Story and photos by guest blogger Seanan Forbes
Ah, the U.S. Open: tennis, sunshine, some of the world's top athletes, stars watching athletes, people watching stars watching athletes . . .
Wherever there are masses, there will be shops, attractions, distractions, kiosks, advertisements and, of course, food and drink. If you're craving an over-boiled hot dog and a watered-down soda, then here's a tip: Don't go to Tony Mantuano's wine bar.
Rita Garza, senior director of corporate communications for the United States Tennis Association, says, "The U.S. Open is the greatest sporting event in the world, and food should go with that." According to Garza, the wine bar is "the most magical place you can be on the ground."
As of this year, there are two wine bars. Like temporary art exhibits, they are not here - or there - to stay. "None of this existed two weeks ago," Mantuano observes, "and it'll all be gone in five days."
Steve Paluck, line cook at Terzo Piano ("line cook extraordinaire," Mantuano murmurs) is in New York working in Mantuano's pop-up restaurant and enjoying a rare treat: watching people respond to what he's prepared.
"The people who come to this wine bar are blown away . . . They're sitting in a hallway, but it's turned into something luxurious," he says.
He's speaking of the club-level wine bar. Indoors, away from the sunshine, it is cooler but smaller than the original. The crew doesn't have much room to work in. The patrons would have space to sprawl, if only more of them would stay away. They don't. They come in thirsty hordes. Hungry, too. They tear into bread rubbed with tomatoes and draped with jamon and Manchego. They eat shrimp sauteed in olive oil with garlic, jalapeno and potatoes, flamed with ouzo. The taste takes Mantuano to Greece - "Santorini, like I'm on a yacht somewhere."
Patrons can't know it, but they're tasting a Mantuano travelogue. Chicagoans are savvier. Anybody who's eaten at Spiaggia knows that it's where food from all Italian regions comes to plate.