The Behind the Scenes series entails insight from behind the chef’s counter and a restaurant’s outlook of its past, present, and future.
Calling its home in the ever so popular Restaurant Row neighborhood and being sister location to Siena Tavern, Bar Siena has had big “success-shoes” to fill – even before opening. Developing its own style, groove, and even a new menu was a huge task to overcome. However, BS has leaped and surpassed all expectations. To hear the rest of BS’s story and for a sneak peak of how to make BS’s Prosciutto & Fig thin crust, keep following below…
David Rekhson – Principal/Founder
Lucas Stoioff – Principal/Founder
What was the inspiration behind BS (and even BomboBar)?
LS: When we first created Siena Tavern, much of our inspiration came from a quaint, casual and energetic bar and restaurant called La Taverna in Siena, Italy. That inspiration led us to create a more polished and expansive version better suited for River North. Bar Siena is closer to our original inspiration in size, style and energy. The BomboBar idea came from our most popular dessert at Bar Siena and Siena Tavern, the bomboloni. A bomboloni is an Italian style donut dusted with sugar and filled with various flavored fillings. We had an area in the restaurant that was just enough room and a perfect location for a walk-up window off of Green Street. We decided to build out this area to serve coffee and pastries, as well as bombolonis, at the window and call it “BomboBar.”
What has been the biggest struggle since opening?
DR: The greatest* struggle of opening BomboBar was converting our expertise from dine-in restaurants to a carry out/ fast casual concept. It’s easy for us to serve a couple who is dining at Bar Siena a scoop of house made gelato, however when a little league team of 30 shows up and wants 50 items at once, it changes your perspective.
What are the most popular dishes / how often is menu rotated?
LS: Our pizzas are probably some of the most popular items at Bar Siena. The Spicy Pork Coppa and Prosciutto Fig Pizza are some of the most commonly ordered pizzas. Each pizza is cooked in our red mosaic oven, handmade by Marra Forni, which heats up to 600 degrees. The oven is named, “Bella” and is known to be the hottest girl in town. The oven cooks the pizzas to perfection with a crispy crust and flavorful toppings. The Prosciutto Fig pizza comes with spiced pistachio, taleggio and local honey providing a perfect juxtaposition of sweet and salty. Also, our desserts are very popular. One of the more popular items is the Italian dessert, bomboloni. These holeless donuts are first fried and rolled in sugar, then injected with different fillings, such as a salted caramel or the mixed berry filling. It gives the sweet-tooth lover something that is satisfactory following a savory meal.
“As the seasons change, so does our menu.”
DR: We rotate a portion of our menu items quarterly. We look to source the freshest and most seasonal ingredients and create dishes around those ingredients, rather than the other way around. Summer is patio season – so we look for lighter more refreshing options versus the wintertime, when the cold Chicago climate calls for heartier comfort foods to keep our patrons warm.
What separates Bar Siena from Siena Tavern?
LS: Although Bar Siena is the sister property of Siena Tavern, the two restaurants are very different. One, the location of each restaurant sets the tone for the atmosphere around them. Bar Siena is located in the West Loop, which can be a more casual vibe and Siena Tavern is located in River North. Also, with the different locations, Bar Siena and Siena Tavern have completely different menus. Chef Fabio Viviani has helped us create both menus for the restaurants, but after creating the dishes for Siena Tavern, we decided to go a more cicchetti (shared plates) style at Bar Siena. So while guests dine at each of the restaurants they will be able to try different pasta dishes. They can have the Sweet Corn Ravioli at Bar Siena and the Squid Ink Linguini at Siena Tavern.
When is the easiest time to grab a seat without waiting?
DR: We are lucky to be in a part of town that is constantly energetic. Although evening time at Bar Siena can get pretty hectic, the best way to get a last minute seat is to come in and snag a spot at the bar. We offer our full menu and it is my absolute favorite part of the restaurant, perfect to cozy up and watch the action unfold in our open kitchen with a slice of pizza and a beer.