Save for its name, there’s not much to link Gibsons Italia to its well-established sister steakhouse. “We knew if we were going to do something here, we couldn’t just roll out another Gibsons Steakhouse,” says Gregg Horan, director of operations and a managing partner of the restaurant group. “It wouldn’t make any sense.”
Instead, Gibsons Italia has carved out its own niche within Gibsons Restaurant Group (Quartino Ristorante, Hugo’s Frog Bar), offering tenderly prepared dishes in a stylish, unfussy setting with a knockout river view from the majestically situated River Point building off Canal and Lake streets. Vivid abstract paintings by Chicago-based artist Lydia Cash and cheerful music by Vampire Weekend and Purity Ring, framed by upbeat service, provide a sense of conviviality that pairs seamlessly with lush pastas, an ample wine list and world-class steaks.
Particularly in that last category, Gibsons Italia diverges and, in some ways, improves upon the original. Here, unlike Gibsons Steakhouse, there are silky slivers of wagyu sirloin, making Gibsons Italia one of 16 restaurants in the nation to offer the highly sought-after A5 Japanese kobe steak ($35 per ounce). The Rush Street porterhouses aren’t missed when there are Australian bone-in filet mignon ($60) and short-rib brasato ($31) taking their place. No matter which tender cut you select, have it with the bearnaise or the tangy steak sauce and a side of flash-fried shishito peppers ($12).
The gold-extruded pasta, made fresh twice a day, is served in neat portions that flesh out nicely with the addition of a protein like crab, shrimp or filet, but also work plenty well on their own. Ideal for spring, the caserecce ($20) features well-cooked loosely twisted pasta spirals, with tender discs of asparagus in a light sauce that works nicely with dollops of ricotta; a touch more lemon would perfect it. Another can’t-be-missed dish: the creamy risotto, topped with plump, tender sea scallops and made with Acquerello rice, which is aged seven years for sturdier grains and more pronounced flavor ($29).
It will come as no surprise that the wine offerings are extensive, with something for both the aficionados and casual sippers alike. A $15 glass of Black Pine pinot noir proved velvety and rich, while bottles climb as high as a $4,900 Screaming Eagle 2009 cabernet sauvignon. For something stronger, there’s a robust Boulevardier ($15) and a martini made with a full-bodied and exclusive collaborative vodka from Grey Goose and Michelin-starred French chef Alain Ducasse ($30).
As with dinner, lunch is lighthearted and easy to love. Along with many of the same offerings as dinner, the midday menu features a selection of paninis and the delightful option to pair a half with soup for $15. The roast beef comes with a rich jus and a side of giardiniera that, while attractive in its finely diced state, lacks the spice that an Italian beef-loving Chicagoan will crave. Another issue we ran into: Everything but the pasta could have been hotter.
Originally, the chef here was meant to be longtime Gibsons hand John Coletta, and Gibsons Italia still bears his mark in some regards. The pasta is made with his preferred Senatore Cappelli flour, and the caserecce is similar to one of his past iterations. But his replacement, executive chef Jose Sosa—a Coletta mentee and chef of 10 years at Gibsons Restaurant Group—has struck a nice balance in dishes that are refined but relatable. Coletta amicably left the restaurant group last year to focus on other projects, giving Sosa a chance to shine. And, like the restaurant itself, he pulls it off with a flair that’s all his own.
233 N. Canal St., 312.414.1100
Mon.-Sat., 11am-midnight; closed Sunday
Antipasti, $12-$24; pasta, $15-$21; entrees, $25-$125; desserts, $9-$15