You know that point when a television show introduces a main character’s long-lost sibling out of nowhere? This person might be flashier and more exciting than the character you’ve come to love, but ultimately, after serving a purpose plot-wise, he or she fades into the background. Gibsons Italia, an upscale Italian spot in River West, is like the TV twin of Gibsons Steakhouse. While it isn’t bad, it’s not as reliable as the original.
We can’t talk about Italia without first discussing the original Gibsons, which is about as iconic and popular in Chicago as the ’85 Bears. It’s been around since 1989, and looks like it. There’s a massive collection of celebrity photographs in the entryway (you’ll see a lot of shoulder pads in those pictures), and there are old-school phone jacks in the dining room. Patrons here range from people in suits to tourists in sweatshirts, and even though it’s in the Gold Coast, it’s not fancy or overly expensive. It’s a great, classic spot for a steak and a six-pound slice of carrot cake.
Gibsons Italia differs from it sibling spot in a few significant ways. The main one, obviously, is its Italian theme - the menu here features antipasti, pastas, and entrees like veal Milanese and pork Fiorentina. But the space itself is also a departure from the dark, old-fashioned ambience of the Steakhouse. Italia’s interior is bright and modern, with three floors, a retractable roof, and giant windows looking out on the river.
All these things seem promising. But unfortunately, the Italian dishes here are somewhat boring, and vary wildly in terms of quality. Starter-wise, some menu items - like the meatballs - are quite good. But others, like the arancini (which are dry, and have an overpowering gorgonzola filling), are disappointing. Same deal with the pastas and entrees: there’s a fusilli served in a flavorful beef sugo, but the spaghettini al pomodoro is bland and skippable. The veal Milanese is thick, and so is its breading, making it unpleasantly dry overall.
Luckily, Italia recognizes that it can’t completely abandon its sibling, so there’s a significant section of the menu devoted to Gibsons steaks. Like the steaks you’ll get at the Gold Coast Gibsons, these are very well-cooked, so our recommendation is to focus on the red meat when you’re here. In other words, this is a handy spot for when you want a Gibsons steak with an impressive river view - or when you don’t want to risk being surrounded a group of sweaty people who just finished a Chicago walking tour. Generally speaking, though, we’d send you to the Steakhouse instead, for its overall stronger menu and classic Chicago feel.
Gibsons Italia serves good steaks and disappointingly average Italian food in a really pretty setting. Even if you’re not directly comparing it to its likable sister spot, it’s a bit underwhelming. But when you do compare it to the original, it’s clear that while Italia - like that fictional TV twin - might be OK for guest appearances, it isn’t strong enough to have its own series.
Tender meatballs, served in a flavorful sauce. These are good.
This isn’t terrible, but it is a bit boring. The carpaccio is in serious need of salt, and the grilled bread it comes with is the best thing about it.
This dish falls flat for a few reasons. The arancini are dense and dry, and the shaved truffles on top absorb whatever moisture is left in your mouth. Plus, the gorgonzola cheese stuffing is overpowering.
The gorgonzola works a lot better here than in the arancini. This is a wedge salad with tomatoes, pancetta, walnuts, and a tasty, cheesy dressing. It’s a good thing to have on the table.
Well-cooked pasta in a rich and flavorful beef sugo. Make sure you have some bread to sop up the extra sauce.
This pasta has an olive oil-based sauce, asparagus, and ricotta. The texture of the caserecce is perfect for holding onto the sauce, and the whole thing is a lighter alternative to the fusilli.
The pomodoro sauce in this dish is pretty bland, and the thin noodles end up being too soft. Skip.
Unfortunately, this entree is pretty dull. It’s on the thick side, with a heavy breading, and the salad on the plate doesn’t add anything. You’re better off getting a steak.
Gibsons does steak very well across the board - they even have their own USDA certification. They take this sh*t seriously, and it shows. Luckily, this dedication has transferred to Gibsons Italia. Definitely get a steak here.
This is a pretty fancy potato. It’s partially hollowed out, filled with mashed potato and ricotta, and topped with a parmesan sauce and truffles. It’s very good.
Gibsons just seems to handle protein well, period. This is a great dish, with salmon cooked medium rare and served with mushrooms, brussels sprout leaves, and a butternut squash puree. Is it the most creative fish dish we’ve ever had? Nope, but it’s cooked and seasoned well, and very tasty.