Kale and caramelized onion pizza has a satisfyingly chewy crust.
Kale and caramelized onion pizza has a satisfyingly chewy crust. Credit: Andrea Bauer

Here is a hard demographic reality, or at least an ignorant guess: if, as we’ve noted in this space before, the area of downtown Chicago north of the river and west of Michigan Avenue is a clubby, bejeweled but no less vomit-encrusted gutter for Chicago’s young uncreative classes, the area just east of Michigan is where the disposably incomed go when they grow up, or at least want a good night’s sleep. “So what are we celebrating tonight?” a host at Tre Soldi, on Ohio Street, asked my boyfriend and me one evening, having discerned we were the only people in the restaurant who weren’t obviously tourists or Streeterville condo board members. “Having an employer who’ll buy my meal if I write about it” seemed like an infelicitous answer, so I just shrugged, awkwardly, and scratched a nit out of my hair.

What’s funny is that Tre Soldi is not terribly fancy or, on the scale of respectable downtown restaurants, particularly expensive. It’s a casual trattoria knockoff that turns out good, if not thrilling, Roman-style food under the direction of chef Brandon Wolff, late of the Signature Room; it’s in the Coco Pazzo family of restaurants. Wolff told DNAinfo a while back that vegetables are “big” in the Lazio region, which contains Rome, and this menu opens with a simple and well-executed list of them. For instance fagioli—cool, refreshing, green and yellow beans scattered with pecorino and little bits of pancetta—and a plate of beets piled with sheep’s-milk cheese and mixed greens. Both of these had hints of vinegar on the plate, though they could’ve used a little more—a bigger acidic kick. But the veggies were cooked perfectly.

The addition of fried zucchini, meanwhile, enlivens calamari, or it’s supposed to. It was scarcely in evidence, but something that wasn’t listed on the menu turned out to be the dish’s happiest treat: thinly sliced fried lemon wheels. On this particular night there were also expertly battered stuffed squash blossoms, served with a velvety tomato and basil sauce.

As for the pastas, they too are solidly cooked and decent enough. I found the amatriciana a little tinny; better was the chittarine, squid-ink noodles with clams and broccolini, a salutary vegetable on any plate. So is kale, which tops a pizza that also includes caramelized onions, mozzarella, and Parmesan—it’s a little greasy and a bit cloying, but the crust is satisfyingly chewy. A half chicken with peperonata—tomato, onion, bell pepper, herbs—suffered a minor grease problem, but it yielded no further complaints. And the seared skin was killer.

This all looks good on paper, doesn’t it? So does the cocktail menu, which leans heavily on Italian bitter liqueurs. But the drinks are too sweet, except for the one that isn’t: an extremely ill-advised combination that uses citrus to bring out the more unfortunate mouthwash flavors latent—or blatant, I guess, depending on the level of your tolerance—in Branca Menta. Nothing marries the two elements, though it gets more drinkable as the ice melts. Did anybody behind the bar happen to sample this one?

You could ask the same thing of the tiramisu: pastry chef Hillary Rikower’s version deprives the dessert of its most fabulous quality—that wonderful lightness—in favor of a dense, grainy pile of white chocolate mascarpone. It’s not very sweet; the cointerpoint to that is layers of sugary “mocha streusel,” which aren’t very good either.