Giuliana Rancic and her husband, Bill, have teamed up with Lettuce Entertain You's Melman siblings and Chef Psaltis of L20 and Paris Club to create RPM Italian. Housed in what used to be Ben Pao in River North, this restaurant includes some of Giuliana's family recipes, including Mama DePandi's Buccatini Pomodoro. If you've ever been to Ben Pao and seen the interiors you will be floored by how vastly different this restaurant's design is. Dark wood, off-white leather and large yellow lighting fixtures makes you feel like you are invited to a special VIP event. On one side, the dining area around the bar offers a more relaxed, high-table seating. The other side, though, includes white leather booths welcoming you for the entire evening, for as long as you'd like to stay. It was all class, all glamour, and the food and drinks definitely showcased this.
The Sergio Leone cocktail and the Torino Fizz
Many of the tables around us seemed to be enjoying the plates little by little, more socializing than eating. The servers, it seemed, were completely happy catering to a table that could be seated for about 2 or so hours, offering cocktails and wine in perfectly timed intervals. The cocktail list is worthy of its own blog post entirely. Paul McGee, formerly of The Whistler, is in charge of RPM's drinks. I ordered a Torino Fizz, which had a burnt orange taste. The Sergio Leone, however, had the perfect flavor of bourbon without the burn. Of course, they also have an extensive wine list if you're in the mood for that.
We anticipated having to share a bunch of plates so we ordered quite a few. For starters, we had the trufffled garlic bread (very top left). It was delicious, although the truffle flavor seemed to be unevenly spread between the pieces of bread. Some pieces were very garlicky (no complaints) and some pieces had only been buttered (again, no complaints). A more even seasoning would have made this perfect. We didn't mind too much once the gnocchi al forno (top right) came out because we were just able to dip our pieces of bread into the melted gorgonzola sauce that the pieces of gnocchi were sitting in. Do not be fooled--these gnocchi pieces are large and not your typical light potato dumplings. It tasted like actual lumps of pasta with cheese mixed in and toasted sage on top. Our evening was off to a good start.
We were not going to leave this place without trying their pasta. Sure, there were pizzas and steaks, but what we wanted was good ol' starchy pasta.
Spencer ordered the short rib pappardelle (top left) that came in a bolognaise sauce. The sauce was fantastic, and there was a lot of it, which made sharing the thick, long pappardelle all that much more fun. The short ribs were so tender and I feel like we order them all the time but it's because they're so delicious! The rosemary perfumed the whole dish and made you feel at home. It was almost like a meal your mother would make you on your birthday or a special occasion...if your mother was Giuliana's mother or a genuine Italian mother. Not mine.
Sounds scrumptious? Luckily for you, I found a recipe for it on The Food Network. You can thank Bobby Flay next time you see him. As for me, my order was the duck agnolotti with brussels sprouts and mission figs (top right). Good thing there were only a few pieces of agnolotti (about 6) on my plate because that was an incredibly rich and meaty meal. The figs definitely added that extra zip of fruitiness to cut through the savoriness of the dish. And I absolutely love brussels sprouts so a few shavings of it never hurt. I'd love to try their polenta with poached egg next time, some cheeses, or the spicy king crab with squid ink spaghetti. You can view their menu here.
We had noticed several tables ordering the tartufo--the hazelnut gelato shaped into a ball, covered in chocolate. We had originally planned on getting it until Spencer noticed a caramel pine nut tart (left). Everything about it sounded delicious except for the rosemary sorbet. We were intimidated, I'll admit. It's okay for dessert to cross into entrees, as Spencer noted, but sometimes it's a difficult concept the other way around. We took a risk. And absolutely enjoyed it. The tart was not too sticky, just pliable enough enjoy with a spoon. It was definitely a grown-up dessert with the rosemary sorbet giving a cool, refreshing note to add to the sweetness of the caramel.
The recipe on Epicurious includes cashews and walnuts, which, of course, you are welcome to omit or include. As for the rosemary sorbet, I've seen the recipes include rosemary in the actual tart (which would be interesting) but here's a recipe for the sorbet that I found on Epicurious as well. This tart is definitely a unique treat and is something you can think of serving the next time you have guests over. Chances are, they're also looking for something interesting to dig into after the dinner you slaved over (or bought).
At one point in the evening I was getting super excited because I thought I saw BJ Novak, but alas, it was just a regular look-alike. Hopefully this restaurant brings more celebrity (real, this time) sightings. It was such a perfect dinner and though that evening we were eating in our regular fashion, I wouldn't mind returning to slowly eat, converse, and savor each plate with some friends.