Not far from the glitzy dining and shopping destinations that line Rush Street in River North, Adalina is yet another high-profile Italian restaurant that has quickly become a hot reservation. Boasting a prominent chef (Soo Ahn, formerly of Michelin-starred Band of Bohemia) and ownership with experience running local nightclubs and steakhouses, it’s a spot with pedigree to spare. And if you enjoy a lively scene with your meal, Adalina might offer your kind of dining experience—if not, you’re in for a rude awakening.
Upon entering Adalina’s second-floor dining room, it quickly became clear that my date and I would quite literally be rubbing elbows with our fellow diners (even late on a Tuesday night). Tables are crammed into the space, forcing you to squeeze through narrow lanes when you need to get up from your seat. The sheer number of people in the restaurant also makes for a noisy meal—even when my date and I moved closer to one another, it was difficult to hear above the din. I felt sympathy for the tuxedo-clad servers, all of whom clearly had to do a bit of lip-reading while taking some orders.
Once we’d successfully transmitted our order to our server and food began to arrive, our first bites didn’t exactly get the meal off on the right foot. The cacio e pepe arancini made with forbidden black rice sounded great on paper, but the fried rice balls had a somewhat unpleasant gummy texture to them—at least by the time they arrived at our table. A caesar salad was laden with big pieces of lettuce and grated truffle that only served to overpower the black garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano included in the dish in a rather unpleasant way.
We had better luck with a pair of entrees, which eschewed unconventional ingredients, presenting a more straightforward interpretation of familiar Italian dishes. The noodles in a mafaldine served with artichoke and almond were perfectly chewy and firm, garnished with a red chile sauce that packed just enough heat. And the filet tagliata arrived drizzled in an eight-year aged balsamic that added some additional depth and flavors to a superbly-cooked steak.
Some shaky dishes aside, the experience of dining at Adalina seems like an acquired taste. If you’re comfortable in a noisy crowd of folks enjoying expensive bottles of wine and indulging in opulent shellfish towers and Wagyu steaks alongside more approachable pasta, this flashy River North restaurant might feel like home. But if you’re looking for a cozy Italian spot with an intimate atmosphere that allows for easy conversation with your dining companions, Adalina ain’t it—at least not on a crowded night.
The vibe: Crowned with tables set amidst a glitzy chandelier and vintage mirrors, the second floor-dining room gets loud when it’s at capacity, feeling a bit like a fancy club where nearly everyone happens to be eating pasta.
The food: You’ll find plenty of gussied-up Italian staples here, including handmade pasta, seafood, steaks and salads. We enjoyed the traditional pastas and meats more than the dishes stacked with superfluous truffles and ‘njuda.
The drink: An expansive wine list packed with pricey bottles that seem to be aimed at diners maxing out their expense accounts. Don’t worry, there are also some more affordable options available by the glass.