Scarpa at Spiaggia in Chicago, one of America’s Italian pioneers

Antica Casa Scarpa’s director Riikka Sukula recently completed a week of “market work” (as it is called in trade parlance) in the U.S., visiting Chicago and Houston.

One of her most memorable visits and tastings was with sommelier Rachael Lowe at Chicago’s premier Italian restaurant, Michelin-starred Spiaggia.

For those old enough to remember, Spiaggia and its executive chef Tony Mantuano were among the pioneers of Italian fine dining in the U.S. More than 30 years ago, long before the “new wave” of high-concept Italian dining that took America by storm in the early 2000s, Spiaggia had set the standard for what would be the renaissance of Italian gastronomy in this country.

And the restaurant has never rested on its laurels, as the saying goes. Ever since Michelin began publishing a Chicago edition of its storied guide in 2011, Spiaggia has been a recipient of its stars.

The restaurant is also home to one of America’s most important Italian wine programs, today run by sommelier Rachael Lowe (with whom Riikka tasted and met last week).

Spiaggia was one of the first fine dining destinations in the U.S. to offer guests an Italian-focused wine list that celebrated the great labels of Italy. In the early 1990s, before New York would become the epicenter for fine Italian wine in the U.S., Spiaggia was arguably the top venue in the country for wines from Piedmont, for example (and that was when Super Tuscans were just beginning to catch on).

It was a true thrill to visit this storied restaurant and meet with Rachael, who has expanded the program by focusing on regions beyond Piedmont and Tuscany.

Above: Casarecce at Café Spiaggia, the storied restaurant’s casual concept.

The Scarpa team didn’t get a chance to eat at Spiaggia (which is only open for dinner). But it did manage to snag a lunch reservation at Café Spiaggia next door, the restaurant’s casual concept.

We were all blown away by how good — and how authentic — the food was there.

But then again, it’s not surprising that the restaurant group’s standards for excellence remain as high as ever. What a wonderful experience!

We couldn’t be more proud to be part of their wine list (check it out here and you’ll find that the Spiaggia cellar includes many older vintages as well as current releases).

See this Wine Spectator profile of wine director Rachael Lowe here.

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