Tony Mantuano's Bar Toma is the best thing to happen to the hordes of tourists wandering the Magnificent Mile since... Apple? Nike? Lake Michigan forming from the remnants of primordial seas? Something like that. Mentioning tourists as its natural audience may seem like a backhanded compliment, but it's not; tourists, like Chicagoans, have simple wants (espresso and a cornetto, pizza, gelato) and too often those wants have been satisfied in this area by the likes of "baristas" punching buttons on an automated espresso machines, prefab slice pizza, or candy-bar-brand-name chocolate shops.
Mantuano has taken over the Bistro 110 space at 110 E. Pearson and carved it up into four or five different areas devoted to different types of service, and you could almost compare it to something like Foodlife— get your espresso here, your fried bacalao fritters there. The difference is the quality of what he's serving— a gooey softball of imported burrata wrapped not in plastic, but in leeks; a clam pizza with dried sage grated over it tableside, baked in a wood-burning oven on a crust that spent two days retarding in a cooler; housemade basil gelato that sings of fresh herbs, topped with imported Amareno cherries. This is Spiaggia-level sourcing applied to reasonably-priced Italian snacks for the masses, and it instantly raises the bar for casual Italian food in this part of town. We attended a media preview lunch yesterday and then were given a tour of the restaurant by Mantuano; here's our slideshow look at some of what goes into your experience in Bar Toma and the different areas within it, one day before opening, starting below.BEGIN SLIDESHOW