Fornetto Mei | Near North | Italian, Chinese, Asian | Restaurant
Italian and Taiwanese food in the Whitehall Hotel. Special number for takeout orders: 312-573-6341.

Our Review

This dark, lovely little restaurant situated just next to the bar in the historic Whitehall Hotel features pan-Italian cuisine and, oddly enough, a sprinkling of Asian dishes. The interior is dominated by a copper-clad wood-burning oven, which puts forth beautiful thin-crust pizzas at an amazing rate. The flickering flame of the oven, combined with low-level lighting and bronze accents, makes the room feel cozy and intimate, the kind of place where weary travelers can unwind over superb cocktails or those engaged in illicit affairs can have discreet conversations without fear of discovery. If only the food and the service lived up to the romantic ambience. On a recent visit, for instance, our wine and bread arrived right away, but the appetizers, ordered almost immediately, took forever to come and then disappointed. The salmon carpaccio, a plateful of razor-thin salmon blanketed with ricotta and toasted pistachios, wasn't seasoned at all. The liberal addition of table salt and cracked black peppercorn helped the flavors to pop a little bit. On the other hand, the one Asian dish we tasted, beef and celery dumplings, was superb: meaty and fresh, with a gingery, peppery bang that left us craving more. After another lengthy wait, our entrees arrived. The seared striped sea bass -- a miserly portion for $26 -- was overcooked, as was the sodden rapini it sat on top of. The short-rib and scallop risotto was better -- rich and full-flavored -- but was cooked to a puddinglike texture. Dessert was sublime: poached pears and a bowl of tartuffo gelato, a delicately flavored milk chocolate ice cream. The entire dinner took over two hours and involved several long waits, complete with empty wine and water glasses. Other diners, searching the room for someone, anyone, to come to their aid, commiserated in lonely abandonment.

Chip Dudley

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Price: $$$
Payment Type: American Express, Diners Club, Discover, MasterCard, Visa

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