Tony Mantuano's Bar Toma opens today in the Gold Coast. But don't let the "bar" in the title confuse you; this place is massive, feeling like every bar Mantuano loved in Italy all jammed in to one space. He did, after all, write a book on the subject. In fact, there are numerous different bars here, including an espresso bar, mozzarella bar, pizza bar, and a regular bar with cocktails and wine. While there is way too much to cover, I was able to stop by yesterday for a media preview to see a little of what is on the menu.
The first impulse is to immediately start comparing it to Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali's Eataly in Manhattan, but Bar Toma is strictly a dining experience, with no groceries or to-go options. Still, it's a hell of an operation. Like everything that Mantuano does, every detail of the restaurant seems to have been agonized over, including the 48-hour fermentation for the pizza dough, the impressive selection of Italian vinegars, and the perfect slicer for the prosciutto. ("You can buy a car, or you can get a Berkel slicer," said Mantuano.)
I was particularly interested in the pizza. Made from a high-gluten bread flour mixed with a little rye, it is made in a special mixer imported from Italy. (Instead of one hook, the machine uses two arms to knead the dough.) As mentioned above, the dough is fermented for 48 hours, and then cooked in the restaurant's enormous wood-burning oven. (They use oak that has been aged for at least a year.) Though Mantuano isn't quite sure how hot the oven gets—"It's way over 650°F," he told me—the pizzas come out in less than two minutes. They feature an impressive amount of char, and yet they are still lighter than you'd imagine.
While I was there, workers were still hanging TVs on the walls and rushing around trying to finish things up. Still, I had a feeling that this is the calmest I'm likely ever to see Bar Toma again. Located right next to the Chicago Water Tower in the heart of the Magnificent Mile, it'll likely be packed at all hours.
You can check out the full menu here, but definitely take a look at some of the dishes you'll be able to find today by clicking on our slideshow.