Tony Mantuano's Gold Coast restaurant Bar Toma (Lenny Gilmore/RedEye )
110 E. Pearson St. 312-266-3110
Rating: !!! (out of four) Off to a good start
The scene: Spiaggia chef Tony Mantuano’s new Italian bar and eatery in the old Bistro 110 space just off Michigan Avenue is a good enough reason for locals to brave one of the tourist-trappiest parts of downtown. Once inside, the toughest choice is where to eat: the stand-up espresso bar in front, the bar on the east side, the pizza bar on the west side, the four-seat mozzarella bar in back or any of the dining areas in between.
The food: Thin-crust pizzas ($14-$18) aren’t Neopolitan in style; rather, they’re inspired by Mantuano’s favorite pizzeria in Rome and have a heftier raised crust. A dozen-plus options range from a simple margherita to a decadent goat cheese-topped pie with leeks, dates and hazelnuts. The rest of the menu is divided up into bar plates (from orange-stuffed olives to lamb skewers with black truffle and garlic), Roman-style fritti (fried snacks such as calamari or sweetbreads), salads and mozzarella plates.
The drinks: Wine by the bottle or on tap ($10 a glass for a nice red or white blend) seems the most fitting. Cocktails ($12) include the Spreetz, a phonetically spelled take on northern Italy’s popular spritz cocktail.
Loved it: The bomba. I am almost as excited about this pillowy sort-of pizza as Tony Mantuano must be, considering it’s printed as “BOMBA!” on the menu. Picture a big circle of pizza dough, only blown up like a balloon and draped with silky prosciutto and parmesan shavings. After the server deflated it at the table with a knife and drizzled it with olive oil, my friend and I were in heaven.
Hated it: Man, that mozzarella is expensive. I know imported cheese doesn’t come cheap, but I don’t see myself springing for the trio of cheeses at $22 or the grand tasting of four with fixings for $39. I got my cheese fix with a seared slab of the namesake toma cheese with lemon marmalata for $7.
Bottom line: Not every single thing was a perfect 10, but the bomba and toma cheese alone are worth braving the sugared-up tourists weaving between Hershey’s and Ghirardelli next door.