Recently a friend of mine introduced me to the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. She’s smart, funny, spontaneous, and stunningly attractive. We had a few cocktails, and she agreed to have dinner with me. I really wanted to continue seeing her, so I knew the place I chose for us had to deliver an experience we’d remember. I knew that a large part of this first impression would be the environment I brought us to. I needed her to know that I’m someone who’s consistent and genuine. Someone she can rely on.
Another friend of mine recommended taking her to Merlo on Maple, an elegant, intimate, classic Northern Italian restaurant tucked away on a quiet street in the Gold Coast.
I got to Merlo a little early, and our server, Sam, helped me arrange a corner table ahead of time with special Burgundy glasses, a crystal decanter, a small bouquet of roses I’d bought, and a card I’d written for her. When my date and I first sat down, Sam explained the history of the building to us, which we both found very impressive. How many restaurants come with a romantic past that goes back over a hundred years? Sam helped us to find a delicious Pinot Noir from Northern Italy that she absolutely loved. She even snapped a picture of it with her iPhone so that she’d remember to buy a few bottles when she went shopping for wine. Sam recommended a tasting of antipasti and some great specials (we didn’t even have to look at the menus) and then gave us the privacy we needed to talk and get to know each other. His timing and consideration were impeccable, which I know she appreciated because she was very nervous (so was I). For the main course, my date had a truffle risotto that she kept saying was the best Italian dish she’d ever had. I had a ribeye that had been braised for twenty-four hours. It was so tender that each bite literally melted on my tongue. We were both so relaxed and contented by the time we finished that we didn’t even order dessert. Just two cappuccinos and another thirty minutes of great conversation. Perfect. I ended up walking her home. The whole night was magical.
We’ve been on three dates now, and we still talk about the experience we had at Merlo. It’s like an instant bond for us. I’m really hoping Merlo will become that special place we come back to each year to celebrate our anniversary.
Thank you so much, Sam. Thank you so much, Merlo.
Learn why we are the most romantic restaurant in Chicago
Merlo on Maple has been my mainstay over the years. As an attorney who deals largely with contacts, I get worn out by the extensive minutiae of my career.
(admittedly, I dine there twice a week sometimes). I catch up on a lot of personal reading. Silvia’s beef medallions are first-rate: just the right amount of aged balsamic to bring out the highest expression of their flavor. I appreciate the quietness, efficiency, and knowledgeable staff (I think David, the bartender, has introduced me to at least three different Italian wines I now buy regularly for my condo), and the familial atmosphere (Silvia and Giampaolo, the proprietors, are dear friends to me).
If you’re a true foodie and haven’t heard of this little Gold Coast gem, go.
Luisa Silvia Marani, the Chef de cuisine, spent most of her life in Bologna and learned how to cook from her mother, who learned how to cook from her mother, who learned how to cook from her mother. These recipes are passed down through the generations. Chef Silvia imports whatever ingredients she needs to from all over the world on a daily basis to make sure each recipe is just right. She told us that she even had a specific machine shipped in from Italy so she could make her gelato the right way. Order the specials (they always have something exquisite off the menu) and do a tasting.
Last time we were there, our server, Jesse (the best!) put together an antipasti and primi course (little tastings of seasonal mushrooms, homemade pastas, etc.) for us before our main courses. I had the Muscovy duck stuffed with veal, spiced sausage, and twenty-four-month-old Parmigiano. Oh. My. God. The Italian wine selection is excellent, too: Barolos, Brunellos, super Tuscans. David, the sommelier, will help you find the perfect wine for what you’re eating.
Last week I had colleagues in from out of town. My secretary made a reservation for us at Merlo on Maple, which I hadn’t heard of. I’d been to many of the big steakhouses on business: Gibsons, Smith & Wollensky. Always way too crowded and loud, and the staff invasive. But Merlo, much to my surprise, ended up being just the opposite. My colleagues and I had a quiet table on the second floor. After we were served a nice bottle of wine, our waiter offered to put together a tasting of appetizers and pastas for us. He suggested a few specials for our main course. “You’re not here to work,” he said. “You’re here to relax.” Even though we were, in fact, there to work, it was very refreshing to hear. One less thing. From that point forward, we were presented with delicious food on a timely basis and for the most part left to discuss what we needed to. I’ll be booking all my business dinners at Merlo.
The food was exquisite. Several people told me your osso bucco was the best they’d ever had. I’d never eaten pasta with a veal ragout before. Delicious!
The Garden Room ended up being really spacious and cozy for thirty of us. Thanks also letting us set up the projector for our PowerPoint presentation (not a lot of restaurants do that), and for working within our budget.
Let’s stay in touch for future events!
Thanks for hosting our networking event!
Find out why so many successful business meetings in Chicago take place at Merlo on Maple
I brought my family to Merlo. The dining room reminded me of the Tuscan villa my wife and I stayed at on our honeymoon: the antique wood, framed windows, mahogany china cabinet, old cookbooks lying around.
Food was outstanding.
Our server (Nicole, really knowledgable) helped us do tastings of antipasti and homemade pasta. Then my wife and I had the slow-braised osso bucco and lamb shank. Literally fell off the bone. The boys had the chef’s classic tagliatelle bolognese, which they loved. Nice to give them a cultural experience like this (show them a little of their heritage). We did this incredible bottle of Brunello (Nicole’s recommendation). La Fuga, I think it’s called. I snapped a picture of the bottle. The owner, Giampaolo, came over and told us a little bit more about the history of the restaurant and some of the recipes during dessert. Very cordial gentleman. We had a lot of fun.
The Rawsons will be back!
Ask your concierge about Merlo on Maple!
On our last night in Chicago, my husband and I wanted to eat something other than steak. Don’t get me wrong, Chicago has some amazing steakhouses, but that heavy American fare gets so boring after a while. Our concierge at the Talbott recommended Merlo on Maple, this little gem of a restaurant in a neighborhood called the Gold Coast.
From the moment we walked in the front door (the front door to a charming house that’s a hundred years old, by the way), we were greeted by some of the most friendly staff I think I’ve ever encountered in a restaurant. Our host led us to this beautiful, quiet, candle-lit, white-linen table in a room that was adorned with dimmed lights in the shape of candelabras. Our server, Harmony, approached us right away and took us through the history of the restaurant, the wine selections, the specials, the menus. I felt like I was listening to an audio recording of a classic, seventeenth-century novel made just for me. In fact, my husband and I didn’t even end up opening our menus. We let Harmony put together a three-course meal for us. Every portion was just the right size. The flavors were to die for: sautéed eggplant that melted in our mouths, homemade pasta with seasonal mushrooms and truffle oil, zucchini-and-almond crusted salmon (wild catch). And all of this was accompanied by a lovely, fruit-forward Barolo that Harmony selected for us. For dessert, we shared a panna cotta dipped in melted dark chocolate. Being from Boston, we’d both had our fair share of panna cottas, but this was definitely the best we’d ever had. By the time we stepped back out into the Chicago night, after having been thanked by everyone from the bus boy to the owner, we felt like we’d emerged from a lucid dream.
Best night in Chicago. Best meal in Chicago.