I was fortunate enough to be in Chicago over Valentine’s Day. I say fortunate, because Spiaggia is on the corner of Lake Shore and Michigan overlooking “the beach” on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. I was sure to capture a reservation some six weeks out, knowing of Spiaggia’s reputation from several ChefTalk-ers. “Can we send you a copy of the menu, sir?” With that, I knew my wife and I were in for an anniversary dinner to remember. And, alas, the emailed menu proved only to be problematic. Problematic because the selection process proved too daunting; so many fantastic offerings and only one night to enjoy them. We arrived fifteen minutes before our reservation; concerned that traffic on Valentine’s Day would be problematic. The only problematic part of navigating traffic was the taxi driver who insisted on the scenic view, without our even requesting the scenic view. Eighteen dollars lighter for what should have been an 8-block taxi ride, we strolled into the lounge to await our table. Barely halfway through an expertly prepared screwdriver (juice squeezed a la minute) our host arrived silver tray in hand to caddy our beverages to our table. The captain greeted us swiftly and explained the night’s prix fixe selections. To start, she explained, was the arduous task of making the selections for our first through third courses. She didn’t exactly say “arduous”, but with the amazing selections from which to choose, it was not going to be easy. I was prepared for this. The anticipatory menu that arrived a few weeks earlier prepared me for this. Well sort of. You, see, given that this was the moment of truth, all the speculating as to what I was going to order fell by the way side. My wife went with the Grapefruit salad with microgreens, hazelnuts and honey dressing. I opted for the olive oil and butter poached shrimp with chic pea paste. The amuse bouche from the kitchen was a pair of oysters on their half shell with a dollop of tomato sorbetto. Small, delicate mollusks, obviously just shucked were an exciting flavor with the complimentary chilly tomato zest of the sorbetto. Also arriving was the bread service. The server explained the five selections of breads, including my favorite, the ciabiatta with its tell-tale holes in between flour imbedded crust that snapped with each bite. My wife opted for delicate bread sticks that resembled a drinking straw meets a steam roller. They were flat and about 8-inches in length and delicate. The shrimp was unbelievably tender and ripe with amazing flavor. I was speculative about the chic peas’ role in the dish, but when teamed with the buttery allure of the shrimp was opulent. The head-on presentation with the quenelle-shaped paste was straightforward and appealing. My wife, not usually a fan of grapefruit, was sure to comment on her surprise at the great flavor of her selection. She is known for being a finicky eater; the wife of a chef, and she is finicky. There is no explaining some things. The second course brought guitar string spaghetti with lobster for me. The pasta was delicate but not without requisite al dente texture. It was yet another difficult decision. There was a gnocchi selection that piqued my interest, as well. The portion of lobster was more then generous. A ravioletto tucked with ricotta with a red wine sauce was to my wife’s liking. It was a pasta pillow that was hearty and flavorful without being weighty. It was here that my wife, after a half bottle of Riesling from the 40+ page wine list, explained she wanted to sing about her enjoyment of the meal thus far. There was no pretension with the habitual topping off of the water goblets after every sip. Nor was there stuffiness to the arrival of silverware suited for the forthcoming dish. There was no shortage of attention to detail. Our captain walked my wife to the restroom rather than merely pointing her in the right direction. The service was comfortable and professional, rather than forced and uneasy. I am not, by my election to eat in an apparently healthier manner, a meat eater. With the age of Atkins, North Beach, Mad Cow and Avian Flu, I am not sure which is the lesser of two evils, I set aside any thought process for my meal and went purely primal; I went with whatever appealed most. The Colorado roasted lamb chops with a ‘mash’ of roasted garlic and artichokes and roasted lamb ribs was amazing. The meat was tender and showed off so much flavor in a straightforward manor rather than imbue the creativity of the kitchen. Sometimes the discipline of a good cook is to know when less is more. The garnish spoke volumes of the kitchen’s ability to perform. The roasted lamb ribs were paper-thin slices of lamb that defined why it tastes so good to gnaw on bone at the end of a meal. And what an unusual accompaniment. The roasted garlic amalgam was a brilliant compliment; a dab on each slice of medium-pink lamb was a stroke of genius in this expertly contrived dish. My wife was equally thrilled with her wood-roasted salmon. It was cooked a perfect medium, which by this point of the evening was a forgone conclusion. It was minimally seasoned and given an honest presentation with its grilled cabbage accompaniment. I have the habit of twirling my fork along its axis when I am taking my time enjoying a particularly tasty mouthful. It was somewhere during this part of the meal that my hand began to cramp from so much twirling. The cheese course was next. Three specimens arrived garnished with pear and quince paste, paper-thin slices of fruited bread and a smear of 25 year-old balsamic. The ash-laden goat cheese was creamy and lacking the characteristic acrid aftertaste of cheap chevre. Rather, the flavor was well rounded and mellow. The Santa Maria was elegantly paired with the fruity attention of the pastes. Did I mention the balsamic was like syrup? There was too much pleasure on one plate. Really. Alas, dessert was afoot. Two pages of selections, including beignettes that my wife chose, was a spectrum suited to please every dessertly whim. I asked our captain to choose from the gelato selections. A selection of almond-lemon, pistachio and vanilla arrived nestled in little fluted butter-sugar tuille cookies. Without resorting to cliché each was better than the next. There was an absolute understanding that taste buds are dulled in the presence of cold; the flavors were not shy, bashful or otherwise muted. There was a chorus of taste that sang lustfully after each taste awaiting the next. To round out the meal, a two-tiered, glass and mirror jewelry box of little chocolate whimsies and cookies, including amazing biscotti, concluded the meal. Miles beyond mere mints or petite fore at the end of a meal. I had arranged earlier in the evening to have an anniversary necklace brought to the table to surprise my wife. Alas, it was nestled in the jewelry box amidst the chocolates. They had done a perfect job of not only effortlessly delivering the prize for my wife’s tolerance of putting up with me for ten years, but allowed us to share in our most memorable dining experience. We left in awe.