Building a restaurant, maybe a brand

"They kind of have an open kitchen like this," Stoioff, 31, said from a bar stool in the new restaurant, "not as industrialized, but we loved all their style. (It was) very vintage and interesting and rustic, and we thought, wow, we could take this style and Americanize it a little and industrialize it and put it in a downtown urban space, and it would really be cool. On the way back, we kept talking about 'that tavern in Siena this' and 'that tavern in Siena that,' and we ran with it."

Viviani said Siena Tavern's butternut squash tortellacci in brown butter with sage and a coccoli appetizer that we sampled — the latter a delicate, exceptionally light fritter into which you stick stracchino cheese, prosciutto di parma and truffle honey before popping it into your mouth — were directly inspired by that tavern in Siena. Six or seven more dishes were family recipes that he ordered not to be altered by the kitchen staff, including a hearty short-rib ravioli in a thick veal reduction (which DineAmic corporate chef David Blonsky brought out for tasting) as well as his mother's lasagna, which layers six or seven sheets of homemade pasta with "a really rich, earthy, red-wine infused, herb-reduction" meat sauce and a bechamel sauce.

As for the pizza, Viviani arranged for renowned Neapolitan pizza chef Antonio Esposito to fly in and fix whatever hadn't quite been working. Viviani said Esposito had them lower the oven's surface temperature to about 300 degrees while raising the air temperature to between 500 and 600 degrees so the elements would cook with the right balance in less than three minutes.

"It makes sense because you don't want the pizza to burn on the bottom," Viviani said, noting that the crust recipe remained simple: "only water, flour and salt."

He lifted a sample slice (featuring prosciutto and pear) by the crust, and it didn't sag toward the center, yet when you bit into it, it was light and chewy.

The expansive menu offers everything from salads to seafood to osso buco to a 36-ounce aged porterhouse steak for two. Siena Tavern isn't intended to be a culinary destination but rather to inspire repeat visits, to please everyone — as is its chef/host/public face, who said he'll continue to spend much time in Chicago.

"The food I do isn't meant to win TV competitions," Viviani said. "The food I do is meant to make the restaurant busy."

And the Personality, the brand, can help.

"I'm a nice guy," Viviani said. "I speak easy with everybody. I am a guarantee of quality from an honest standpoint, you know? I'm not like a Ferrari, but I'm a good, solid muscle car that is going to stay with you for a long time and won't let you down. We do good food. We please people. We're fair priced. We want to be a brand for 90 percent of America."

He added: "When I say brand ... I'm meaning a legacy. I'm trying to build a good legacy, a good name for myself, a name that when you say, 'Oh, you know what? I had an interview with Fabio. The food was all right, but he's a very nice guy. He's actually a nice guy. I hope he does well.'"

But of course.

mcaro@tribune.com

CHICAGO

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