Fabio Viviani finds a ‘Life After Top Chef’ in Chicago
BY LORI RACKL TV Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 6, 2012 12:56PM
"Top Chef" alum Fabio Viviani plans to open his new 200-seat eatery Siena Tavern in January. | Al Podgorski~Chicago Sun-Times
Updated: December 8, 2012 6:31AM
One of “Top Chef’s” all-time fan favorites, Florence native Fabio Viviani is about to launch his third restaurant — and his first in Chicago.
“I love this city. Great food scene. A lot of great chefs. It’s just a good place to be,” said Viviani, one of the stars of the new Bravo series “Life After Top Chef,” airing at 8 p.m. Wednesdays.
Shortly after Viviani relocated from Italy to California in 2005 he began doing business with a Chicago-based wine company, which entailed frequent trips to the Midwest.
“I made good friendship and some of those happen to be restaurant owners,” he said in his thick Italian accent. “We start with an idea and now we have an actual project.”
That project is Siena Tavern, a sprawling, 200-seat eatery scheduled to open at 51 W. Kinzie at the end of January. Equipped with a large outdoor patio, the restaurant will serve lunch and dinner daily. Customers can sip cocktails into the wee hours in the lounge.
Siena Tavern’s cuisine, described as “traditional with a modern twist,” includes a crudo (raw) bar and cheese plates among the appetizers, pasta dishes and a hearty Florentine steak for two. The wood-fired pizza oven cranks out 16 pies at a time. “It’s amazing; If it were a car, it would be like a Ferrari,” Viviani said during a recent trip to Chicago to hammer out the menu’s details.
“We took the best of the rustic Italian food and Italian décor and combined it with a very modern building,” he added. “It’s like getting the best Italian mom and pop trattoria and slapping that in the middle of River North.”
Viviani has partnered with David Rekhson and Lucas Stoioff of the DineAmic Group, the same crew behind Bull & Bear and Public House.
This isn’t the first time DineAmic has worked with “Top Chef” talent. The company collaborated with former Chicago contestant Dale Levitski on its first project, the swanky lounge-eatery-“liquor spa” Stone Lotus, which it sold in 2010.
Rekhson, Stoioff and Viviani recently traveled around Italy to get inspiration for their latest venture.
“We took my grandfather around the nation — well, he took us — to a bunch of places, really hole-in-the-wall kind of style,” Viviani said. They videoed their adventure and plan to post it online soon. “First we’re trying to cut some stuff out. There was a lot of wine involved.”
Voted fan favorite on season five of “Top Chef: New York,” Viviani, 34, has made the most of his television fame. He appeared in commercials for Domino’s Pizza and is host of the weekly Internet cooking show “Chow Ciao!” on Yahoo.com. He has his own line of ceramic cookware. His latest cookbook, Fabio’s Italian Kitchen, is due out this spring.
“I work very hard so my private life, it’s kind of sucky a little bit,” said Viviani, who’s divorced. (“No children and she took the dog.”) “My status now, I’m a professional dater.”
Viviani recently bought a house in California, where he owns two restaurants. But he said the Second City will be like his second home thanks to Siena Tavern, where chef David Blonsky will oversee the day-to-day operations.
“Of course I have other business, other restaurants to run,” Viviani said. “But I’m in Chicago pretty much every week, every other week. I’ll be very present and hands-on.”