room.

Though certain growing pains and delays are to be accepted at new restaurants of this popularity and scale, the lack of any sincere apology (the Giuliana Prosecco was not offered with any explicit declaration of regret or followed, during the meal, by any other gesture) seemed amateurish from Lettuce Entertain You. Further, the maître d’s attempt at deception—passing an inferior table (really, an entirely different experience) off on you in order to stem the bleeding—was downright embarrassing. While you may, in fact, have been amenable to the bar seating with the full menu as a means of eating sooner, there was no conversation to that effect or common understanding reached. The staff simply thought you’d be stupid enough not to notice, and that is about the most noxious posture an operator of any caliber can take toward the consumer.

The trouble with the host stand is not limited to when you check in either. The team there is tasked with handling all of guests’ leftovers via a “coat check” system in which each table is given a number. On one occasion, when leaving, a bag that should have contained a quarter of a “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” (that is, about $70 worth of meat) was filled only with a lonely piece of bread. Thankfully, having read customer reviews noting issues with this process, you noticed the discrepancy before reaching the elevators. After explaining the issue a couple times with a mix of good humor and disbelief, the requisite leftovers were retrieved a few minutes later. Though surely an honest mistake, this event speaks to a level of disorganization at the restaurant that goes beyond being unable to seat parties or turn tables in due time. It also represents a rather poisonous violation of the peak-end rule.

Overall, given that Funke is aiming to transport guests dining at Tre Dita, this is a disastrous showing from the hospitality partner he has entrusted to make a first impression. While you trust that Lettuce can get its act together when it comes to this facet of the experience, these problems have remained persistent throughout the restaurant’s first two months (three if you count the operation of the bar).

When the time finally arrives, you are led one of two ways. To the right, is Bar Tre Dita: distinguished by more traditional (i.e., black and white) checkerboard flooring done in alternating squares of Botticino Beige and Rosso Levanto Turco marble. There’s also walnut timber paneling, wool carpeting, and a wide range of seating (sofas, armchairs, and banquettes) set throughout the space, which is watched over by a 96-foot mural that, hanging down from the ceiling, runs along the length of the room. “Hand painted by decorative artist Dean Barger,” who also added the flourishes that can be found on the lampshades here, the work “depicts an abstracted view of the Chicago skyline” (something you never sensed when staring up at it but that makes you want to take a closer look).

The bar itself is made of Cippolino marble that is inlaid with additional walnut paneling. 14 leather stools sit before it while, behind, you find eight shelves of spirits (split into three columns) flanked by mirrored surfaces and arrangements of glassware. Others details of note throughout the space include sconces, vases, busts, canvases (rendered with subdued geometric patterns), curtains (similar to those in the lobby), and vertical mirrors (used to make the marble columns that frame the floor a bit less imposing).

Under cover of darkness, the room’s blue and gray tones are well managed by the warm lighting, ensuring that the “Tuscan sunset” aesthetic you mentioned extends into the space. With room for 120 people in total, Bar Tre Dita transforms into a sea of bodies—sneering and sharply dressed—shortly after opening. It’s the most accessible part of the hottest new opening in the priciest new hotel in Chicago, and the clientele reflects that. For better or worse, they lend the venue a quasi-nightlife feeling of exclusivity that can be quite intoxicating from the inside.

If granted the right server, you can have quite a nice meal here drawn from the menu’s abridged selections (25 dishes compared to 40 in the dining room). Mind you, some of the two-tops are a bit small for extensive sharing. However, you like the banquettes closest to the windows (with room for three set across from a trio of chairs) and any of the tables set against a wall or tucked into a corner (offering more isolated views of all the action). Though the views of the city are obscured by a second set of sheer white curtains placed over the windows, the landscape remains somewhat appreciable—particularly when the sun is still up.

Overall, you would mildly recommend Bar Tre Dita for those looking to visit the new property on short notice or merely get a small taste of what it has to offer without the commitment a dining room reservation entails. With six pastas (including, by your estimation, two of the very best offered across the full menu) to choose from, you’ll really only be missing out on the biggest expressions of beef and the more luxurious accommodations provided next door. With time (though who can guess when the restaurant will hit its peak of popularity), you also think the bar will act less as a spillover for those who would really prefer to be eating at Tre Dita. Such a change would ease the burden on the staff and help the space feel less serious—less of a “second choice”—and more festive.

Returning to the lobby, the lucky members of the crowd will find themselves led through the left archway into what has lavishly been titled “The Gastronomic Tunnel.” Here, you find yourself in darker confines, with the glow of the dining room’s sizable windows forming the proverbial light at the end of your journey. Nonetheless, this is not the kind of cavern you rush through. Rather, in the manner Funke has mastered across his other restaurants, the passageway plays an important part in setting the stage for the meal to come.

Entering the tunnel, you find the same medley of marbles (in the familiar checkerboard pattern) along with more wood paneling and some urn-like chandeliers. However, just about immediately, you are confronted by the pasta lab (in fact, one can view it from the lobby and even peek down into it via the reflection in the archway’s ceiling). Temperature- and humidity-controlled according to the chef’s specifications, it comprises a set of four windows framed by marble and metal. Inside, you note the wooden surfaces, bins of flour, refrigerators, arsenal of traditional tools, and a lone extruder that make the program work. Likely, you’ll see some dough rolled out or some finished shapes—along with one or two cooks toiling away.

These figures tend to keep their heads down (though, perhaps, they’d wave and smile if engaged), and their movements, as far as you have seen, are fairly simple and methodical. You do not see them using the stamps or strings that hang on the wall or effortlessly rolling shapes as Funke himself does. Timing, no doubt, may play a part in that, but it’s hard to call what goes on in the pasta lab a performance. Instead, you’re really just looking into an extension of the kitchen and confirming the promise that these shapes are being made fresh. It’s a functional space, without much flair, and lacks the kind of centrality the room is granted at Felix or Funke, where its presence enlivens the actual dining experience. As it stands, the pasta lab at Tre Dita feels like a bit of a gimmick—but one whose ultimate utility can only be judged by tasting the quality of the product being made. Such substance would, ironically, paint the lack of style as a virtue.

Continuing down the tunnel, you come across a meat locker filled with sizable cuts of neatly arranged steaks spread across four rows. Labels clue you in as to their identities: 60-Day Prime Dry-Aged Bone-In Ribeye (called the “Costata alla Fiorentina” on the menu but described there as being 28-day dry-aged), 60-Day Prime Dry-Aged Porterhouse (the “Bistecca alla Fiorentina”), and Prime Strip Loin. Walk a little bit further, and you come to the restaurant’s 700-label wine cellar—no doubt also temperature- and humidity-controlled and displayed in the same manner as the pasta lab.

At last, you reach the promised land: the showpiece dining room from which all the restaurant’s grandeur and glamour flows. This two-story space is split into four compartments, each of which enjoys a northerly view courtesy of floor-to-ceiling windows rendered in the same frustum shape that defines Vista Tower’s overall design. However, whereas the bar area (due to those sheer curtains) only hints at the concept’s place within the greater skyline, the dining room celebrates it. Ye t, unlike Miru, this is not a view that is shared by nearly 500 people seated indoors and across two terraces.

At Tre Dita, beneath those 40-foot ceilings, you feel at the absolute nucleus of something, somewhere. That is to say, the dining room is bounded and knowable. The total number of other guests can be observed and counted from almost any given table. You are united by a shared feeling of exclusivity—each party, carefully spaced from its neighbors, a tiny kingdom of its own—that yields to an ironic inclusivity: these are your peers, the people that have made the cut, the window dressing for the wonderful evening about to unfold.

Though the space seats 130 in total, each loosely-defined section houses only a fraction of that—so magnify the effect even more. You are one of only a few dozen people in a hallowed sanctum situated alongside the lake, at the mouth of the river, dining in the core of a luxe hotel that distinguishes Chicago’s newest architectural masterpiece. And you do not feel like a tourist when doing so: a hapless consumer drawn to The Signature Room for the sake of the view and the view alone. Instead, Tre Dita promises the gold standard in hospitality (from Lettuce) alongside the winning cuisine of Beverly Hills and Hollywood’s favorite chef. It aims to be a hub for the city’s mavens and its most well-heeled visitors alike, joining them in Tuscan revelry against an incomparable backdrop.

This fundamental interplay between the towering windows, their view, and the intimate floorspace makes the rest of the dining room’s design almost feel inconsequential. In fact, it demonstrates a degree of restraint that almost seems alien compared to what you find outside.

To begin, there’s almost no marble here (apart from a few isolated countertops)—just dark, two-tone timber flooring (again in a checkerboard pattern), angled timber beams running toward the ceiling, and wooden archways with textured glass paneling (serving to separate the different sections while also housing waiter stations). The walls are mostly done in a clay-toned, textured plaster save for a small, wood-paneled section at the very rear of the room. Where appropriate, these surfaces are affixed with antique-looking (but not overly ornate) mirrors that serve to expand guests’ impression of the space.

As for illumination, sconces, standing lamps, and banquette-embedded shades are positioned throughout the various zones. Supported by weighty arms of metal or stone, these fixtures offer a subdued warmth that helps center the action on your individual table without clashing with the natural light. Two larger chandeliers, hanging in the middle of the sections located on either side of the kitchen, push this idea even further, comprising layers of stone and metal rings lined (and very softly lit by) a dozen stone cups. Smaller chandeliers, hanging in chosen corners, are done in the same fashion: metal and stone without any hint of crystal. When you combine blue curtains with these materials and add them all onto the brown and gray, wood on glass aesthetic, the overall effect feels a bit like a medieval castle. Permanence, timelessness, and a lack of ornamentation are the order of the day, grounding a design that (based on the lobby and bar spaces) you might have expected to be more flashy.

(The one conceit, you will admit, arrives in the far corner of the dining room leading toward the bathrooms: a sizable canvas of Funke’s bearded visage in which the chef is holding three fingers over his right eye. If one ventures further into this area—through a distant hallway accessible by bar patrons—you also find a series of works grafting words like “Pappardelle,” “Fusilli,” “Tiramisu,” “Puttanesca,” “Pasta,” and “Porchetta” onto the logos of brands like San Pellegrino, Fendi, Tiffany & Co., Patagonia, Prada, and Porsche. There’s even a neon sign glowing “gnudi gnudi gnudi”—all bursts of playfulness and pop art where you least expect them.)

When it comes to seating, you find eight-top banquettes, four-top banquettes, three-top banquettes, and two-top banquettes—all done in tufted forest green leather—spread throughout the space with standing two- and four-top tables—surrounded by matching leather armchairs—placed up against the windows. The furniture here is supremely sturdy and comfortable, with a curving, oversized quality (particularly in the booths) that invites you to stay a while and can even accommodate (though you have not tested this) a stop and chat with those old friends you just happen to run into here. Tables, likewise, are draped in simple white linen: a dramatic canvas for the unstoppable spurts of sauce that seem destined to blemish the covering during the course of any raucously good meal.

In terms of seat preference, you are almost tempted to say there’s not a bad spot in the house. The first section (immediately upon entering) enjoys the room’s eastmost views out toward Navy Pier. The second section, aligned with the kitchen, provides prime sightlines of the pass and the hearth. The third, just past that, more or less mirrors the first (while only offering a north-facing view). And the fourth, separable by a café curtain, is slightly raised, quite small, and tucked into a single-story space lacking the same towering windows.

Practically, it may feel like the second, centermost section by the kitchen is the most prime, yet the heat of the grill has actually led some parties in those most privileged banquettes to request other accommodations. Chances are, you won’t see Funke leading the line there either (more on that later), so there’s not much of a “show” to indulge in beyond the quiet motion of the back of house. Instead, you have come to prefer the corner tables in the first and third sections of the restaurant. These provide relatively isolated positions with sweeping views both inside and out of the restaurant. You prefer the former due to the presence of the east-facing windows, but the proximity to the entrance also brings with it a bit more foot traffic.

Finally, that fourth space (with the wood paneling and the low ceiling) is easy to label as inferior. Nonetheless, you have noted that the added privacy this area provides has been utilized to seat young families. That could be a good option for certain diners, or maybe you’ll just be eager to take anything you can get.

When you settle into your seat, the prospect of dining at Tre Dita—after all the struggle, all the anticipation—finally begins to feel real. The hostess leaves you with a set of menus (one for each guest containing the food, one for the table containing the cocktails and wine), and they invite you to dive right in. However, you’ve already studied the offerings ahead of time, jotted down the bin numbers for your chosen bottles, and carefully balanced the correct number of small plates, pastas, and meats for your party size.

Ravenous as you are, this is the time to soak in the spectacle—not just the high ceilings, the windows, and the surrounding finery, but those other human beings who imbue this carefully crafted scene with its essential social dimension. Demographically, the restaurant is stocked primarily with Lettuce Entertain You’s bread and butter: that is, well-dressed white patrons in their 50s, 60s, and 70s who have witnessed the group’s growth firsthand and who retain a steadfast loyalty toward its style of hospitality. Here, as with an opening like RPM Seafood, they get a chance to appreciate the brand at its grandest, to rub elbows with its founding partners (as was the case immediately after opening), and to tuck into an experience that looks and feels new but taps into fairly simple pleasures.

Joining them, you also find the next generation (whether actually the children of these patrons or just transplants who have found their way into the same milieu): the 30s and 40s white folk, a bit more trendily dressed, but still polished, professional, and mainstream. This crowd comes here for dates, double dates, celebrations, and business dealings. Are they “foodies”? Perhaps to some degree: they like trying new restaurants (though maybe not with the kind of fervor that leads too far off the beaten path). Lettuce’s stamp of approval, to that point, may mean something, but this population is likely to find Funke’s story, his Hollywood clientele, and the kind of vibe he sets more salient. The St. Regis name—a new, exclusive property in an untrodden part of the city—may also hold some sway. This is a place to see and be seen while also finding uncommon enjoyment in the food. Plus, what else is as enduring, as memeworthy as pasta? (You bet they just eat that “gnudi” neon sign and those repurposed logos up.)

Outside of this audience, which fills the majority of the dining room, you find a smattering of other diners: your 30-something couples looking to impress visiting in-laws, your 20-something couples out for a lavish date, and your still-younger teens and kids out with their parents. Added to this, you note a more diverse array of guests drawn from myriad cultures and walks of life. Though only making up a small percentage of customers, this broader demographic—whether taking the form of a quiet party of two or festive party of eight—seems to feel welcomed and comfortable. They, as everyone else, dress up for the occasion and savor what it means to dine here without being stung by the kind of snobbery that might have characterized a dining room of this caliber in decades past.

In that regard, Tre Dita’s front-of-house team generally mirrors the demographics of the dining room. Of course, there’s a fleet of Hispanic bussers—those unfailing workhorses of the industry—keeping the gears of the meal turning at the most basic level. But, beyond that, you find the predominantly white cadre of captains and managers is not totally monolithic. There’s a range of races and sexes working the floor on any given night, something that could easily be overlooked but is rather essential. The St. Regis wants to be an international luxury brand, and Lettuce wants to serve them well. A diverse team, even at the most superficial level (for you cannot speak to any latent language skills), equips the restaurant to better relate to a wide range of customers. At this level of intimacy and this price point, anything less would be asking for trouble.

About five minutes after sitting down (which, again, may mean five, 15, or 40 minutes after your reservation time), the captain comes by with a tray of etched shot glasses each filled with a splash of vermouth. This tipple forms part of your formal welcome to Tre Dita and is accompanied by a separate “Steak Menu” that is placed on the table at this time. (The restaurant also, closer to opening, whet the appetite with a small plate of Pecorino and honey as part of this introduction but, ultimately, excised it.) If you’re smart, you’ll provide the captain with a drink order during this initial encounter to get the ball rolling. Otherwise, it will be another five minutes to put it in, followed by another five wait to receive the libations (not a bad turnaround all things considered), after which the server will finally broach the subject of the dinner order. Their rundown of the selection takes another minute or two, upon which the captain may leave you to meditate on your decisions.

Typically, you’ll place your food order about 20 to 25 minutes after being seated and receive the first bites 10 minutes after that. Subsequent courses (usually arriving in flights of two or three dishes at a time) take 25-30 minutes each. In this manner, a menu of small plates, salad, pasta, fish, and steak easily approaches three hours. A more modest meal (small plates/salad, pasta, and entrée) lands somewhere between two and two-and-a-half hours.

Credit to the staff: they never leave you with the feeling they want your party out of there at some preconceived time. For those drawn to the romance of the space, this opportunity to linger and slowly indulge in the meal is a boon. However, whereas a 15- to 20-minute wait between courses would feel sharp and proactive, 25-30 minutes feels more noticeable and reactive. It feels either like the kitchen is falling behind or that the server, despite advising you they will pace out the order, is overloaded and unable to fire subsequent dishes in due time. Whatever the reason, this seems like the kind of miscue that will be ironed out with more experience. Just the same, it stands as a mechanical issue that underlies a much more fundamental problem with Tre Dita’s service.

Across eight experiences, you would only characterize one of your captains as exceptional. Of the others, one was highly competent and the remainder were only competent. Surely, the pasta lab, the feeling of exclusivity, and the postcard view do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to the “transportive experience” Funke hopes to offer. The chef’s Tuscan cuisine, too, (if executed well) might quite viscerally satisfy those expectations. However, somewhere between the characteristics of the physical space and the actual quality of the food, service needs to set the tone and orchestrate the evening in a manner that is meaningful and memorable.

That one exceptional captain at Tre Dita did so, greeting you with enthusiasm and guiding you through the menu like a seasoned pro. With a measured dose of good humor and spunk, she made sure you felt taken care of over the course of the evening—proactively stopping by and solving (minor) problems—in a way that satisfied the price point and difficulty of the reservation. By comparison, the high competent captain was largely attentive with only a couple minor lapses in concentration. Though they lacked the vibrant personality of their peer, they demonstrated a good degree of deference and a soft-spoken, kind demeanor.

The remainder of the captains you interacted with (over the majority of your visits) made a variety of missteps like failing to fold napkins, notice fallen utensils, or restock bottled water for the table. On one occasion, they forgot to bring the “Steak Menu” over altogether—a pillar of the dining room’s offerings (really, other than some extra pastas, the distinguishing factor between it and the bar) that an unknowing guest might not have ever known was missing. Bussers, in their own right, also have a bad habit of trying to drop dishes on tables that have no room for them, leading to awkward encounters in which guests need to stop what they’re doing to help them. (This is also a partial failing from the captains and managers, who should sense the bussers’ plight when they arrive with their hands full and no way to maneuver.)

More fundamentally, many of the captains just don’t seem that comfortable or personable in the role. They stumble over their words, make halfhearted jokes that do not land, and just act a little weird and squirmy across the sum of your interactions. Inexperience? Well, many of them are middle-aged men who, with their suits and pins, would not seem out of place at an RPM. However, they do not exceed expectations or weave the sort of magic you expect from Lettuce. They do not strike you with the same confidence or charm. Rather, most of the captains say their lines and promise a great experience but then disappear, falter in their duties, and fail to make any personal connection.

This is echoed at the very top by Tre Dita’s managers and even the executive partner leading the operation. The former group, identifiable by their distinct suiting, spend a lot of time prowling the floor in between posting up at the pass. Occasionally, they will provide an assist by clearing plates. However, over the course of five visits to the dining room, you only count one cursory table touch, one “let me know if you need anything,” that was welcome but not meaningful for someone that had gone through the pain of repeat patronage (not to mention the poor performance of the host stand).

The executive partner, by comparison, spends even more time in front of the pass helping to direct the kitchen. Charged with overseeing Tre Dita, Miru, Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Osteria Via Stato, M Burger, and Big City Chicken (about as random an assemblage of LEY properties as you can imagine), he makes rounds through the dining room here. Yet, they yield equally ephemeral exchanges at customers’ tables (you count only one such encounter, lasting no more than ten seconds, across the five visits). The feeling Funke is going for, in your mind, demands more gravitas—a grander sense of being hosted—from the restaurant’s leader. Jean Joho certainly helps fill that role (when present), but even he acknowledges the silliness of a renowned Alsatian chef acting as the face for Tuscan fare.

Maybe this is a stopgap, and maybe the management and the captains are being stretched thin by problems (perhaps finding their root in the kitchen’s sluggish pacing) outside of their control. But, as it stands, you have found both technical faults and emotional hollowness at the core of Tre Dita’s service. If one feels grateful merely to be in the dining room, these flaws can be overlooked. Just the same, they are uncharacteristic for Lettuce Entertain You, whom—tasked with applying their winning formula of hospitality to the concept—you figured would be the strongest member of this partnership.

As far as “chef presence” goes, it would be silly to expect Funke to favor one lone hotel restaurant in Chicago all that much when he has three standalone properties, filled with all those important people, in Los Angeles to look after. You have only seen him at Tre Dita once—not at the pass, but in the pasta lab (alongside a couple other people) seemingly advising the cooks. Given the degree to which the concept’s branding hinges on the personal, romantic nature of Funke’s work uncovering “authentic” recipes, his absence (and general shying away from showmanship) feels like a miscue. However, you have also acknowledged that the chef is not exactly a household name. His restaurants are judged more on the kind of scene they create, and it may be right to evaluate his work based on the convergence of design, service, and recipes even (or especially) in the maestro’s absence.

Certainly, it is a point of weakness that Funke has not really presided over the restaurant since its opening festivities. Joho, again, helps to fill that role, yet a lack of “chef presence” could easily be forgiven if the captains adequately transmitted the sfoglino’s passion. Instead, when you look at the kitchen, you only see anonymous cooks, the managers, and the executive partner going about their business. The pasta lab, which might have served to center guest attention on the practice of craft, is completely out of sight. So, really, any chef de cuisine or sous chef with a modicum of stature leading the hearth would be an improvement. They would help make the experience, in lieu of inspired service, feel just a bit more personal. They would connect craftsperson to customer in a way that is rather fundamental when celebrating Italian cuisine.

Barring that, Tre Dita—across this full range of interactions—largely strikes you as a “hotel restaurant.” Its practice of hospitality aims to adequately serve a transient population rather than surprise, delight, or speak to the soul in a way that cultivates return patronage. No doubt, the most obvious mistakes will be remedied with more time and practice, but you also sense an insidious cultural problem that starts at the host stand and extends throughout the entire staff (save for but a few shining employees). Once more, this is atypical for Lettuce, and you have to question if this really counts as a “fine dining” concept if it’s being run in the same manner as Miru. No doubt, pursuing this strategy puts much more pressure on the food to adequately deliver.

Before digging in, you might like to order a libation. First among the options are the cocktails: nine “Tre Dita Signature Cocktails” and seven “St. Regis Classics” designed by beverage director Diane Corcoran, who first opened RPM Italian working under Paul McGee and who now oversees the programs at Bub City, Miru, Ramen-san, RPM Steak, Summer House, and Three Dots and a Dash (among others).

Her work on the Tre Dita side of the cocktail list involves a range of Italian spirits including several vodkas, several gins, a malt whiskey, a grappa, liqueurs, and amari as well as several vermouths. There are also favorites like Casamigos, Four Roses, Giuliana Prosecco, and Sazerac on hand alongside mezcal and Scotch to complete the compositions.

Of the selection, you have sampled the “Golden Siren” ($19), “Garibaldi Banger” ($24), “Blanco Bianco Amargo” ($26), and “Tre” ($26). The first two of these rank among the lightest on the menu, with the former combining vodka, aperitivo, blood orange, and Prosecco and the latter combining gin, Campari, Galliano, and orange. Though promising refreshment, both drinks lack the requisite sweetness or sourness to balance out the booze. They are not awful by any means, but you wouldn’t reach for another at this pricing.

The second two you listed are positioned near the middle and the very end of the menu, signaling a certain strength. The combination of tequila, mezcal, pineapple amaro, and vermouth that characterized the “Blanco Bianco Amargo” sounds appealing but, once more, misses the tropical tones or uplifting acidity that would invite you to go back for the next sip. The “Tre,” being made from gin, vermouth, grappa, and lemon, also seems like it might balance the brandy with a certain crisp, citric quality. Again, you have only found a jarring degree of alcohol.

Given the amount of business the bar is doing (as well as how busy the service bar, located near the bathrooms, seems to be), it is hard to know if the recipes for these cocktails or their actual execution is to blame. For what it is worth, boozy might be the exact character the concept is going for with some of the drinks, a kind of potency that justifies the pricing and sets the right mood within the space. However, you think it is fair to expect that the lightest offerings are more easy-drinking. As it stands, you have learned to skip the signature cocktails altogether—a missed opportunity when something cold and bright would

With the “St. Regis Classics,” which have also been offered at Miru since the hotel’s opening, you think Corcoran fares a bit better. Items like the “Negroni” ($19), “Aperol Spritz” ($18), “French 75” ($22), and “Daiquiri” ($19) provide a more familiar imbibing experience (albeit at the same price). You have sampled the “Margarita” ($22)—salty, sour, and clean (if not life-changing)—and the “Espresso Martini” ($22)—cold and smooth but not adequately sweetened—from among the options.

Of course, there’s also “The 1871 Bloody Mary” ($21), Chicago’s twist on “the signature cocktail of the St. Regis brand, with each hotel crafting its own local interpretation of the libation.” Other examples include the original “Red Snapper” (created in 1934 at the New York location), the “Bloody Sunrise” (made with Key lime juice at the Bal Harbour location), the “Shogun Mary” (made with yuzu peel, soy sauce, and wasabi powder at the Osaka location), the “Canto Mary” (made with peated Scotch at the Hong Kong location), and the “Yan Mary” (made with oyster salsa and cayenne pepper at the Shenzhen location).

The Windy City’s version, referencing the Great Chicago Fire, is made with rye whiskey and presented with a plume of smoke. Surprisingly (in the context of the other cocktails you have discussed), it tastes crisp, refreshing, and carefully balanced. Being able to order the drink at dinner (where there’s surely some sort of synergy with the red sauce to come) is a nice bonus. Nonetheless, you also note that the “Bloody Mary” has demonstrated a bit more concentration when ordering it at Miru in the past—another sign that there may be some issue of properly executing the recipes at Tre Dita.

Overall, the restaurant’s cocktail program is fairly deep and stylistically appropriate. You also appreciate the utilization of unique Italian products and the drinks’ clever, evocative names. The resulting combinations are not conceptually flawed, but they lack the level of precision required to make a real impression. This, you think, can be fixed without too much trouble, but the program does not live up to expectations at this time.

If trouble with execution (whether the kitchen’s timing or the cocktails’ production) tends to be a recurring theme, the wine program should seemingly offer more consistency: that is, the need to simply pull the cork and reveal the lightning in the bottle.

Wine director Kat Hawkins describes her list “of more than 700 exclusively Italian [labels]” as “a love letter to Italy,” being “all about discovery” and about “touching regions all across Italy with a focus on Tuscany, small producers and select vintage bottles.” Additionally, she has “adopted a storytelling approach in curating the list, offering guests the opportunity to try several pours from the same producer as they move through their meal, get acquainted with Italian grapes not typically found on traditional American wine lists, and end their visit with one of the extensive variety of dessert wines, including more than 30 types of Vin Santo and grappa.” With so many options to draw on, Hawkins describes “the most thrilling part” of the program as “using our connections to introduce guests to wines they’ve never encountered before.”

In that task, the wine director does an admirable job, with the by-the-glass selection acting as the first, streamlined introduction to this dizzying list. At present, it comprises:

Champagne & Sparkling

  • NV Giuliana Prosecco Extra Dry ($18)
  • NV Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Prestige” Franciacorta Brut ($29)
  • 2016 Villa Calcinaia “Mauvais Chapon” Brut Toscana ($36)
  • 2012 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut ($89)

White Wine

  • 2022 Poggio Maestrino “Torresaline” Vermentino Maremma ($16)
  • 2021 Ca’ Marcanda (Gaja) “Vistamare” Vermentino ($49)
  • 2021 Marchesi Di Grésy Sauvignon Blanc Langhe ($19)
  • 2022 Le Monde Pinot Grigio Friuli Grave ($18)
  • 2022 Pietradolce Carricante Etna Bianco ($22)
  • 2022 De Forville “Ca’ del Buc” Chardonnay Piemonte ($19)
  • 2021 Isole e Olena “Collezione Privata” Chardonnay Toscana ($49)

Rosé Wine

  • 2021 Tenuta il Poggione “Brancato” Sangiovese Toscana ($18)
  • 2022 Montenidoli “Canaiuolo” Canaiolo Toscana ($22)

Red Wine

  • 2021 Borgogno Barbera d’Alba ($16)
  • 2021 Tenuta Masseria Setteporte Etna Rosso ($18)
  • 2020 Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico ($19)
  • 2020 La Ragnaie Rosso di Montalcino ($22)
  • 2018 Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino ($34)
  • 2019 Avignonesi “Desiderio” Merlot Toscana ($39)
  • 2020 Poggio Colombi Cabernet Toscana ($19)
  • 2018 Cantine Bertoldi Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore ($18)
  • 2019 Carlo Giacosa “Montefico” Barbaresco ($34)
  • 2019 G.D. Vajra “Albe” Barolo ($36)

Vino Dolci

  • 2018 Bussola Recioto della Valpolicella Classico ($49)
  • 2022 Maculan “Dindarello” Veneto Bianco Passito ($18)
  • 2013 Villa Calcinaia Vin Santo del Chianti Classico ($49)
  • 2019 Fattoria del Cerro Vin Santo del Montepulciano ($22)

With 27 options spread across five categories, the selection is extensive. Moreover, with at least one option under $20 in each of the sections, Hawkins has been conscious about providing guests with value too.

While some of the most recognizable names—like Ca’ del Bosco, Cristal (offered at a fair price due, no doubt, to a brand partnership at some level), Gaja, Isole e Olena, Avignonesi, Giacosa (no relation to Bruno), and Vajra—command a pretty penny, you are not left feeling squeezed. Rather, customers can get Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, a rosé of Sangiovese, Barbera, Etna Rosso, Chinati, Cabernet, or dessert wine for less than the cost of the cocktail. This covers many of the most popular grape varieties and styles (Pinot Noir/Nero existing in Italy but not, in your opinion, necessarily meriting inclusion), with Vermentino, Etna Bianco, a rosé of Canaiolo, a Rosso di Montalcino, and a Valpolicella Ripasso forming bolder choices for the same (or a slightly higher) price.

Personally, you would avoid the most expensive glass pours unless one only desires a solitary serving and there are no other members of the party partaking. (For the price of two, you can actually get a bottle of something aged and interesting—if a bit less refined—from the full list.) However, overall, this is a nice selection that is generous to the entry-level consumer and deep enough to please those with more esoteric tastes too.

Of course, a program of this aspiration must be judged on the bottle list, and it has been quite some time since you have gotten to sink your teeth into a selection of this scale. For the sake of approaching these more than 700 wines with some degree of brevity, you will present what you find to be the most intriguing selections and use this data set to discuss more overarching trends.


  • 2017 Ferrari “Perlé” Brut Trento ($120)
  • NV Charles Heidsieck “Réserve” Brut Champagne ($160)
  • NV Henri Billiot “Réserve” Brut Champagne ($160)
  • NV Drappier Brut Nature Rosé Champagne ($190)
  • NV Pol Roger “Réserve” Brut Champagne ($220)
  • NV Bérêche Et Fils “Réserve” Brut Champagne ($240)
  • NV Paul Bara Brut Rosé Champagne ($240)
  • 2014 Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Annamaria Clementi” Brut Franciacorta Riserva ($260)
  • NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($260)
  • 2012 Louis Roederer “Cristal” Brut Champagne ($360)
  • 2008 Billecart-Salmon “Cuvée Nicolas François” Brut Champagne ($580)
  • 2013 Dom Pérignon Brut Champagne ($760)
  • NV Krug “Grandé Cuvée 170ème Édition” Brut Champagne ($780)
  • 2002 Bollinger “R.D.” Extra Brut Champagne ($790)
  • 2004 Pol Roger “Sir Winston Churchill” Brut Champagne ($840)
  • 2012 Salon Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($1900)


  • 2016 Argiolas “S’Elegas” Nuragus di Cagliari ($59)
  • 2018 Cantina Valle Isarco Gruner Veltliner Alto Adige ($59)
  • 2021 Ceretto “Blangé” Arneis Langhe ($59)
  • 2017 Enrico Serafino Gavi Di Gavi ($59)
  • 2015 Marco Donati “Spicchio di Luna” Kerner Trentino ($59)
  • 2019 Monte delle Vigne “Poem” Malvasia Colli di Parma ($59)
  • 2022 Paolo Scavino “Sorriso” Chardonnay Langhe ($64)
  • 2014 Valenti “Enrico IV” Etna Bianco ($64)
  • 2022 Vietti Arneis Roero ($68)
  • 2022 Bruna Grimaldi Arneis Langhe ($69)
  • 2016 Claudio Cipressi “Le Scoste” Trebbiano Molise ($69)
  • 2018 Frecciarossa “Gli Orti” Riesling Oltrepò Pavese ($69)
  • 2018 Ricci Curbastro Chardonnay Curtefranca ($72)
  • 2022 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco Alto Adige ($74)
  • 2022 Venica & Venica, “Jesera” Pinot Grigio Collio ($76)
  • 2022 Cantina Terlan Pinot Grigio Alto Adige ($82)
  • 2008 Mastroberadino Greco di Tufo ($84)
  • 2022 La Spinetta “Derthona” Timorasso Colli Tortonesi ($86)
  • 2022 Occhipinti “SP68” Zibibbo/Albanello Sicilia ($89)
  • 2022 Bruno Giacosa Arneis Roero ($98)
  • 2022 Elio Grasso, “Educato” Chardonnay Langhe ($98)
  • 2022 Marisa Cuomo “Furore” Falanghina/Biancolella Costa d’Amalfi ($110)
  • 2021 Oddero “Derthona-Monlià” Timorasso Colli Tortonesi ($110)
  • 2021 Azienda Agricola COS “In Pithos” Zibibbo et al. Sicilia ($120)
  • 2021 Azienda Agricola COS “Pithos” Grecanico Sicilia ($120)
  • 2022 Ermes Pavese “Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle” Prié Blanc Valée d’Aosta ($120)
  • 2022 G.D. Vajra Riesling Langhe ($120)
  • 2021 Radikon “Sivi” Pinot Grigio Venezia-Giulia ($120)
  • 2020 Borgogno, “Era Ora” Riesling Langhe ($130)
  • 2021 Oddero Riesling Langhe ($130)
  • 2022 Castello di Ama “Al Poggio” Chardonnay Toscana ($140)
  • MV Pasqua “Hey French” Garganega/Pinot Bianco Veneto ($140)
  • 2020 Passopisciaro “Passobianco” Chardonnay Sicilia ($140)
  • 2022 Tua Rita “Keir” Ansonica Toscana ($140)
  • 2021 Frank Cornelissen “Munjebel®” Carricante et al. Sicilia ($180)
  • 2022 Giuseppe Quintarelli “Ca’ del Merlo” Garganega et al. Veneto ($180)
  • 2021 Ca’ Marcanda (Gaja) “Vistamare” Vermintino et al. Toscana ($190)
  • 2021 Graci “Muganazzi” Etna Bianco ($190)
  • 2021 Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia Sauvignon Blanc/Vermentino Toscana ($190)
  • 2020 Aldo Conterno, “Bussiador” Chardonnay Langhe ($220)
  • 2022 Idda (Gaja) Etna Bianco ($220)
  • 2021 Jermann “Where Dreams Have No End” Chardonnay Venezia-Giulia ($220)
  • 2020 Passopisciaro “Passobianco Contrada PC” Chardonnay Sicilia ($220)
  • 2021 Elena Walch “Beyond the Clouds” Chardonnay et al. Alto Adige ($240)
  • 2015 Paolo Bea “Arboreus” Trebbiano Umbria ($240)
  • 2021 Bibi Graetz “Testamatta” Ansonica Toscana ($260)
  • 2021 Le Macchiole “Paleo Bianco” Chardonnay/Sauvignon Blanc Toscana ($290)
  • 2019 Querciabella “Batàr” Chardonnay/Pinot Bianco Toscana ($290)
  • 2014 Josko Gravner Ribolla Gialla Venezia-Giulia ($360)
  • 2019 Emidio Pepe Pecorino Colli Aprutini ($390)
  • 2020 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Ornellaia” Sauvignon Blanc Toscana ($790)


  • 2011 Sergio Mottura “Nenfro” Montepulciano et al. Civitella d’Agliano ($59)
  • 2017 Cocci Grifone “Vigna Messieri” Montepulciano Piceno Rosso Superiore ($68)
  • 2021 Tua Rita “Rosso Di Notri” Toscana ($72)
  • 2015 Contrada Salandria Piedirosso Campi Flegrei ($74)
  • 2009 Fattoria Paradiso “Il Dosso” Barbarossa Romagna ($74)
  • 2016 Poggio Maestrino Morellino di Scansano ($74)
  • 2016 Ricci Curbastro “Santella Di Gröm” Cabernet Franc et al. Curtefranca ($78)
  • 2021 Vietti “Tre Vigne” Barbera D’Alba ($78)
  • 2019 Venica & Venica Merlot Collio ($79)
  • 2016 La Source “Torrette Superiore” Petit Rouge Valle D’Aosta ($82)
  • 2011 Ocone “Anastasi” Aglianico del Taburno ($82)
  • 2021 Occhipinti “SP68” Frappato/Nero d’Avola Sicilia ($84)
  • 2017 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva ($96)
  • 2020 Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto D’Alba ($98)
  • 1995 Fattoria Paradiso “Il Dosso” Barbarossa Romagna ($98)
  • 2020 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ($110)
  • 2020 Ar.Pe.Pe. Chiavennasca Rosso di Valtellina ($120)
  • 2022 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto D’Alba ($120)
  • 1997 Casale del Giglio “Madreselva” Cabernet/Merlot/Petit Verdot Lazio ($120)
  • 2021 Le Macchiole “Rosso” Bolgheri ($120)
  • 1998 Oddero “Fureste” Cabernet Sauvignon Langhe ($120)
  • 2016 Cantine Lunae “Nicolò V” Sangiovese Colli di Luni ($130)
  • 2015 Cantina Sociale Gattinara ($130)
  • 2009 Moschioni Schioppettino Friuli ($130)
  • 2021 Occhipinti “Il Frappato” Sicilia ($130)
  • 2020 Benanti Nerello Cappuccio Sicilia ($140)
  • 2019 Bruna Grimaldi “Camilla” Barolo ($140)
  • 2014 Vallana Gattinara ($140)
  • 2020 Graci “Feudo di Mezzo” Etna Rosso ($160)
  • 2007 Radikon Merlot Collio ($190)
  • 2021 Giuseppe Mascarello Nebbiolo Langhe ($220)
  • 2021 Giacomo Conterno “Vigna Cerretta” Barbera D’Alba ($240)
  • 2019 Pio Cesare Barolo ($240)
  • 1999 Tenuta CastelGiocondo (Frescobaldi) “Lamaione” Toscana ($240)
  • 2019 Borgogno Barolo ($260)
  • 2018 Frank Cornelissen “Munjebel Rosso® PU” Etna Rosso ($260)
  • 2021 Quintarelli “Primofiore” Corvina/Cabernet/Cabernet Franc Veneto ($260)
  • 2021 Tua Rita “Giusto dei Notri” Toscana ($260)
  • 2017 Poggio di Sotto Rosso di Montalcino ($280)
  • 2019 Tiberio “Colle Vota” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($280)
  • 2018 Paolo Bea “Pipparello” Sagrantino Riserva Montefalco ($290)
  • 2012 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino ($310)
  • 2011 Marchesi Antinori “Badia a Passignano” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($310)
  • 2018 Pieve Santa Restituta (Gaja) Brunello di Montalcino ($320)
  • 2019 Biondi-Santi Rosso di Montalcino ($340)
  • 2018 Brovia “Garblèt Sue” Barolo ($340)
  • 2017 Paolo Bea “Pagliaro” Sagrantino Montefalco ($360)
  • 2015 Quintarelli “Ca’ del Merlot” Corvina/Corvinone/Rondinella Veneto ($360)
  • 1998 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico ($380)
  • 2007 Livio Sassetti-Pertimali “Dieci” Brunello di Montalcino ($380)
  • 1969 Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico ($390)
  • 2010 Dal Forno Romano Valpolicella Classico Superiore ($460)
  • 2017 Elena Walch “Aton” Pinot Nero Riserva Alto Adige ($460)
  • 2006 La Spinetta “Gallina” Barbaresco ($460)
  • 2018 Sandrone “Aleste” Barolo ($480)
  • 2019 Le Macchiole “Paleo” Toscana ($490)
  • 2009 Damilano “Cannubi” Barolo Riserva ($540)
  • 2006 Oddero Barolo ($540)
  • 2006 Oddero “Gallina” Barbaresco ($540)
  • 2019 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo ($560)
  • 2019 Bruno Giacosa “Asili” Barbaresco ($560)
  • 2006 Oddero “Vignarionda” Barolo Riserva ($580)
  • 2018 Piero Antinori “Tignanello” Toscana ($620)
  • 1998 Canalicchio di Sopra Brunello di Montalcino ($640)
  • 2011 Castello di Ama “Vigneto Bellavista” (hianti Classico Gran Selezione ($680)
  • 2007 Castello di Ama “Vigneto La Casuccia” Chianti Classico Gran Selezione ($590)
  • 2019 Le Macchiole “Scrio” Toscana ($740)
  • 2020 Tenuta San Guido “Sassicaia” Bolgheri Sassicaia ($740)
  • 2020 Tenuta dell’Ornellaia “Ornellaia” Bolgheri Superiore ($760)
  • 2006 Valdicava Brunello di Montalcino ($780)
  • 2017 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino ($790)
  • 2019 Bruno Giacosa “Falletto Vigna le Rocche” Barolo ($790)
  • 1995 Fontodi “Flaccianello” Colle Toscana Centrale ($790)
  • 2018 Le Macchiole “Messorio” Toscana ($790)
  • 2018 Pieve Santa Restituta (Gaja) “Sugarille” Brunello di Montalcino ($790)
  • 1989 Roberto Voerzio “La Serra” Barolo ($830)
  • 2000 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($840)
  • 2016 Valdicava “Madonna del Piano” Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($840)
  • 2012 Gaja “Darmaji” Cabernet Langhe ($890)
  • 2016 Massolino “Vigna Rionda” Barolo Riserva ($980)
  • 1990 Roberto Voerzio “La Serra” Barolo ($990)
  • 2018 Case Basse di Gianfranco Soldera “Soldera” Toscana ($1,300)
  • 2001 Gaja “Sperss” Barolo ($1,300)
  • 1986 Piero Antinori “Solaia” Toscana ($1,400)
  • 2018 Poggio di Sotto Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($1,600)
  • 2019 Gaja “Sperss” Barolo ($2,200)
  • 2013 Aldo Conterno “Gran Bussia” Barolo ($2,400)
  • 1985 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($3,300)

By way of introduction, Tre Dita’s bottle list ventures far beyond Piedmont and Tuscany (the traditional focal points for quality, collectible wine) to include labels from every nook and cranny of the country. That not only includes places like Abruzzo, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Sicilia, Trentino-Alto Adige, and Veneto (regions any lover of Italian vino should, in all honesty, already be acquainted with), but areas like Apulia, Calabria, Emilia-Romagna, Lazio, Lombardia, Sardegna, and Umbria that remain more or less obscure. Their grapes—varieties like Biancolella, Caprettone, Falanghina, Mantonico, Nuragus, Pallagrello, and Verdeca—can seem equally perplexing. However, juxtaposed by plenty of more approachable, familiar selections (your Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Sangiovese, Sauvignon Blanc and the like), these names certainly invite the kind of curiosity and conversation touted at launch.

It’s a strategy that stands apart from what was done at Spiaggia, a restaurant with a legendary Italian wine collection but one, likewise, that came of age alongside many of Italy’s greatest winemaking names. There, over a period of 37 years, the team could stock the very best Amarone, Barbaresco, Barolo, Brunello, and “Super Tuscan” blends the country had to offer for prices that are hard to believe today. Likewise, they could skim the cream off the top of other, emerging regions and amass bottles from producers who, in their own right, were destined for greatness.

You might draw a comparison to Coco Pazzo (a restaurant with its own Tuscan focus and a list built over more than 30 years) or, better yet, Italian Village. The latter establishment is coming up on 100 years in business and can claim a cellar (built in 1981) with over 1,100 selections and more than 35,000 bottles. There, it holds deep verticals of wines like Le Pergole Torte, Masseto, and Sassicaia “while only minimally adjusting prices over time” due to the incredible deals the bottles represented upon release. Nonetheless, as with Spiaggia, this was a once-in-a-generation phenomenon applying to regions that are much more highly prized today and whose most coveted labels simply will not decrease in price barring an implosion in the overall market.

At Tre Dita, Hawks has been faced with crafting an award-winning Italian wine list for a new decade. Like RPM Italian, it would concede a bit a space to Champagne. Unlike RPM Italian, it would not deign to offer domestic whites or reds as a point of contrast. For, at the River North property, the selection is longer and a bit more imposing (befitting more than a decade of operation) with its pricey compendium of aged Biondi-Santi, Conterno, Gaja, Sassicaia, Solaia, Quintarelli, and friends. A customer can pay through the nose for one of these legends, ask about something cheaper from Italy, or simply settle into the welcoming embrace of something from Sonoma or Napa to go with their pasta, veal parm, and steak. Lettuce is happy to give its guests that easy option, situating the RPM brand as more transatlantic.

Funke, instead, craves authenticity. So, his “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” can be served with a 2016 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Riserva ($2,100 on the list and $750 at local retail) or a more modest 2021 Tua Rita “Rosso dei Notri” ($72 on the list and $17.99 at local retail). Looking further afield, it can be paired with the 2019 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo ($560 on the list and $399.97 at national retail) or, more humbly, the 2022 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto d’Alba ($120 on the list and $46.90 at local retail).

These are just some arbitrary examples. However, they reveal the fundamentals of Tre Dita’s pricing scheme. The most expensive wines from the most popular regions tend to be marked up somewhere between 175%-245% of retail pricing (with an average of 208%) with outliers both high (library releases marked up over 300%) and low (allocated bottles like Giacosa and Soldera approaching only 100%) in some instances. Less expensive wines from the most popular regions, in turn, are marked up somewhere between 140%-261% of retail pricing (with an average of 197%).

These ranges are pretty much consistent and more or less to be expected at a property of this type: a new, shining hotel restaurant with the kind of resources required to debut with such a huge cellar at launch but no need to price those bottles to move. Rather, Tre Dita has determined a somewhat fair formula that preserves the integrity of the list but does not confront oenophiles with totally outrageous pricing or spoil the mood. Indeed, some good deals are able to slip through the cracks, and myriad options across a range of quality levels ensure a compromise (if one is not inclined to overpay) can easily be reached.

Looking at the less popular regions of Italy represented on the wine list, you find a similar range among both the most and the least expensive wines. There, mark ups amount to between 158%-293% of retail pricing (with an average of 219%). If anything, the premium paid by customers skews higher here—a surprising reality given you expected these esoteric wines to offer a more robust value proposition. Just the same, these bottles are distributed less widely (something that affects the averages found online), and their resulting obscurity offers more room to augment the cost at multiple points in the sourcing process.

Really, when handling a list like Tre Dita’s, the consumer is faced with a psychological challenge: do you pay the premium for a wine you recognize and trust will deliver? Do you hunt (either spending precious time at the table or online beforehand) for those few hidden gems that, due to their scarcity, subvert the pricing scheme and provide sharp value? Do you compromise and pick a grape you know and love at a cost you feel comfortable with (knowing, deep down, it will offer reduced pleasure when compared to the too-expensive bottle from the producer you did recognize)? Do you engage one of the sommeliers, who might untangle the mass of labels and point you toward some representation of a general style you favor? Or do you take a shot in the dark?

The first-time, maybe one-time customer—intoxicated by the difficulty of the reservation and the stature of the dining room—can surely justify any degree of overpaying to secure the perfect bottle for their special occasion. However, across a series of visits to the restaurant that quickly felt less and less singular, you came to recognize a particular sweet spot. It comprises wines like:

  • 2016 Argiolas “S’Elegas” Nuragus di Cagliari ($59)
  • 2018 Cantina Valle Isarco Gruner Veltliner Alto Adige ($59)
  • 2017 Enrico Serafino Gavi Di Gavi ($59)
  • 2015 Marco Donati “Spicchio di Luna” Kerner Trentino ($59)
  • 2019 Monte delle Vigne “Poem” Malvasia Colli di Parma ($59)
  • 2011 Sergio Mottura “Nenfro” Montepulciano et al. Civitella d’Agliano ($59)
  • 2014 Valenti “Enrico IV” Etna Bianco ($64)
  • 2017 Cocci Grifone “Vigna Messieri” Montepulciano Piceno Rosso Superiore ($68)
  • 2016 Claudio Cipressi “Le Scoste” Trebbiano Molise ($69)
  • 2018 Frecciarossa “Gli Orti” Riesling Oltrepò Pavese ($69)
  • 2018 Ricci Curbastro Chardonnay Curtefranca ($72)
  • 2015 Contrada Salandria Piedirosso Campi Flegrei ($74)
  • 2009 Fattoria Paradiso “Il Dosso” Barbarossa Romagna ($74)
  • 2016 Poggio Maestrino Morellino di Scansano ($74)
  • 2016 Ricci Curbastro “Santella Di Gröm” Cabernet Franc et al. Curtefranca ($78)
  • 2016 La Source “Torrette Superiore” Petit Rouge Valle D’Aosta ($82)
  • 2011 Ocone “Anastasi” Aglianico del Taburno ($82)
  • 2008 Mastroberadino Greco di Tufo ($84)
  • 2017 Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva ($96)
  • 1995 Fattoria Paradiso “Il Dosso” Barbarossa Romagna ($98)
  • 1997 Casale del Giglio “Madreselva” Cabernet/Merlot/Petit Verdot Lazio ($120)
  • 1998 Oddero “Fureste” Cabernet Sauvignon Langhe ($120)
  • 2016 Cantine Lunae “Nicolò V” Sangiovese Colli di Luni ($130)
  • 2009 Moschioni Schioppettino Friuli ($130)

These bottles, drawn primarily from the list’s less popular regions, span a hodgepodge of grapes (white and red, recognizable and totally obscure) but are united by their moderate—sometimes even significant—age. They also generally land under $100, offering the chance to try something old and unique that the restaurant may be profiting handsomely on but that cannot be readily found on the retail market. In this manner, a sense of discovery overshadows your perception of the most obvious high mark ups, and the opportunity to sip a resolved, expressive vintage shines as a deal no matter the ultimate value. (Additionally, while you might hesitate to purchase some of these bottles at retail, the restaurant setting means that corked or maderized wines can be replaced without any loss. This effectively removes any risk from the process of exploration.)

You have found pleasure in exploring more than a half-dozen selections from this list, balancing them with an array of more mainstream options from producers you think still deliver value at a higher (relative) price to what you see at retail:

  • 2022 Vietti Arneis Roero ($68)
  • 2022 Bruna Grimaldi Arneis Langhe ($69)
  • 2022 Cantina Terlan Pinot Bianco Alto Adige ($74)
  • 2021 Vietti “Tre Vigne” Barbera D’Alba ($78)
  • 2019 Venica & Venica Merlot Collio ($79)
  • 2022 Cantina Terlan Pinot Grigio Alto Adige ($82)
  • 2022 Bruno Giacosa Arneis Roero ($98)
  • 2020 Bruno Giacosa Dolcetto D’Alba ($98)
  • 2022 Marisa Cuomo “Furore” Falanghina/Biancolella Costa d’Amalfi ($110)
  • 2021 Radikon “Sivi” Pinot Grigio Venezia-Giulia ($120)
  • MV Pasqua “Hey French” Garganega/Pinot Bianco Veneto ($140)
  • 2020 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria Classico ($110)
  • 2020 Ar.Pe.Pe. Chiavennasca Rosso di Valtellina ($120)
  • 2022 Bartolo Mascarello Dolcetto D’Alba ($120)
  • 2021 Azienda Agricola COS “In Pithos” Zibibbo et al. Sicilia ($120)
  • 2021 Azienda Agricola COS “Pithos” Grecanico Sicilia ($120)
  • 2021 Le Macchiole “Rosso” Bolgheri ($120)
  • 2021 Occhipinti “Il Frappato” Sicilia ($130)
  • 2020 Benanti Nerello Cappuccio Sicilia ($140)
  • 2019 Bruna Grimaldi “Camilla” Barolo ($140)
  • 2020 Passopisciaro “Passobianco” Chardonnay Sicilia ($140)

Between these two shortlists, Tre Dita’s program has kept you engaged and satisfied over the course of eight visits without ever making you feel forced to spend more in order to reach a baseline of intrigue. The wide assortment of wines to choose from, while intimidating at first glance, is really not there to punish innocent consumers or push them toward making a panicked choice. Instead, it delivers a diverse array of experiences suitable for every kind of drinker.

Lettuce, while grappling with the reality that many of Italy’s most prestigious producers are priced out of reach, has found a different way to cultivate excitement and depth. This is not a “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach, but a bold method of cellar building at a concept that could have easily put a velvet rope around any real kind of vinous pleasure. You get the sense that Tre Dita (as Funke, no doubt, intends) wants you to pop open a few bottles for the table, to eat and be merry, without rationing pours or feeling the sting of each reload. That, here, is an accomplishment and a true bright spot.

With that in mind, there is still a lot you have failed to mention: like the half-bottle and large-format selections, the dessert wines, and the nascent verticals of producers like Biondi-Santi, Canalicchio di Sopra, Emidio Pepe, Dal Forno Romano, Flaccianello, La Spinetta, Solaia, Tignanello, and Valdicava.

If you were being critical, you might note some small typos (producer names, accents, articles, but nothing that totally confuses the identity of a given bottle), missing bin numbers, and misplacements (like sparkling wines being included under the still wine Emilia-Romagna sections) throughout the list. However, some small mistakes are to be expected in a document of this size, and the team has avoided anything egregious.

Ideally, you would also like to see selections from names like Buondonno, Burlotto, Cappellano, Cerbaiona, Fabio Gea, Fico, La Stoppa, Massa Vecchia, Miani, Nervi-Conterno, Roagna, Stella di Campalto, and Valentini represented here. More generally, given that the chef’s programs have typically been “rich in the mildly funky Italian wines that go well with Funke’s rich, peppery cooking,” Tre Dita could really do with a greater selection of natural producers. Though demanding a certain degree of customer education (like so much else on the list), such bottles tend to offer the combination of accessibility, excitement, and value you are after when mark ups run a little high. A proper rosé section (that is, beyond the two offered by the glass), too, would be welcome, providing the kind of open, nervy examples of red grapes that bridge the gap between lovers of lighter and heavier styles.

Still, in sum, this program marks a great accomplishment for Hawkins and for Lettuce Entertain You in general (who, between here and the RPMs, possesses Chicago’s most extensive repository of fine wine). With hundreds of bottles having already been added to the lineup in the months following Tre Dita’s opening, you are particularly excited to see the list’s development over time. The restaurant, as it matures, should not only be able to continue sourcing affordable back vintages. Its pricier options may even, over time, come to represent good deals as market conditions change and new producers cement their reputations.

However long that takes, it is just nice to see wine flowing into Chicago and forming such a central part of a popular, mainstream dining experience. Without domestic producers to fall back on, customers will almost certainly have their horizons expanded to some degree. When that happens, Hawkins and her team can show their stuff, buoying the impressive (maybe imposing) selection with a welcome dose of personality.

In practice, you are not the sort of diner to ask for recommendations or test the staff on matching some wine to your particular palate. The options, tailored to any given price point, ensure that the right fit can be found. Rather, when engaging the staff with a clear idea of what you want (or, as actually happens, providing your server with a list of bin numbers to be retrieved), you find each of the sommeliers to be warm and professional without any trace of snobbery. Hawkins’s own demeanor may be the most natural of all: calm, confident, yet deferential to the table and the overall mood of the evening (in which wine plays a pleasing—but not altogether oppressive—part). Given the latent fear that Tre Dita’s sense of luxury and exclusivity will be wielded against more parsimonious patrons, this makes for a reassuring experience and ensures the energy in the room always feels carefree and light.

That being said, you are certain customers splashing out money on the most coveted bottles will leave feeling tickled too. The sommeliers show palpable excitement about what’s on the list and even about those weird, old selections you have favored. They eagerly share similar bottles they’ve had their eye on and await your response to each tasting pour with relish. There are missteps—breaking the cork on a young wine, failing to notice an older vintage was mildly afflicted with TCA, and being unable to find a particular Refosco altogether—but they have been handled gracefully. Further, your selections have not always been properly paced in accordance with the flow of the meal, but, with a reminder or two and a quick response, you have never been left without red wine when the steak finally comes.

Overall, the wine team at Tre Dita is, like the program they manage, a bright spot. Given the problems with the servers and managers, getting the attention of these sommeliers (something that only really demands ordering a bottle of wine) may be the best way to ensure an above-average hospitality experience. They provide your table with an extra set of eye and hands to ensure the evening goes smoothly. More fundamentally, they ensure whatever you drink feels special and celebratory, forming the cherry on top of Funke’s transportive Tuscan theme.

With a beautiful venue, some underwhelming service, and a rewarding (if pricey) wine program to offer, Tre Dita must principally be judged on the quality of its food. Funke’s recipes, even if they might take some time to arrive at your table, could very well be worth the wait. They could transform Lettuce’s operational problems into the kind of minor snag that, in the context of a superlative meal, feels like a small price to pay.

The menu kicks off with the forno (i.e., oven) category and two kinds of house-baked focaccia: the “Schiacciata Bianca” ($11) and the “Schiacciata Rossa” ($12). At a glance, these breads seem rather similar to Funke’s popular “Sfincione” served at Felix. However, that shareable loaf is billed as being Sicilian-inspired (complete with a touch of oregano) whereas these here are, appropriately, rendered in a Tuscan fashion.

For the “Bianca,” that includes rosemary, sea salt, and extra virgin olive oil. This schiacciata arrives on a silver platter boasting a beautifully browned top layer of crust with subtle dimples serving to collect the herbs and other seasoning. Precut, the bread is easy to separate into quadrants, upon which it reveals a warm and fluffy interior. On the palate, the focaccia is flaky with a minor degree of crispness but no crunch. Rather, it is defined by a lightness and absorptive quality buttressed by just enough structure to avoid disintegration. The bread forms a fitting foil for any salad dressing, pasta sauce, or meat drippings you might come across during dinner. Just the same, the dressing of oil, salt, and rosemary ensures it is astutely flavored if eaten on its own. Though you might like to see the crust taken a bit further (toward crunchiness), this is a winner!

The ”Rossa,” by comparison, comes a bit more dressed up. This schiacciata is layered with tomato sauce, “erbe buona” (i.e., a blend of “good herbs”), olive oil, and a healthy grating of parmigiano. The resulting focaccia looks a bit like pizza bread (and, indeed, you note some basil in the mix). Relative to the “Bianca,” any faint perception of crust or crispness finds itself totally buried under the tomato, whose application has varied in amount over the course of your visits. This makes the texture of the bread, still soft and airy as before, more homogenous. However, in return, you get a burst of flavor by way of the sweet sauce, nutty parm, and uplifting herbal notes that is simply delightful. Yes, though the “Rossa” has a tendency to get messy (and, likewise, it does not work as well to absorb other flavors), it still offers plenty of enjoyment. The “Bianca” might be more impressive from a purely technical perspective, this version forms a worthy counterpart with its outright hedonism.

Following the forno section, you come to the stuzzi (or tease), a term used to signify Tre Dita’s small plates. The first of these, the “Bruschetta Classica” ($18), retains the preceding dish’s focus on bread and tomato in a slightly more streamlined form. The preparation centers on four pieces of Italian bread that have been heartily toasted (displaying a kiss of char) and dressed with garlic, basil, and olive oil. A heaping mound of marinated cherry tomatoes, some perfect leaves of basil, and a sprinkling of flaky salt then form the finishing touches.

Retrieving a piece of the toast, you find it structure to be fairly crisp but not all together brittle. This allows it to offer some pleasing resistance against your teeth while still demonstrating a degree of softness that allows it to soak in some of the accompanying juices. On that point, the tomatoes are tender—with no perceivable chew or skin—and display an attractive balance of acid and sweetness backed by the savory notes of garlic. At its best, this bruschetta is quite nice, but you have found that the last pieces of bread tend to turn soggy and collapse. Likewise, some of the tomatoes (if you are unlucky) can, indeed, show a bit more skin and a wateriness to their flavor. Overall, this is a strong example of a rather timeworn recipes that just needs a bit more quality control to truly shine.

Next, with the “Fiori di Zucca” ($24), you come to an item that has become somewhat totemic for Funke. It appears on the menus at Felix, Mother Wolf, and the eponymous Funke in roughly the same form, comprising the titular squash blossoms that have been stuffed with a mixture of ricotta and parmigiano, fried, and finished with a sprinkle of erbe buona. Four the price, you get four pieces, making it a $6 bite. Nonetheless, Chicagoans should know the chef charges more for the versions in Los Angeles and Las Vegas—versions that make use of Bellwether Farms ricotta and Ricotta Romana DOP, mind you, rather than the nondenominational cheese listed here.

Does it matter? Well, there is no doubt that Funke has absolutely mastered this form. The blossoms are sizable, tightly packed, and fried until perfectly crisp in a batter reminiscent of tempura. You can grasp the resulting package and take a clean bite without burning your mouth or dripping molten cheese everywhere. It’s really a textural marvel, but the flavor—hinging solely on the interplay of milky and nutty cheeses—does not go anywhere. You can respect the fact that the chef does not opt for a drizzle of honey, which would undoubtedly make the dish a winner but stands as a bit of a cop out. He wants to let the squash blossom speak for itself, but it needs more savory flavor and likely something that goes beyond salt. An accompanying sauce might also seem like a cop out, so you point the finger at the ricotta. You cannot confirm its actual origin, but you see no reason a quality product would not be named. Yes, this dish is meant to be made with a cheese at the level of the Bellwether Farms or DOP product, one that would offer the richness and subtle sweetness required to flavor the shell of batter. Barring that, the “Fiori di Zucca” show incredible potential but fall just a bit short.

With the “Polpette di Bollito” ($21), you encounter another one of Funke’s signatures that has taken myriad forms at his various restaurants. These include the “Polpette della Maestra Alessandra,” the “Polpette di Coda,” and the “Polpette di Picchiapò” made with varying meats like prosciutto, mortadella, oxtail, and boiled beef. For Chicago, the chef gets fancy: making his meatballs out of braised beef short rib, breading them, frying them, then serving them with a sauce of the braising liquids and a generous coating of pecorino dolce.

The end result, when it arrives, looks more like a plate of arancini than the succulent, beefy delight you might expect. On the palate, the surrounding crust of the meatball shows a fine, crisp quality that yields to a plump, tender short rib center. The interplay between these two layers forms much of the dish’s intrigue, yet experience has taught you that these bites are best savored at their hottest before this key contrast fades. Further, even when you do appreciate the meatballs in all their textural glory, the accompanying flavors do not measure up.

You think this is due to the fact that the crisp crust is unable to soak up much, if any, of the braising liquids (which, in their own right, are just not thick enough to cling to the surface). The cheese, though present in good amounts, encounters the same problem. Patrons need to go through the trouble of cutting each meatball in half and dragging them back through the original plate to ensure a complete bite. Then, the resulting sensation is straightforwardly beefy, a little sweet, but remains unfulfilling. You think a more characterful stuffing (as seen in the dish’s iterations at Funke’s other restaurants) or a bolder accompanying sauce would represent an improvement. Once more, there is a valuable idea here—and a really nice demonstration of technique and texture at hand—but one that is missing that final touch.

You now come to another, richer example of the toasted bread form: the “Bruschetta Fegatini di Pollo” ($18) that combines chicken liver mousse, a cipollini onion agrodolce, and crispy parsley with toasted brioche. Though this all sounds a bit French, Tuscans are, indeed, fans of chicken liver pâté on crostini. Here, however, the bruschetta is deconstructed so that diners can assemble their own bites.

In practice, that process proceeds easily enough. The toasted bread meets the end of your knife with resilience and allows for a hearty smear of the liver. You should also be sure to get a bit of the agrodolce, which sits off to one side. On the palate, the brioche displays a fleeting crispness with a soft—maybe just a touch too soft—center. However, more importantly, the chicken liver itself is totally smooth and offset by the slightly chunkier onion condiment. The resulting flavor here is clean, a bit nutty, and deeply umami. The sour-sweet agrodolce, a touch of salt, and peppery parsley provide key contrasting notes that help accentuate the liver all the more. In sum, the “Bruschetta Fegatini di Pollo” is really not the most exciting dish when compared to other examples of the mousse being made by dedicated charcuterers in town. You don’t think its serving style (i.e., not being presented as a composed, easily shareable set of bites) really fits the spirit of the concept either. But the recipe is technically sound and can provide enjoyment to patrons not otherwise drawn to either of the “Schiacciata” or the “Bruschetta Classica.”

Of the stuzzi, the “Gnocchi Fritti” ($19) comes the most highly recommended by the captains. It also represents an entirely unique creation from Funke, yet one that might also seem familiar to Chicagoans. Under the singular term gnocco fritto, these fried pockets of dough have appeared at restaurants like Adalina and Daisies as a foil for cheese and honey or duck fat and carrots. However, at Tre Dita, the form is shrunk to bite-sized proportions and paired, by the dozen, with a coating of parmigiano, pecorino croccolo, and black pepper.

The resulting plate takes the form of a tempting mound, one that invites each member of the table to reach for the puffed morsels with pointed tongs. Upon reaching your palate, the gnocchi display a fine, crisp outer shell glazed with the creamy, melted mixture of pecorino and parm. Yet, with further mastication, the dough reveals a subtle, transfixing chew that extends your perception of the richness at hand and feels—just a bit—like eating a cheese curd. Yes, as with much of the chef’s work, the textural intricacy here is superb. In this case, you are happy to say that the flavor follows, with the familiar nut tones of parm and sharpness of black pepper being surmounted by the intense, even bordering on spicy, long-aged pecorino. Overall, this is a delight: an engaging and delicious bite that refines how you think of this particular form.

The last of the small plates is, like the “Bruschetta Fegatini di Pollo,” one that invites a bit of assembly. Here, however, you think this serving style is more intuitive. The “Alici Marinati” ($14), or marinated anchovies, are the star of the preparation, yet they need somewhere to go. Dressed with lemon and salsa verde (the Italian kind), the six slender fillets are matched with four long pieces of crostini. This makes for something of a mismatch when sharing the dish with others, yet the presentation is pretty and one anchovy can more or less cover a slice of the bread without seeming too lonely.

Once the fish are removed from the dish, you would recommend dragging the crostini back through the salsa verde to more amply coat their surface. In a manner reminiscent of the “Polpette di Bollito,” the accompanying sauce (due to the fact that the fork used to transfer the anchovies captures so little of the surrounding liquid) must be consciously applied. This is also complicated by the texture of the bread, which is dryer and more rigid than all the others you have thus far encountered. It holds its structure perfectly without being too hard against your teeth, yet it does take some effort to ensure one or two of the resulting bites are not altogether plain.

When the anchovy itself reaches your palate, its texture is clean and juicy. The resulting flavor, likewise, is boldly umami with a measured (and this can be quite hard to accomplish) dose of salt. The crostini, as you have noted, does a good job of getting out of the way. It is buttery and airy and serves to round out some of the intensity. Due to a lack of absorptive power, the salsa verde—even if you make a point to apply it—stays in the background. Nonetheless, its fruity, garlicky, and pungently herbaceous notes harmonize well with the fish. In total, this is a nice dish and one that feels more suited to the concept than the chicken liver mousse. Still, you would recommend increasing the number of anchovies by two (yielding two fillets for each of the crostini) or, perhaps, altering the nature of the bread. This is a case where you want the vessel’s crispness to be balanced by a bit more softness to sop up the sauce. Maybe the real hack is to pair this offering with an order of the “Schiacciata Bianca”?

You now come to the next section of Tre Dita’s menu, the insalati: a trio of salads that display the chef’s artistry with fresh vegetables (each of which are also offered, seasonally, at his restaurants in Los Angeles). The first of these, “La Panzanella” ($26), can be found at Felix and Funke. This familiar Tuscan salad combines the titular bread (pane fritto or fried bread in this case) with arugula, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, slices of red onion, some basil, and a crowning ball of burrata pugliese. Finished with a drizzle of vinaigrette and some flaky salt, the dish invites you to disperse the cheese throughout the leaves, congealing the various ingredients and yielding a complete bite.

On the palate, the panzanella’s resulting textures are pitch perfect: crisp arugula combines with the subtle snap of cucumber, the crunchier snap of the onion, the juicy tomatoes, the brittle bread, and the all-encompassing creaminess of the burrata. Yes, the mouthfeel of this salad is engaging and symphonic. Likewise, the resulting flavors balance richness, tang, and refreshment in a way that leaves you desperately craving another bite. In sum, this is a beautiful rendition of the recipe made even better by the fact that its description (citing “market vegetables” as one of the ingredients) promises a certain degree of dynamism throughout the year. Well done!

The second offering in this category is what you might consider the entry-level dish: a “Misticanza del Campo” ($19) or “mixed salad of the field” than can be found on the menu at Felix, Mother Wolf, and Funke alike. The recipe combines several lettuces with an array of herbs and flowers and some slices of radish, yielding a captivating, kaleidoscopic burst of shapes and colors. The dressing, true to type, keeps things simple by combining olive oil with condimento rosso—a vinegar of Sangiovese (the esteemed Tuscan grape) that replaces the condimento di lambrusco utilized at the chef’s other properties.

Understandably, this salad is fairly straightlaced. However, that does not preclude pleasure. The assortment of leaves, petals, and vegetables comprises a range of sizes and rigidities that makes for an ever-changing, engrossing mouthfeel. Likewise, while the tang of the vinaigrette forms a familiar foil, the bursts of bitterness, pepperiness, mint, and zest that come to the fore from bite to bite complicate the dressing and yield a dish of greater definition. Ultimately, this “simple salad” offers much more character than its description might suggest. Though you favor the other two options in its section more, the “Misticanza del Campo” is still worthy of praise.

The last of the salads (and, by your measure, the best of the bunch) is the “Insalata di Cicoria” ($22). Its core idea—that of a chicory-based salad with a dramatically umami dressing—is not revolutionary. In practice, it really represents a reinterpretation of the ever-popular Caesar. Nonetheless, Funke has made this recipe his own, serving it at both Felix and Mother Wolf. The dish centers, again, on chicories that have been combined with arugula and dressed with salsa di acciughe, a Piedmontese anchovy sauce containing ingredients like lemon, garlic, and capers. The finishing touch comes from shavings of pecorino toscano and a sprinkling of breadcrumbs.

Though not as outright colorful as the preceding “Misticanza,” this salad still attracts the eye with its interwoven shades of purple, white, brown, and green. On the palate, the leaves of chicory and arugula offer an expected crunch that is intensified by the crunching breadcrumbs and mellowed by the melting quality of the cheese. Flavor, too, is conventionally rendered through the bitter and peppery greens offset by the tangy, salty dressing. However, it is the sheer length to which Funke takes this contrast—the absolute power of the salsa di acciughe combined with the richly nutty pecorino—that defines the dish. If “La Panzanella” is varied and refreshing, the “Insalata di Cicoria” is outright decadent. Still, the latter salad remains totally in balance and leaves you licking your lips in anticipation of the other savory food to come. Beautifully done.

The three antipasti that are listed next distinguish themselves from the earlier stuzzi on the basis of their increased price and size. These are not “small plates,” but bonafide appetizers characterized by more premium ingredients and refined compositions. The first dish in the section, a presentation of “Burrata e Crudo” ($34), combines the burrata pugliese seen topping “La Panzanella” with thin slices of prosciutto di parma, a drizzle of olive oil, some leaves of basil, a sprinkle of salt, and black pepper. Served without any kind of supporting vessel, this plate (perhaps more than any) cries out for an accompanying order of “Schiacciata Bianca.”

Diving in, there are really no surprises to speak of here. The burrata, as before, is rich and creamy with traces of sweetness. The prosciutto, likewise, is salty and slightly nutty. The application of additional seasoning, though it may seem like overkill, does a good job of ensuring the interior portion of the cheese does not overwhelm its accompaniments and lead to a bland bite. Likewise, though the price of this dish seems high, the four slices of ham you receive are sizable, perfectly thin, and unburdened by too much chewy fat. Overall, though it is hard to get excited over a dish that is so basic, the “Burrata e Crudo” forms a welcome option for those looking to enjoy a particularly luxurious bread course. Funke might have found a more distinctive way to frame these beloved ingredients, but, as a chef prizing “authenticity,” he cannot be faulted for choosing a straightforward, adeptly seasoned approach.

The ”Gamberi in Salsa Verde” ($29) that follows is, without a doubt, a signature of the bearded sfoglino. It has followed him from Felix, to Mother Wolf, to Funke with nary a change. It also represents (alongside the “Alici Marinati”) the only real seafood opener at Tre Dita—a decision you thought might have been influenced by Miru’s presence upstairs but, in fact, seems to be consistent across all of the chef’s properties. True to its name, the preparation is simple enough: grilled blue prawns (served with their heads) in salsa verde with a squeeze of lemon. $29 gets you four of the crustaceans, making for a bite that lands just north of $7.

Given that weight of expectation, the “Gamberi” comport themselves well. Upon reaching your palate, the prawn is plump and sweet with a satisfying bit of crust and hint of bitter char. The accompanying sauce, as seen with the anchovies, amps up the perception of richness with peppery, tangy, garlicky tones. Even the heads are perfectly rendered, being detached from the body and, with a slight pinch, releasing their reservoir of concentrated crustaceous flavor. In sum, it is hard to find fault with this dish, which is eminently shareable and lands at just a couple dollars less than a five-piece shrimp cocktail at RPM Steak. For the difference in price, you certainly get greater intensity and a worthwhile expression of one of Funke’s classic sauces. Additionally, this may be another case where an order of the “Schiacciata Bianca” helps provide greater value. Otherwise, your only hesitation is that the same amount of money (or slightly less) could be spent on one of four pastas that speak more to the chef’s defining technical prowess.

The last of the antipasti represents a rare misstep on the menu, especially for a dish drawn from such esteemed ingredients. The “Battuto di Manzo” ($34), or “chopped beef,” comprises hand-cut chunks of prime tenderloin that are dressed with olive oil, spring onion, premium vacche rosse parmigiano, and a topping of fried artichoke strands. The resulting tartare is then served with four pieces of lightly charred toast.

Visually, the golden-brown pieces of artichoke are highly appealing. However, the beef underneath displays some gray tones that are less so. On the palate, the tenderloin is as soft as its name suggests—almost to the point of mushiness rather than offering a pleasant, subtle bounce—being offset by crunching bits of onion and crumbly shards of cheese. The artichoke, too, offers a more robust crispness, yet you find that the side of toast is typically too yielding and tends to sink under the weight of the toppings. Moreover, despite the presence of the pricey parm, the dish displays almost none of the expected umami and also misses a kick of acid. This results in a mouthful that is fleetingly crisp but then boringly homogenous and bland.

No doubt, the “Battuto di Manzo” is the kind of dish that makes sense for Funke’s first steak-forward concept. Nonetheless, it is a failure both at the level of texture and flavor. You would prefer to see the artichokes extricated from this recipe and served, as they are at Felix, in larger pieces as the star of their own preparation. Otherwise, the synergy serving a tartare here might provide just seems rote and—with these flaws—a bit cynical.

Having had your fill of starters, you come to what is arguably the main event. Yes, there’s “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” to get to, but it’s the “Pasta della Tradizione Toscana” section that really sets your heart aflutter. After all, Funke’s whole personal brand is based around his mastery of this form, and it is this showcasing of Tuscan shapes and sauces that really promises to distinguish Tre Dita in a city that has no shortage of exceptional steak.

First up, you find the “Tortelli di Taleggio e Patate” ($36). This shape takes its name from the Latin root turta, which “means a dish that is stuffed in one way or another,” and the term torta, referring to a “cake” or “pie.” Early tortelli took the form of “small, closed tartlets, similar to certain pastries made today” and came to distinguish their filling by shape. Of these, tortelli di patate have been “made in Tuscany by the same method for at least two centuries,” utilizing the ”particularly delicate” tubers grown there along with local cheese.

For his version, Funke combines Yukon Gold potatoes with, interestingly enough, Taleggio DOP from the Lombardy (not Tuscany) region of Italy. This represents a bit of a twist on the Tuscan version—as does the dressing of parmigiano, butter, and sage—but the pasta looks true to type, taking the form of “large, square ravioli…cut apart with a wheel-type pasta cutter.” More importantly, the tortelli strike your palate with superlative texture and flavor. On the tongue, the pockets display a precise, al dente chew that yields to a smooth, slightly melty interior. Coated in the butter and parm, the stuffed pasta displays a staggering degree of nuttiness softened by milky-sweet, tangy tones. The savory, earthy character of the crispy sage also serves to unlock a meaty quality in the taleggio, sending the level of satisfaction drawn from this vegetarian dish into the stratosphere. Overall, the tortelli ranks as one of the finest pastas on Tre Dita’s menu and, on top of that, one of the best in the city. Immediately, it confirms that Funke’s reputation within this genre is well earned. Bravo!

Next up, the “Linguine al Limone” ($27) reminds you not to get carried away. After all, these “little tongues” (that fall on a spectrum of thin noodles including bavettine, lingue di passero, linguettine,and tagliatelline) are extruded and, thus, lack the same kind of romance or craftsmanship seen in the chef’s handmade varieties. Just the same, the shape and others like it remain beloved in their own way, with this particular dressing of butter, lemon, parmigiano, and basil seeming like a surefire hit.

The mound of noodles, when it arrives, looks hearty and (though a bit sloppy in some instances) tempting. On one occasion, the linguine have been overcooked. Otherwise, they offer an appropriate degree of chew with a mildly creamy, tangy backing. For you, the essential savory quality of the cheese does not come through (a version at Felix using Pecorino Romano DOP sounds like it might fare better). Thus, the dish—even when the pasta is cooked properly—comes off as a bit simple. Considering that there is no clear connection to Tuscany here either, the “Linguine al Limone” is one to skip. Its inclusion feels like mere filler.

Thankfully, the following dish provides Funke with a chance to demonstrate his artistry. The “Tagliatelle al Ragù” ($42), which also ranks as the most expensive pasta on Tre Dita’s menu, makes use of noodles that are “cut” (tagliare) by hand. Though predominantly associated with Bologna (where authorities now say it was not invented—only perfected), the shape undergoes a wide range of variations (as well as being accompanied by a variety of different ingredients) throughout the Italian Peninsula. In Tuscany, the noodle is sometimes used as part of a timballo della mietitura or paired with a sauce of rabbit. Here, the chef goes a more conventional route, substituting the classic bolognese for a ragù toscana while also adding pecorino grandeand a touch of fennel.

The resulting plate is certainly attractive, with the spooled strands of tagliatelle tangled up with tempting chunks of meat and cheese. These noodles, when they reach your palate, display a soft, ethereal quality that practically melts (without, importantly, feeling mushy). This allows the bits of beef and pork that form the ragù to really emphasize their texture. That being said, you have encountered the jarring crunch of a whole peppercorn on one occasion. Further, even barring this (totally forgivable) mistake, the sauce simply lacks personality. There is no richness, depth, or burst of flavor to the ragù, and the pecorino, however nutty, cannot possibly cope with seasoning both the entirety of the meat and the noodles.

Funke is certainly no stranger to meat sauces. He makes a ragù bolognese at Felix as well as wild boar and oxtail ragùs at Mother Wolf. Yet, here, you are reminded a bit of the “Battuto di Manzo”: a serving of luxurious beef that, nonetheless, is totally unconvincing. This is vexing because the “Tortelli di Taleggio e Patate,” based on butter, cheese, and potato alone, offered so much enjoyment. Likewise, the tagliatelle themselves are well made. But it’s hard to spend $42 on bland, gray chunks of flesh and noodles swimming in a thin pool of oil. There’s certainly a decent idea and some potential here deep down, but the sauce needs serious work for the dish to even reach a baseline of pleasure.

One of the most distinctly Tuscan recipes on the menu is the “Lasagne Bastarde” ($32), hailing from the Lunigiana area of Massa Carrara and being termed a “bastard” lasagna due to its “reliance on lesser flours, such as chestnut, the use of which helped to save on costly wheat flour, a luxury in rural homes.” Typically, the proportion of chestnut flour “varies from 25 percent to 50 or 60 percent” depending on the area. The resulting sheets are cut into squares or lozenges, boiled, and classically served with either olive oil and pecorino or pesto alla genovese. Funke opts for the latter choice, adding only some Sicilian pine nuts, a bit of parm, and basil leaves to the presentation.

Diving in, you note that Tre Dita’s lasagne have a unique tinge of green to them—a bold aesthetic choice (drawn, you would guess, from the incorporation of additional basil into the dough) that matches the color of the pesto quite well. Otherwise, the resulting preparation only really looks like a bowl of particularly wide noodles. On the palate, the chestnut flour-infused pasta has displayed a more or less al dente texture (being, on one occasion, a touch overcooked) that blankets the crunching pieces of pine nut. The pesto, in combination with the parm, is subtly creamy and surprisingly flavorful, melding its typical herbal notes with an admirable degree of savory backing. You have found it to be even better with the addition of some salt; however, this is a unique Tuscan dish—one most diners have likely never encountered before—that comes together nicely if all the components (i.e., texture and seasoning) are executed properly.

The next item, a “Pici Cacio e Pepe” ($27), has been billed by the restaurant’s servers as one of the chef’s specialties. Interestingly enough, you cannot find this particular shape on any of Funke’s other menus; however, he did post a video of himself making the long, irregular noodle by hand nearly a decade ago. Likewise, cacio e pepe is well represented—being paired with other pastas—across all his properties.

Pici is described as a “very old pasta shape from southern Tuscany, which local historians try to trace to the Etruscans.” Traditionally, they “were known as a poor folks’ dish,” having formed “the daily food of the peasants, who ate them with a simple garlic sauce or with crumbs of fried bread.” Those “who could afford more” would prepare them with duck, a ragù of offal, or a sauce of fish eggs. Today, a combination of sausage, tomato, and mushrooms is also favored in Montalcino. But, perhaps sensing the natural appeal of these oversized noodles, Funke goes a more decadent route by commandeering Rome’s beloved cheese-based “sauce.” To dress the pici, he uses nothing more than pecorino croccolo (as seen with the “Gnocchi Fritti”), black pepper, and a bit of the pasta water.

The resulting bowl arrives looking like a glossy, crumbly delight. The tangle of thick, weighty tubes really earns that hackneyed moniker (so often applied to cacio e pepe) of “adult mac and cheese,” for—at a purely visual level—it promises a degree of richness that taps right into Americans’ nostalgia for the latter form. In practice, these noodles are probably the best example of the chef’s unapologetic preference for a kind of al dente that, to some diners, seems underdone. On one occasion, you had to agree with the rest of the table that the pasta could use 10 or 15 more seconds of cooking. However, otherwise, you quite like Funke’s insistence on chew and structure (especially when dealing with such a simple sauce).

As the pici bounce against your teeth, the pungent, spicy pecorino and sharpness of the black pepper assert themselves. You sense a bit of these ingredients’ crumbliness, but the pasta water does a good job of fusing them onto each noodle. This combination, expectedly, is decadent and satisfying. You do not think this cacio e pepe clearly outdoes some of Chicago’s other notable examples, but it is definitely in the conversation as one of the best. Further, it brings a unique textural experience to the table that some customers may very well prefer to the bucatini, radiatore, and spaghetti used elsewhere. Well done.

Alongside the “Tortelli di Taleggio e Patate,” Funke’s “Gnudi di Spinaci” ($36) is a real highlight of the menu. The name of this particular shape (though not a “true pasta”) represents a “very old term,” which “literally means ‘nudes’” and refers to “a raviolo without pasta—that is, balls or patties of ‘nude’ filling.” It was traditionally made in the “depressed areas of Tuscany” during the spring using “products available in peasant homes.” That included “the season’s special ricotta” married with spinach or chard. In fact, the latter green was used in such great quantities that, “when the cooking water was poured out into the streams, the waterways turned greenish.” For his gnudi, the chef opts for a combination of heirloom spinach, ricotta, and parmigiano with flour. He serves them with morel mushrooms and a brodo di funghi that all sit atop a bottom layer of fonduta.

The resulting serving of 10 plump orbs—perfectly formed, shining, draped with grated cheese, and ready to be dragged through their accompanying sauce—is a welcome sight. You need not negotiate twirling noodles onto each tablemate’s plate but can prick the gnudi and go straight for a bite. The dumplings’ texture marries softness with the faintest chew and a rich, melting quality that stretches across your tongue. The fonduta augments this sensation with its own thick, creamy character while the morels (for you, the best of all mushrooms) tickles your palate with its meaty, honeycomb-like texture. As pleasant as the combined mouthfeel is, the dish really impresses you with its flavor: a little earthy, a little sweet, and profoundly savory with accompanying tangy and nutty tones. This combination of brodo di funghi and fonduta could, in reality, make any pasta sing. Yet, it only takes a single taste of this recipe to realize how totally one-dimensional other “Ricotta Gnudi” offered around town are. Bravo!

Despite struggling to find pleasure in the “Linguine al Limone,” you have learned not to write off Tre Dita’s extruded pastas altogether. For, if you did, you’d miss out on a rather nice “Spaghetti alle Vongole” ($36): a classic dish, utilizing perhaps the most beloved of all noodles, that has little apparent connection to Tuscany (but, just the same, has featured on the menus at Funke’s other restaurants). The preparation, true to type, comprises “small strings” of pasta tossed with Manila clams in a sauce of olive oil, garlic, parsley, and white wine.

There’s really no trick here—just al dente spaghetti, a bunch of bivalves, and a bold, balanced sauce. However, you appreciate that the clams arrive fully opened and invariably clean. They are also supplemented by an additional serving of the mollusk’s meat that is mixed directly into the bowl. This ensures that diners can retrieve a full bite without having to navigate any of the shells and that the dish, overall, feels heartier than other examples. Upon reaching your palate, the pieces of clam exhibit a plump, faintly bouncy quality that matches the chew of the noodles quite well. Here and there, some slivers of garlic add a crisp crunch to the textural experience. But it is the fruity tang of the accompanying sauce, blended with the salty, savory character of the mollusks and some peppery, bitter notes on the finish, that really shines. All of these elements are familiar; they just seem so sharply defined and particularly intense in this case. Yes, the dish combines vibrance—that feeling of summer in Campania—with generosity and unerring precision. Perhaps that is how you ensure such a canonical recipe feels new. Funke, certainly, has done so while paying full respect to the form. Well done.

Next, you come to yet another extruded pasta: the rigatoni (a “ridged,” tubular shape) commonly associated with Southern Italy and, in more contemporary terms, with the pinkish vodka sauces peddled at clubstaurants and their derivatives. Nothing against the recipe—vodka sauce can be delicious (especially on pizza) and has, clearly, captured the popular imagination. Rather, its newfound status only makes it a bit harder for chefs to innovate when patrons read the word rigatoni and expect the kind of sweet, creamy delight they have grown accustomed to. Funke, to his credit, has not played things safe. The chef’s “Rigatoni con Guanciale e Pomodorini” ($29) marries ingredients like cured pork jowl, cherry tomato, marjoram, and Pecorino Toscano Stagionato DOP. Yet, ironically, this colorful medley yields an end product that feels surprisingly like that ever-viral vodka sauce.

Visually, it’s not hard to be mistaken. These rigatoni are rather sizable tubes with a bit of crimping on the ends and the occasional burst middle. They come coated in a sauce that tends more toward orange than red (the kind of color you actually associate with vodka sauce nowadays instead of the stereotypical pink). There’s also a sprinkle of the pecorino on top that, to the uninitiated might as well be parm. Meanwhile, the other, distinguishing ingredients are buried somewhere below and easy to entirely miss. Nonetheless, as you dig your way through the bowl, the crunchy, fatty guanciale bursts against your teeth. The resulting juices coat the ridged, appropriately chewy pasta and amplify, along with the grains of cheese, its textural effect. These porky notes also join with the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, the salty funk of the pecorino, and the sharp, woodsy marjoram to build a resulting flavor that is reminiscent of… Cheetos?

Yes, Funke’s combination of guanciale, tomato, and pecorino is really not far off from an all’amatriciana sauce (where marjoram also frequently appears). In fact, using rigatoni, the chef serves this dish at all of his other restaurants, and he even describes the resulting flavor as being “like spicy Cheetos.” So, for Tre Dita (perhaps realizing the same Roman recipe might be labelled an interloper), Funke simply swapped in a Tuscan cheese and some smaller, more concentrated tomatoes. The resulting preparation captures all of the same transfixing sweet-and-savory character. And, though there’s no heavy cream utilized, the dish really does touch on what makes vodka sauce so popular: a degree of tomatoey, cheesy, and subtly meaty decadence that avoids complicating things but, equally, is not sloppy or overwhelming. Whether you call it Cheeto sauce or vodka sauce or a Tuscan all’amatriciana, the “Rigatoni con Guanciale e Pomodorini” is a surefire crowd-pleaser that offers enough depth to please the most experienced pasta aficionado. It stands as a great representation of how Funke bends premium ingredients to suit mainstream tastes.

The ”Pappardelle con Ragù d’Anatra” ($36) stands, in your mind, as a chance at redemption after the disappointing encounter with the pricey “Tagliatelle al Ragù.” You are dealing, again, with a hand-shaped and -cut noodle—one whose name derives from the Tuscan dialect term pappare (“to eat”)—paired in the traditional manner with a “hearty sauce…containing game.” Though that can sometimes mean boar, pigeon, or hare, the chef has opted for a more approachable heritage duck ragù adorned with nothing more than long, thin shavings of pecorino toscana.

Whereas the tagliatelle were thin and ethereal and the lasagne bastarde large yet misshapen, these pappardelle are proud, wide, and even. To be honest, these sizable noodles do not look particularly enticing as they sit folded over and tangled amongst themselves. The dollop of ragù dropped over the top, too, calls less appetizing thoughts to mind. Yet, plucking a pappardella out from the bowl is highly pleasing. You admire its combination of width—an ability to collect sauce and toppings—and delicacy. You roll it onto your palate and note how the overlapping layers play off of each other, massaging the intervening strands of meat and cheese. This noodle offers everything you enjoyed about the tagliatelle, texturally, at a more dramatic scale. However, relative to that prior ragù, the sauce here is satisfying. It melds a clean, only mildly gamey character (that, nonetheless, shows persistence) with a fine, melting mouthfeel and a sweet, nutty finish. Really, given the ingredients present, the dish feels surprisingly light and subtle. The duck outdoes the tagliatelle’s expensive blend of beef and pork through sheer finesse, and the ”Pappardelle con Ragù d’Anatra” does, indeed, redeem the chef’s work within this genre of noodles and meat sauce. Nicely done.

The last of the pastas offered on the menu utilizes a relative of rigatoni. Yes, the “Rigatoncini all’Arrabbiata” ($27), by nature of the diminutive suffix, centers on a smaller “ridged” tube shape about two-thirds the size of that seen in the “Rigatoni con Guanciale e Pomodorini” recipe. It also pairs the pasta with a kind of “angry” sauce used to denote spice across a range of Italian preparations. Here, the heat comes from peperoncini (or chili peppers) combined with tomatoes and garlic. Some grated pecorino dolce forms the finishing touch.

Visually, the rigatoncini possess the same orangish hue as their bigger brother. However, without the crisp pieces of pork jowl hidden within, the experience here is more straightforward. You note the subtle chew of the tubes (less mouthfilling but equally robust) and the nuances of the crumbled cheese that has affixed itself to their ridges. After a few chews, the spice reveals itself—quite mildly so—with some sense of the pepper’s fruit in addition to its heat. While tangy, garlicky notes of the tomato sauce meld well with the peperoncini, the pecorino dolce (a fresher, lighter variety) naturally serves to cool everything down. The end result is a dish of balanced spice and sweetness that is technically sound and approachable even if it might not rank as the most exciting of the options.

Entering the menu’s secondi category, the first “main plates” you encounter comprise a selection of three fish. To start, there is the “Pesce Spada alla Ghiotta” ($49): a preparation of Pacific swordfish rendered in the “greedy” or “gluttonous” style favored in Calabria and Sicily (that also appears on the menu at the eponymous Funke). That means grilling the fillet and dressing it with olive oil, tomato sauce, and a touch of lemon. On the plate, you also find Taggiasca olives (from Liguria), pomodorini, and capers.

Visually, the swordfish arrives boasting some tasteful crosshatching and being sliced into four sizable strips of pristine white flesh. The dish strikes you as a lighter option amidst an avalanche of beef and carbs—a source of protein and succulence for one of Funke’s A-listers looking to trim down for a forthcoming role. However, despite thinking this plate might amount to mere filler, the fillet displays a smooth, satisfying texture. Most importantly, its mild flavor is supercharged by the rich, fruity olives, the sweetness of the cherry tomatoes, and the briny bite of the capers. Though this combination feels somewhat conventional, it is executed to perfection and imbues the swordfish with a rare degree of savory power without going overboard. Indeed, the dish forms as a nice option for guests desiring a lighter entrée, and it ranks as the strongest of the three fish recipes offered.

Next, the “Spiedino di Tonno Rosso” ($44) combines two principal players: the skewer (or “spear”) form often applied to breaded or battered meats and tuna, the beloved fish being sold by the boatload upstairs at Miru. Here, however, Funke makes use of the yellowfin (also called ahi) species and ditches any sort of crispy crust. Instead, the chef alternates chunks of the fish with cubes of bread on the skewer before grilling them. He then serves the resulting morsels over a peperonata with a squeeze of lemon, some olive oil, and a surrounding sauce made of bay leaf, lemon, and garlic. Upon reaching the table, the spiedino is grasped by the food runner and its contents are deposited on the plate to facilitate serving (while also adding an extra flourish).

Now, faced with this dish, you cannot help but recall the “RPM Mixed Seafood Grill” served at RPM Seafood. There, the medley of king crab, octopus, and blue prawn is actually flamed tableside before being served to the guest. Here, given the primacy of Tre Dita’s grill, you are simply faced with the finished product and a bit of prestidigitation to remove it from its metal holder. Fair enough, you say, for the recipe is not about presentation so much as it is the interplay of seared tuna and peppers and toast.

The fish, like its preceding fellow, displays a firm, meaty (but tender) quality that rewards customers looking to substitute its flesh for actual animal protein. The bread is expectedly crisp with enough softness throughout its crumb to soak up the accompanying sauce. The peperonata, too, is soft and moistening. However, compared to the swordfish, the flavors here are just a bit bland. You like the sweetness of the peppers, but the bay leaf is fairly anonymous and there’s just not enough going on—bite for bite—to really distinguish the tuna and the toast. Yes, after one mouthful of bland fish, you are left wondering if the ingredient really needed to be shoehorned into this particular form. Ultimately, the presentation is a hollow thrill once you realize it precluded the crafting a more interesting recipe based solely on texture and taste.

The last of the three fish dishes on offer is a larger, more shareable option. It also makes use of that flaky Mediterranean favorite: the sea bass. Funke’s “Branzino alla Brace” ($89) can be found across all of the chef’s restaurants and always (true to the dish’s name) comes grilled. Depending on the location, he pairs the fish with ingredients like shaved asparagus, torpedo onions, spinach, or sultanas. At Tre Dita, it is joined by a salad of Violetta artichoke, shaved fennel, mint, and lemon.

Visually, compared to the strips of swordfish and skewer of tuna, the branzino possesses real rustic charm. The table cannot just pick the dish apart; rather, the whole fish encourages a bit of knifework and proper sharing. Upon receiving a piece of the fillet, you find it to be expectedly crisp with a clean, medium flake and a juicy interior. Yes, the cook here is textbook, but the sea bass is let down by its accompaniments. The combination of artichoke chunks, fennel, and mint offers a contrasting crunchiness. However, being dressed only with lemon, they do not really assert themselves when paired with the charred flesh of the fish. In particular, there is no underlying nuttiness that increases the savor of its flesh. Instead, the notes of licorice and mint only offer a mere reprieve between bites—an acceptable enough role to play yet not one that marks the recipe as exceptional.

Perhaps your expectations are a bit too high for an item that is priced higher than several of the steaks. Indeed, you must concede that the star ingredient is being treated with respect and an appropriately light touch. Nonetheless, on one occasion, this branzino was also brought to the table long after your party had finished its beef: a failure of pacing that, no doubt, detracted even more from your perception of the fish.

With your arrival at the “Carne” section, you encounter a trio of meat dishes—pork, chicken, and veal—that precede the main event of steak. Far from being lesser substitutions, these preparations actually offer Funke a chance to show his range (for how much can one really do to distinguish a ribeye or porterhouse?). That begins with the “Rosticciana” ($34), a Tuscan recipe for grilled pork ribs. An order gets you four two-bone segments of porcine pleasure, each of which arrives with a charred, wild fennel- and porcini-rubbed exterior. The resulting tower of meat is sprinkled with more of the fennel and served alongside a grilled half of lemon.

Texturally, the chef’s ribs are a marvel. The meat falls off the bone with only the most minor amount of handling and, more importantly, displays a perfect balance of crispness, tenderness, and chew. Really, Funke puts pretty much any pitmaster in town to shame with this pork. However, its potential is wasted through a miscalculation of the seasoning. Sure, in theory, the anise notes of fennel and umami of porcini sound just like a fancy dry rub. Yet, in practice, you only sense a very faint character from the leaves and a total dearth of any meatiness. There’s just no sweet, savory, or tangy flavor at hand to imbue the ribs with a sense of pleasure. It’s a particularly vexing situation given the quality of the pork—and complicated by the fact that a traditional rosticciana is dipped in vinaigrette before and after cooking. This method—or any use of sugar, garlic, allium, or what have you—would immediately transform this dish into a hit. For now, you only see it as a missed opportunity.

The ”Pollo alla Toscana” ($69) tells a similar story. The dish certainly looks the part: comprising a Green Circle chicken (a regeneratively raised breed sold by D’Artagnan) that has been spatchcocked and roasted until golden brown. The bird is served, simply enough, with some wild mushrooms and a sugo d’arrosto (that is, a sauce made of the drippings). Charred lemon, applied at the table, then forms the finishing touch.

Approaching the chicken with fork and knife, you find that its flesh displays a faint, pleasing crackle. On the palate, the meat is a bit dry (but not horrendously so). Instead, you note that the bird—despite its esteemed sourcing—lacks any distinguishing depth of flavor. Neither the squeeze of lemon nor the roasting juices do much to help either. Interestingly, that gravy tastes noticeably better when you drag a side of patate fritte through it (signaling, perhaps, that their bit of added salt, rosemary, or fennel pollen might be the key). Nonetheless, costing nearly the price of a steak, this “Pollo alla Toscana” needs to be a stunner: crispy skin, juicy flesh, and an unforgettable flavor. Instead, you only get a serviceable chicken dish—one that, on the original Bar Tre Dita menu (before the full concept’s opening) was deep fried and actually superior.

The last member of the “Carne” section is a “Vitello alla Saltimbocca” ($52) that, you might remember, was termed “overcooked” and “unremarkable” at the time of Mother Wolf’s opening. At Tre Dita, the combination of veal loin, prosciutto di parma, and wild arugula in a sage-white wine sauce fares a bit better than that. However, its execution still does not overcome the idea that this category of the menu may be one—at least until some serious tweaking is done—to skip.

Visually, the piece of veal is thin and long with some nice crust development around its edges. The meat is blanked in crispy slivers of prosciutto (covering only a small portion of the flesh) and sage leaves. The arugula, meanwhile, sits off to the side and can be incorporated between bites at will. On the palate, the loin displays a subtle chew that, considering it’s veal, should be a bit more velvety and juicy. Still, the flesh feels satisfying and strikes you pronounced notes of pepper. The prosciutto, in turn, provides a contrasting crispness and a burst of salt—but nothing more. Meanwhile, the arugula—though it might seem like an afterthought—melds well with the peppery notes while soaking up and emphasizing the tangy, cleansing character of the sauce. Compared to the pork ribs and chicken, the “Vitello alla Saltimbocca” actually gets its seasoning more or less right. The textural interplay of the veal and prosciutto just doesn’t live up to either ingredient’s quality. In sum, it’s the kind of dish that leaves you wondering why you didn’t just order steak.

On that note, you finally come to “Nostra Carne Artigianale,” a selection of five cuts that come “sliced for sharing.” Of this assortment, you have sampled three—the “Tagliata di Manzo” ($76), “Costata alla Fiorentina” ($240), and “Bistecca alla Fiorentina” ($290)—while skipping the “Filleto di Manzo” ($59) and “New York Strip” ($72). Additionally, Tre Dita has started serving two steaks in a new “Nostro Wagyu Giapponese” category that was added after your last visit to the restaurant. Utilizing A5-graded beef from Kagoshima Prefecture, this eight-ounce “New York Strip” ($220) and 32-ounce “Bone-in Ribeye” (MP) rank among the most expensive items on the menu. While you cannot comment on the quality of these cuts, you might question why Lettuce felt the need to include them (after the fact) as a form of premiumization at an ostensibly Tuscan concept. As far as you can tell, Funke has never chosen to work with Japanese wagyu before—not even in Las Vegas!

The first cut you have sunk your teeth into, the “Tagliata di Manzo” ($76), literally means “sliced beef.” However, in practice, the term refers to a traditional Italian meat dish of seared, boneless steak served medium rare atop arugula with a drizzle of olive oil, some flaky salt, a bit of pepper, and shavings of parmigiano. Funke’s rendition is classic as can be, with the chef only opting to substitute the usual sirloin with an eight-ounce prime ribeye cap and, additionally, situating the salad on the side of the plate.

Comprising six thick slices, the beef arrives boasting some attractive charring and a glistening sheen drawn from the olive oil. On the palate, the ribeye cap is tender and juicy with just enough of a chew to satisfy your carnal craving. Likewise, the flesh benefits from just enough seasoning to accentuate its savory, beefy character. The arugula salad, when you get to it, is bright, peppery, and cleansing. It renews you and readies your tongue for more steak. Though the presence of the nutty parm, which adds definition to the meat’s finish, is welcome, the leaves of the salad can sometimes catch a bit too much salt, overwhelming the other flavors. Still, this is a beautifully rendered dish and a unique, rewarding entry-level steak. Well done.

With the “Costata all Fiorentina” ($240), you reach the first of two sizable, shareable cuts that speak directly to what Tre Dita represents. This is not quite the namesake “three-finger” thickness, but a more modest 28-day dry-aged, 32-ounce prime bone-in ribeye. It comes served at the recommended medium rare with a dressing of olive oil, flaky salt, and wild fennel. Charred lemon forms an accompaniment, and each order comes with a side plate of arugula salad (as seen in the preceding preparation) and a small skillet of “Patate Fritte.”

Approaching the steak, you again note its beautifully charred exterior along with some particularly crusty corner segments. Glistening caps of fat crown some of the slices while, to the side, the bone itself—though already rather picked of any prime flesh—offers a couple fleeting bites. Depositing a serving of the ribeye on your plate, it shines a predominantly reddish hue with a bit of a pinkish gradient around the perimeter. On the palate, the costata displays a succulent, tender consistency in which even the pockets of fat cleanly burst and completely melt. This holds true throughout the entirety of the steak, which remains juicy in its thinnest segments and adequately seasoned in its thickest. With alternating bites of parm-studded arugula and rosemary-inflected potatoes, the sense of beefiness slowly builds. Thanks to the moderate dry-aging, this savory quality shows surprising depth and remains engaging even as you make it to your third or fourth serving. Again, you can find no fault in how this steak is prepared. In fact, it is an excellent example of the form and a real testament to how seriously Tre Dita takes its titular craft. Bravo!

The ”Bistecca alla Fiorentina” ($290), by all accounts, is the bigger, better version of the “Costata”—one befitting the actual label of “steak.” This 60-day dry-aged, 42-ounce prime porterhouse arrives with its sizable bone pointed toward the sky. It is seasoned in the same manner as its predecessor and comes joined by the same side dishes.

Visually, the “Bistecca” does, indeed, satisfy that “three-finger” rule (and, to be honest, probably approaches four). It possesses the same charred crust, caps of fat, and reddish-pinkish gradient as before (tending just a bit more toward medium in certain slices). On the palate, owing to the cut’s increased thickness, the porterhouse is a bit heartier and chewier but still ultimately tender. Of course, the filet section helps to moderate this effect and displays an extra degree of softness. The salt and olive oil are, again, astutely applied, yielding bite after bite of pleasure with no unfortunate blandness. The dry-aging also surely plays a part, with those 60 days not amounting to flavors that are too funky but, rather, just savory and mushroomy enough to help distinguish the meat. This effect is especially pronounced on the finish, which stands as a dream pairing for any robust red wine. Overall, Funke has absolutely nailed his preparation of the restaurant’s namesake item, and, while you slightly favor the flavor and form of the “Costata,” the “Bistecca” is a triumph in its own right.

Lastly, you come to the contorni: a set of six side dishes that close out the savory portion of the menu. As far as you can tell, Funke has never served this sort of accompanying plate at any of his other restaurants, marking these recipes as particularly unique creations within the chef’s oeuvre.

The first, a “Finocchio alla Parmigiana” ($18), takes two halved segments of the fennel’s bulb and layers them with a combination of mozzarella and parmigiano before roasting. The resulting pieces display a bubbly, golden-brown crust with a crispness that yields to tender, subtly crunchy layers throughout the vegetable’s interior. The resulting flavor is neither too sweet nor too savory. It lands somewhere in between—confusingly so—and you are not sure where to place this dish that is somewhat starchy but not quite enough to fulfill that role. This is an interesting but not quite convincing effort.

Next, the “Fagioli Stracotto” ($12) makes use of that favorite Tuscan legume: the bean. In this case, you speak of the cannellini (or white kidney) variety and a term—stracotto—that literally means “overcooked.” However, this word also connotes the idea of a pot roast, which, here, is rendered with a prosciutto brodo, some garlic, and bread crumbs. The ramekin that arrives at the table is quite handsome, displaying all sorts of crispy bits. The beans, too, are soft and tender and nicely contrasted by the accompanying crunch. Though some bites are appropriately salty and porky in flavor, the seasoning here (drawn from the brodo) is inconsistent. Some spoonfuls are rather bland, and this mars what is otherwise an enjoyable side.

The “Cavolo Nero” ($14) takes things in a greener direction courtesy of the Tuscan kale (literally “black cabbage”) also called lacinato. Here, the leaves are braised and paired with garlic and a bit of peperoncino. On the palate, the kale is moist and subtly crunchy with a bit of extra texture drawn from some slivers of stem. Though the garlic offers a bit of savory backing, the vegetable’s flavor is fairly muted with no heat or sweet from the peppers worth noting. Thus, the dish feels a bit like filler, but the basic texture of the kale is impressive enough and might merit being ordered as a foil for more powerful entrées.

The ”Cipollini Agrodolce” ($16), which you might remember formed a dressing for the “Bruschetta Fegatini di Pollo,” is a rare hit within this section. Served in a small ramekin, these miniature onions are soft and soaked and, thus, only offer the faintest resistance upon meeting your teeth. The allium retains enough structure to feel hearty yet, in turn, spreads across the palate and emits it flavor. Made using an invecchiato (or “aged”) balsamic vinegar, the surrounding agrodolce offers its familiar sweet and sour tones with the kind of complexity that only comes with time. It not only underscores the sweetness of the allium but, likewise, supercharges the cipollini’s roasted, caramelized notes. In sum, this is a side that can pair with anything and actually provide some increased pleasure. It stands as a rare bright spot within this section.

Lastly, you have the “Patate Fritte” ($12) that, as you have mentioned, come complimentary with Tre Dita’s larger steaks. Those shelling out for the tubers are treated to six small Yukon Gold potatoes—whose texture is more roasted than fried—dressed with rosemary and fennel pollen. They are adequately prepared, providing softness but no trace of crispness, with an appropriate degree of seasoning. The fennel pollen does not really come through in any notable way, and you would gladly trade it away for a portion that is two or three times the size. Really, you hesitate to complain about pricing here, but charging $2 per tiny, forgettable potato is utterly insane. It’s the kind of embarrassing offering that might prompt you to call the restaurant’s entire value proposition into question.

Turning toward dessert, you come to the domain of executive pastry chef Juan Gutierrez, whose work at Miru was highly praised and who here, too, does a good job. His Netflix fame aside, the ability to work within both Japanese and Italian genres of dessert—and to craft novel, complex dishes within them—is a rare opportunity: one that he has clearly measured up to.

That starts with a “Tiramisu Classica” ($19), which the restaurant recommends for two to three guests. Though originally sliced and served on a plate, the dish has subsequently taken a rounded shape within a small ramekin. Diving in, the ladyfingers are soft, moist, and maybe a bit too wet. The accompanying mascarpone cream is smooth but not exceptional, missing that tantalizing balance of lightness (in texture) and richness (in flavor). However, the notes of espresso are kept in balance, ensuring the tiramisu displays a pleasing sweetness accented by bitterness and tang. Though, texturally, you almost get the impression that this dessert was defrosted, it still surmounts other examples in town.

The ”Tre Dita Gattò” ($21), being graced with the restaurant’s name, does, indeed, fare better. This recipe is a “vulgarization” of the French word gateaux and, understandably, centers on a devil’s food cake that has been topped with a Fleur de Cao (70% dark couverture blend) mousse, wrapped in chocolate sheets, and paired with pieces of dark cherry. Attacking the dish with your fork, you enjoy the brittleness and crunch as the gattò’s surrounding layers give way. This reveals an expectedly moist, rich chocolate cake that is complicated by the bitter notes of dark chocolate and sweet-sour cherry. There are also notes of nutty amaretto at hand, ensuring that the dish’s depth does not preclude the sheet enjoyment such a preparation must deliver. Well done.

Next, you come to the “Torta della Nonna” ($19), Gutierrez’s take on the Tuscan “grandma’s cake” that traditionally combines shortcrust pastry, a custard filling, and a topping of crispy pine nuts. Tre Dita’s version is more or less true to type, comprising a long, thin sliver of the torta with a citrus-pine nut streusel crust and a dollop of Madagascar vanilla whipped cream to finish. Upon reaching your palate, the cake is beautifully crumbly and contrasted by the rich, mouthfilling custard and lighter accompanying cream. Its resulting flavor is full, sweet, and caramelized with supporting notes of nut and contrasting hints of citrus and dairy. Even the dusting of powdered sugar (applied to the torta’s top) seems to reveal added depth and nuance. Overall, this is an unabashedly decadent dish that, despite its slim size, delivers outsized pleasure. Great job!

The ”Ananas Arrosto” ($22), which has sadly left the menu, made for another hit when offered. It has comprised a rather simple pairing of roasted pineapple pieces layered with honey tuiles and dressed in 25-year Balsamic Vinegar of ModenaDOP. The resulting dish takes the fruit’s tangy, caramelized notes to the extreme, boosting them with the syrupy sauce’s own sweetness and acid to attain a profound depth. You only wish you could pair it with vanilla gelato. Phenomenal.

The ”Torta al Cioccolato” ($21) can be thought of as a variant of the “Torta della Nonna” insofar as it takes the same slender form. However, instead of shortcrust, it sits atop a pistachio sablée, and, rather than being filled with custard, it contains a mixture of orange marmalata and chocolate. The former dish’s whipped cream topping, too, is substituted for a blood orange sorbetto. Overall, this makes for a tart-like “cake” of nutty, tangy notes not unlike the ”Tre Dita Gattò.” However, chocolate acts more as a peer in this case rather than a dominant, decadent note that leaves you feeling satisfied. This is not a bad dessert by any means, but it is not as distinctive as the others mentioned.

Finally, the “Baci al Limone” ($14) comprise eight lemon-almond cookies served on a cute dish with a ringed holder. The baked goods look deliciously rustic due to the irregular application of their frosting and, on the palate, display a crisp exterior that leads to a chewy crumb. The resulting flavor is zesty with only a hint of sweetness and not quite enough of the almond. A greater intensity of those nutty notes would, you think, make the cookies more satisfying. Yet, as it stands, though this dessert might form an acceptable companion for coffee, the $1.75 price per piece seems woefully high for the resulting quality.

Alongside these desserts, Gutierrez offers a selection of three gelati (pistachio, amaretto, espresso) and three sorbetti (fico d’india, blood orange, pear) for $14 each. Of those that you tried, the “Pistachio” was deeply sweet, a tad savory, and utterly superb with its caramel drizzle. The “Amaretto,” likewise, was rather enjoyable with its crunching bits of embedded almond. Only the “Fico d’India,” made from prickly pear, was a little strange, possessing a slightly coarse texture and a flavor reminiscent of blackberry seeds that doesn’t quite provide the same level of pleasure.

With the last lick of your spoon, your experience at Tre Dita comes to an end. The staff, as you previously noted, have never (to their credit) seemed in any particular rush to get you out the door. That might mean some wrangling is required to finally get the check—with its 3% surcharge “to offset rising costs associated with the restaurant” (a fee that now seems trite in the age of gratuity-included concepts)—but you also get to soak up every last bit of the ambiance before deciding, on your own terms, to depart.

Doing so (and this applies to all but the very last seatings), you see the restaurant at its shining best: a packed dining room, glowing in the twilight, tended by an army of staff and matched by the throng in the bar and the lobby. Passing through “The Gastronomic Tunnel,” the steaks look on from the other side of the glass, and the wine bottles do too. The cooks in the pasta lab continue to toil away: visible, but inaccessible, and only hinting at what goes on in the engine room to keep the concept on track.

Passing the host stand, you hope to leave with the right set of leftovers as you dodge other, aspiring diners and forge a path to the elevator bank. It takes you back down to the hotel lobby—brightly-lit and carefully attended—which continues to receive guests of all flavors: your Miru customers, your Tre Dita customers, and the St. Regis lodgers (temporary or true residents) who lend the building its aura of luxury, exclusivity, and wealth. Amidst the designer clothes and their counterfeits, the supercars, black cars, and plain old taxis, it is hard to know who exactly belongs to which class.

The staff welcomes everyone just the same: anyone who wishes to play their role and be part of the action—provided one can pay the price of entry (or induce someone else to do the same). This is all to say, leaving Tre Dita provides confirmation that you, indeed, were somewhere. No matter how the meal itself fared in relation to the peak-end rule, your sense of the “end” (whether defined by Gutierrez’s desserts, a painful receipt, or a miscue retrieving your to-go items) is complicated by this scene. With a full belly, you are reminded just how many people desperately want to eat here. Recounting the evening on social media, you must weigh what it means to be perpetuate the restaurant’s status and celebrate the kind of glamour Funke and his partners so effectively wield.

By virtue of eating here (especially in that dining room), you are an insider. You can direct Vista Tower’s eminence back onto yourself, situate yourself among the rich and famous, and fuel the fire of a place, foundationally, that seems destined to succeed. You can forgive the flaws—hiccups of service and recipe execution—and choose to be intoxicated by a deeper feeling: that the Tuscan fantasy the chef has touted is real. You can find in the bread and pasta and steak enough satisfaction to excuse waking up at midnight, waiting for a table, and wondering who—if anyone—is actually leading this operation. After all, a certain amount of restraint, inaccessibility, and haughtiness is a key ingredient in these kinds of properties. It feels better to weather the abuse from your seat in the dining room than to moan, however justified, from the sidelines. Yes, the VIPs will surely be treated well at Tre Dita, and to complain would be to reveal that one maybe, just maybe, doesn’t belong.

As you step outside The St. Regis, leave the valet area, and head back down Wacker, the fantasy begins to fade. You do not belong here, among the hotels and the privileged confines of Lakeshore East. And it takes a good handful of blocks, by foot or by car, before you find yourself again in a part of Chicago you can relate to. From this vantage point, you look back at Vista Tower, its hotel, and its crown jewel restaurant with new eyes. The structure remains every bit the shining architectural monument it was upon conception, yet its amenities reinforce a feeling of separateness. The building is there, literally within view, and perceivable throughout most of the city. However, it remains knowable only to a chosen few—and positively alienating at times for everyone else. This feeling reaches its peak when you reflect on Lettuce Entertain You and Funke, in particular, have done: a partnership between hospitality mavens and a storytelling chef that somehow offers the worst of both worlds.

Put another way, Tre Dita offers the kind of expensive vacation that leaves you missing home. The restaurant offers its postcard view, its beautiful people, and a bevy of native victuals but nothing by way of real connection. Of course, those whom you share the experience with will make it special: you’ll chat for a few hours, down wine and red sauce, take a picture, and reduce the restaurant—should it ever cross your mind months or years later—into a “remember that place?” or, better yet, a punchline. Because, over time, the kind of glamour being sold at Tre Dita is destined to fade. There will always be a newer, taller skyscraper with a shinier, more luxurious hotel and a restaurant (maybe even one that seriously pursues Michelin stars) looking to gild the lily. There will always be places that make important people feel important, and—as you think Funke actually knows well—they do so on the basis of service, simplicity, and sincerity rather than competing with the comforts that the truly privileged enjoy every day.

If you are to assign blame on where—and why—Tre Dita goes wrong, you would hardly start with The St. Regis. For, after Wanda pulled out of the project, another luxury brand was destined to attach itself to Vista Tower. Prices for the hotel’s rooms would always be high, and any hotel therein would need to balance the needs of its resident patronage. The St. Regis also, you might remember, had to contend with The Alinea Group wasting its time. This forced the company to substitute three-Michelin-star prestige for Lettuce Entertain You’s dependable workmanship, and, short of Hogsalt (a pipe dream) or some national name (like a Jean-Georges) stepping in, it is hard to think of any other feasible option. Once Miru was in place as the hotel’s all-day offering, it is unclear how much influence The St. Regis exerted on its Tuscan steakhouse. Yet, accepting that the concept itself was a sound choice, the hotel built out a beautiful space with a couple of frills (like the pasta lab) while retaining a sense of intimacy. Likewise, the hotel staff has been nothing but nice: setting the mood, upon arrival, in a way that you wish the restaurant employees also fulfilled.

Evan Funke, too, does not deserve all that much of the blame. He was chosen by Lettuce Entertain You, perhaps with the input of The St. Regis, on the basis of his past experience with the hospitality group and the brand he has built in his own right. To wit, Felix, Mother Wolf, and the eponymous Funke are popular among important people and more or less well received by the general public. Their chef works effectively in a visual domain, transmitting his passion for handmade pasta through tantalizing video content. He also, on the basis of his travels throughout Italy (in combination with a tailored look, a degree of media savvy, and a real flair for performance) can speak on questions of tradition and “authenticity” with some legitimacy. In all fairness, there are at least a few chefs in Chicago who, much more quietly, make pasta at the same (or even a slightly higher, more consistent) level. But Funke has mastered the art of packaging Italian culture with greater production value and doing so in a way that enhances (rather than cheapens) the sense of rusticity and romance that draws so many people to the cuisine.

You give him credit for that, and you actually leave Tre Dita with a vaguely positive feeling for what the chef represents: an adoration for craft and for those who have preserved the techniques he shares with the masses. Sure, it would be better to see Funke holding court in the dining room and actualizing the image he so effectively broadcasts on social media. In turn, you appreciate that the one time you saw him it was in the pasta lab: focused on education and quality rather than appearances. That active engagement with the actual workings of the kitchen (if not so much with the role of poster child) excuses the fleeting presence that three restaurants in Los Angeles and one in Las Vegas necessitate. Still, it might have been smart to recruit and deputize a chef de cuisine to really fill his shoes for the sake of charming customers. The seclusion of the pasta lab in “The Gastronomic Tunnel” is also unfortunate, turning the exhibition of craft that infuses Funke’s other dining rooms into a mere sideshow—one you eventually forget is even there.

Ultimately, Funke must be judged here on the quality of his recipes. Out of 38 savory items you tried, 17 of them impressed: the “Schiacciata Bianca,” “Schiacciata Rossa,” “Gnocchi Fritti,” “Alici Marinati,” “La Panzanella,” “Insalata di Cicoria,” “Tortelli di Tallegio e Patate,” “Pici Cacio e Pepe,” “Gnudi di Spinaci,” “Spaghetti alle Vongole,” “Rigatoni con Guanciale e Pomodorini,” “Pappardelle con Ragù d’Anatra,” “Pesce Spada alla Ghiotta,” “Tagliata di Manzo,” “Costata alla Fiorentina,” “Bistecca alla Fiorentina,” and “Cipollini Agrodolce.”

Though a hit rate of 44.7% seems low, you must consider that impressing with six out of 10 pastas is a good average and that the inclusion of two to four additional steaks might have also raised the percentage. Further, the dishes that failed impress are, nonetheless, not worth totally writing off. Some simply struggled from structural problems (like the “Bruschetta Classica” and “Polpette di Bollito”) or, moreso, issues with seasoning (“Fiori di Zucca,” “Battuto di Manzo,” “Linguine al Limone,” “Tagliatelle al Ragù,” “Branzino alla Brace,” “Rosticciana,” “Pollo alla Toscana”). Others (“Bruschetta Fegatini di Pollo,” “Misticanza del Campo,” “Burrata e Crudo,” “Gamberi in Salsa Verde,” “Rigatoncini all’Arrabbiata,” “Vitello alla Saltimbocca,” and the remainder of the contorni) just seemed a bit boring given the quality of other options and the price point of the restaurant.

Save for the occasional overcooked pasta or piece of chicken, pretty much everything on the Tre Dita menu demonstrates some degree of aesthetic value: an idea regarding texture, flavor, and/or form, translated through tradition, that does not always come together but typically pleases in at least one dimension. Of course, Funke is at his best when engaging textures (whether an ethereal pasta or a layered salad) combine with an uncommon intensity of flavor to deliver deep pleasure. However, the chef demonstrates a clear voice that can be heard even in his weakest preparations, and it would only take a bit of reinterpretation—a bit more sharpness in execution—to put forth a menu that was 60%-70% worth recommending. (You particularly think of a dish like the “Rosticciana,” which comes so maddeningly close to being a star.)

That being said, it is fair to ask why these Italian recipes needed to be reimagined in the first place—however gently—when restaurants of less grandeur, with smaller dining rooms and kitchens, reliably render the cuisine with greater quality and consistency. It is also fair to ask what exactly that Vetrina Toscana “first certified Tuscan restaurant in the United States” designation means when Tre Dita confidently serves dishes from the country’s other regions.

You think the answer to these questions comes down to the idea of brand partnership: that The St. Regis, Evan Funke, Lettuce Entertain You, and even organizations like Vetrina Toscana benefit more from a restaurant that is a little too expensive, a little too exclusive, with food that is more distinctive than it is delicious, than one that plainly looks to please. Each of the partners clearly knows how to feed people. They’ve proven that umpteen times, but, here, offering a conventional sense of value never seemed to be the goal. Rather, Tre Dita represents an introduction to Chicago (for LEY, a reintroduction) that situates each of the brands at the summit of the dining scene.

At the risk of alienating some segments of consumers, the partners have chosen to privilege interior design, a postcard view, storytelling, a sense of romance, a social scene, a feeling of excess, and an unquestionable veneer of luxury over the fundamentals of food and service. Surely, nobody desired for the concept to fail in these aspects. They just took a back seat to certain intangible qualities that would ensure Tre Dita plays well on social media and attracts the sort of clientele the collaborators truly desire. By hosting the rich, famous, and powerful, The St. Regis, Evan Funke, and Lettuce Entertain You can confirm their own status and build brand equity much faster than they might by simply offering a great Italian meal. As long as food and service are “good enough”—and that VIPs are always treated to the very best the establishment has to offer—Tre Dita need only symbolize quality. Influencer marketing and traditional media will handle the rest. The house of mirrors effect of aspirational diners seeing glamorous diners seeing celebrity diners eat bread and steak and pasta will take hold. The restaurant will succeed in hyperreality, so why wouldn’t Vetrina Toscana, which exists to promote the products and practices of the region, want to get in on the action? For only the cost of “certification,” Tuscany gets its share of the limelight too.

For The St. Regis, a brand looking to define itself at the highest level of lodging, and Funke, a chef whose career has always been intimately associated with Hollywood’s elite, pursuing this strategy comes as no surprise. It is Lettuce Entertain You, a company you associate with friendliness and dependability, that seems like the odd one out. This could have been a good thing, serving to ground the rarefied tastes of the other two partners and translate their brands for the Chicago market. But Lettuce, lamentably, is the weak link here: failing to deliver the usual standard of service that has endeared them to the city and, thus, painting the whole operation as a bit cynical.

You really do not fault the company for pursuing a promotional strategy centered on exclusivity, luxury, and environmental effect. That’s Funke’s established brand, and there’s no point in partnering with the chef if you’re not going to lean into his specialty. Just the same, once an average customer succeeds in attaining a reservation and commits to spending the money necessary to enjoy themself, each and every one should be made to felt like part of the celebrity clientele on which Funke has made his name.

Lettuce Entertain You, from the host stand, to the floor, to the management, and the executive partner himself, has failed in the one dimension that excuses nearly a decade of playing things safe from a culinary standpoint. The company’s unflappable service standards are, at Tre Dita, nowhere to be found. Save for just a few souls, friendliness and competence are barely achieved. Awkwardness and nervousness are moreso the norm (even after stomaching a senseless wait for your table). Abandonment is likely, and the maître d’ may even go so far as to deceive you—shuttling your party off to the bar—in an attempt to balance his books.

Lettuce has, through Gutierrez’s desserts and Hawkins’s wine list, contributed positively to the project at a creative level. Cocoran’s cocktails are, as you noted, less convincing. Yet, Funke’s recipes—which are strong enough to carry the concept even if many require some tweaking—are principally undone by poor pacing. They are cheapened by servers who have proven incapable of infusing the evening with the storytelling and sense of romance that underlie the chef’s work. Even the dining room itself, given pride of place by The St. Regis, begins to lose its luster when you find yourself so haphazardly tended to.

A mere Tuscan steakhouse, Tre Dita is the kind of restaurant Lettuce—once holder of five Michelin stars—should be able to run effortlessly. However, though the stage has been set and the key props (a range of enjoyable pastas and large-format steaks) are in place, the establishment lacks any emotional core. It lacks leadership, pride, or any sense of passion. It believes its own hype and expects diners to be intimidated into enjoyment rather than humbly taking them on a journey. It confirms that, with Lettuce’s generational changing of the guard, something has—indeed—been lost. The most important, distinguishing dimension of the group, a hospitality culture that disarms, connects, and leaves a lasting impression, can no longer be counted on. The creative stasis you have tracked from RPM Seafood to The Omakase Room to The Oakville has been accompanied by a corresponding degradation of the company’s founding ideals.

You are confident that LEY could right the ship at Tre Dita if they brought in a crack team drawn from properties like the RPMs and Joe’s. Plenty of talent still exists throughout the company, but it has not been properly developed here. The problem stems from the very top—from gun-shy leadership—and from declining standards that seem more content with what each new opening represents on paper (e.g., an expansion into a new neighborhood, a lucrative event space, a venue to sell more pricey wagyu) than what it delivers in practice.

Tre Dita is not quite Lettuce’s Le Select moment, for the former restaurant enjoys too many structural advantages to fall entirely victim to its opening dysfunction. Funke, too, has more or less delivered on his end of the bargain: bread and pasta and steak and branding. Nonetheless, the Melmans need a wake-up call. The new generation is not entirely selling out like Boehm and Katz have done within a single lifetime. Just the same, they seem to take Chicagoans’ trust for granted and forget their company’s reputation was built at the level of granular interaction rather than boardroom strategy.

If leavened by service of deference and charm, most of Tre Dita’s rough edges could be forgiven. You could bear the pain of making a reservation if the host seemed happy to have you and got your party seated within 15 minutes. You could bear the high prices, whether for wine or a paltry half-dozen potatoes, if the server underlined the level of craft and care and respect for tradition that inspired the restaurant’s products. You wouldn’t mind dining for three hours if the staff admitted its struggles with pacing (rather than disappearing) and looked to make amends for them. You’d even consider coming back, after all was said and done, if you met a single manager with any sense of ownership over your experience or basic appreciation for your decision to spend time and money there.

In the final analysis, there’s an indifference about how Tre Dita operates that feels a lot like arrogance. Indeed, it is possible to have a good meal and enjoy a decent bottle of wine here (both demanding one order from a narrow range of options) in a grand setting. However, you have to fight the restaurant at every step to do so. You have to buy into a chef—and a social scene—that comes across as decidedly impersonal. And you have to acknowledge that the spirit of Tuscan cuisine, made to sound so beautiful in the marketing copy, is spoken but not felt.

Evan Funke, Lettuce Entertain You, and The St. Regis have worked hard at inflating the reputation of this hotel restaurant. They have spared little expense in making it the kind of concept that transcends its isolated location and transient (or, for the residents, privileged) base of customers. Yet, after spending hours in the space, you are still left feeling like an outsider. Only those totally intoxicated by the window dressing of wealth—designer clothes, supercars, and the buzz of celebrity sightings—can possibly justify the coldness. And only those totally estranged from the spirit of Italian culture can stomach its treasures when stripped of their heart and soul.

Tre Dita is, in fact, a hotel restaurant of the worst order: a triumph of branding, design, and (saddest of all) culinary potential undone by a bad attitude. Lettuce must realize that it forms the voice of reason in this partnership—the sober advocate for the consumer—and cannot simply cheerlead for Funke and The St. Regis uncritically. After all, the latter two could pull out of Chicago with little risk to their reputations. Lettuce, in contrast, is trading on 53 years of work in its home market. Its new regime is burning through goodwill, and, once the city realizes it is being squeezed without so much as a thank you, the company will become just another homegrown disappointment.

One Pineapple: good hospitality in line with expectations, a restaurant that operates competently as a business but little more, fine food lacking nostalgia or soul.