A Familiar Chicago Name Returns Home With Polenta Boards and More

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After a four-year absence from Chicago, chef Steve Chiappetti has made his return, leading a culinary re-envisioning of the Albert inside the Hotel EMC2 in Streeterville.

The Chiappetti name is well known to Chicagoans. Chiappetti’s grandfather founded Chiappetti Lamb & Veal, one of the last stockyards along Halsted Street. Around the food business all his life, chef Chiappetti made a name for himself at Mango, which was open from 1996 to 2000. During his time at Mango, he earned a James Beard Award nomination for Rising Chef of the Year in 1997.

His resume includes tombstones from many beloved Chicago restaurants from yesteryear including Rhapsody, Café Le Coq, and J. Rocco’s Italian Table. Chiappetti eventually left Chicago. Most recently, he worked as an executive chef for Harrah’s Las Vegas.

“This opportunity came along and it’s such a creative, unique space and I love it,” Chiappetti says. “I guess it kind of is a return, not even just to Chicago but really to the Gold Coast, which is where a lot of my career has been spent.”

A smiling chef with glasses in between copper bots.
Chef Steve Chiappetti is returning home.
The Albert

The Albert opened in May 2017 to a one-star review from the Tribune’s then-food critic Phil Vettel. Just one year in, the restaurant hired Larry Feldmeier who led the kitchen to greater success. Feldmeier gained social media allies for serving a chicken leg that kept the bird’s feet and talons intact — a trend that became a hallmark of 2010s fine dining. For many, that was proof that a downtown hotel restaurant didn’t have to dumb menus down, even for tourists in Streeterville, but Feldmeier moved on to the Bristol in Bucktown, which closed on New Year’s Eve..

The pandemic played chaos with restaurants and hotels. The Albert kept open at a reduced capacity, even offering tips for home cooks and bartenders. Now, nearly three years after March 2020, the Albert is now ready to relaunch with Chiappetti and he’s already begun to make his mark as executive chef.

One of Chiappetti’s initial changes at the Albert included re-tailoring of the restaurant’s menu to feature family-style options. These larger dishes include a 24-ounce bone-in ribeye and a polenta board, which is both a timely adaptation of board-format foods and a callback to the traditional Italian polenta parties Chiappetti remembers from his childhood. “This way it becomes this whole family setting, like when you dine in your own family household,” Chiappetti says.

A cutting board with two pots of sauces and polenta spread.
It’s not a butter board, it’s a polenta board.
The Albert

Service is the other aspect of the restaurant thatChiappetti aims to emphasize. He says he wants servers to feel comfortable bringing their personalities to work “The first thing I tell them all is, ‘I love your personality and I want you to show your individuality, your personality, at the table,’” Chiappetti said. “I’m not here to homogenize it … It feels artificial, and it’s always been that way in the business.”

Chiappetti has taken an intentional approach to liven the dining room by carefully selecting front-of-house staffers who stand out. According to Chiappetti, his changes have already begun to resonate with customers. Since the lauded chef implemented his philosophy, the Albert has seen an increase in the number of large parties booking reservations for celebratory occasions, including business wins, birthdays, and anniversaries.

Over the course of his career, Chiappetti said he’s seen the nation’s dining public become more sophisticated in its tastes and willingness to be challenged at the table. Grant Achatz shook Chicago’s scene up with molecular gastronomy when Alinea opened in 2005. Now, in a COVID-endemic world, Chiappetti thinks guests’ willingness to be challenged during a meal out has been tempered, and that’s why the Albert has begun to see success with its new approach to comforting dining.

“Diners have changed, period. They have grown,” Chiappetti said. “They want to be challenged to a point… They’re looking more for, ‘I’m going out and I want to know that I’m getting my value of that money.’”

the Albert

228 East Ontario Street, , IL 60611 (312) 471-3883 Visit Website

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