A Slice of the Italian Riviera

Pizzeria Portofino, the latest concept from the RPM Restaurants crew, transports Chicagoans to the Italian Riviera—one slice at a time.

By Karina Heinrich

Photos by Hsing Chen

July 15, 2019 10:00 AM

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In a city known for deep-dish pizza that can practically be found at every corner, it seems ambitious to even think of entering the pizza arena. But a group of Chicago’s favorite food entrepreneurs feel otherwise. The RPM team of partners including R.J., Jerrod and Molly Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE), acclaimed Chef Doug Psaltis, and celebrity couple Bill and Giuliana Rancic aren’t reinventing the pizza space. Rather, they are setting out to complement the great pizza that already exists in Chicago. 

Pizzeria Portofino opens this month on the Chicago riverfront. This casual Italian-Riviera inspired restaurant is a welcoming sun-drenched space with greenery overhead and floor-to-ceiling windows opening up the restaurant to the Riverwalk. Throughout the year, it will also offer expansive patio seating on its 130-foot outdoor terrace, offering Aegean cotton blankets from Serena & Lily during the cooler months.

Expect Chef Doug Psaltis to bring hand-stretched pizzas, fresh vegetable antipasti and creative artisan pastas to the menu. RPM Beverage Director Richard Hanauer will offer a robust and unique program of spritz drinks—the fizzy wine cocktails native to Padua, Italy—and approachable Italian coastal wines. 

Psaltis is thrilled to be working with amazing salumi artisans in town, including Tony Fiasche from Tempesta. They’ll also be sourcing ingredients directly from Italy. “We depend on our great purveyors like Viola to provide imported fior di latte (cheese) we use for our hand-stretched pizzas. Two menu standouts for me—I love the simple Margherita with crushed Campania tomatoes, imported bufula fior di latte and fresh basil leaves. Also, the hand-stretched Focaccia di Stefano, a cheesy flatbread,” Psaltis shares. “It’s our take on traditional Focaccia di Recco, a regional specialty of Liguria where stracchino cheese is sandwiched between paper-thin sheets of focaccia and baked until crispy.”

Imported burrata from Puglia with Castlevetrano olives, extra-virgin olive oil and thyme leaves served with housemade sesame semolina bread

Here are a few other menu standouts:

  • All of the hand-stretched pizzas are made with stone-ground grains from the midwest like the Capri Carciofi with artichoke, tomato, basil pesto and prosciutto.
  • The Grand Antipasti is an assortment of fresh vegetables (cucumbers, bell peppers, broccolini, turnips, asparagus, baby gem lettuce and cauliflower), plus provolone-stuffed peppers, shrimp, genoa salami, Cerignola olives, artichoke dip and seasoned with our house-made steak salt—a blend of sel gris, black pepper, fried garlic, onion powder, fried thyme, fried rosemary, coriander and oregano.
  • Charcoal Grilled Seafood like the coldwater red prawns and whole-roasted dorade.
  • Plus, lots of great can’t-find-in-Chicago olive oil like Spoleto extra-virgin olive oil from Spoleto, Italy and Iliada extra-virgin olive oil from Iliada, Greece.

When people talk about spritzes, they can never quite recall what was in the drink; however, they remember where they had it. This is Hanauer’s goal. His spritzes, using Giuliana Rancic’s Giuliana Prosecco of course, are very creative, and he shared a few we definitely look forward to enjoying:

  • A classic Aperol Spritz that evokes memories of relaxing on a piazza in Florence.
  • The Venetian Spritz is a very unique style of spritz from one of the great port cities of Italy. It’s made with Aperitivo Select liqueur and garnished with an olive for a slightly heavier style of drink. It has intensity on the palate and a bit of brine. It’s truly one of the great spritzes of the world.
  • He’ll also do a play on the Amalfi Spritz, made with limoncello, as a nod to Naples. Bright, citrusy and refreshing, it’s conducive to drinking in even hotter weather. It also complements the food coming off the Amalfi Coast.

As for wine, this wine program is best enjoyed along the (Chicago) river and with food; they are very complementary to one another. 

  • They’ll be featuring classic wines like Chianti, but also most coming south of Emilia-Romagna.
  • Also coastal wines, which are incredible with seafood. Grapes grown in the vicinity of the sea have their own oceanic profile. Coastal whites are briny, lighter, citrusy and not as full bodied. With the reds, the tannins come down a bit thanks so the higher acid, which goes better with seafood.
  • Super Tuscans will bring the new age of Italian wine to Chicago. Winemakers making these wines aren’t following the tradition of the region or ancient wine laws of Italy. They’re making and breaking the rules without losing any of the flair for Italian cuisine.
All of the hand-stretched pizzas are made with stone-ground grains from the midwest.

And later this fall, within the same space at Pizzeria Portofino, RPM Events On The Water will open its doors as a premier location for private events. RPM On The Water restaurant will open shortly after. Designed by award-winning architecture and design firm Rockwell Group, RPM On The Water will build on the culinary successes of RPM Italian and RPM Steak, and offer Chicago the world’s best fish and seafood paired alongside the RPM’s well-established steak program, award-winning wine lists and incredible service. All providing a waterfront backdrop from practically every vantage point.  

Pizzeria Portofino317 N. Clark St. on the Riverfront, offers lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. pizzeriaportofino.com