Since 2012, RPM Italian has been packing diners into River North with its modern take on Italian fare. Opened by celeb couple Giuliana and Bill Rancic alongside siblings R.J., Jerrod, and Molly Melman of the hospitality group Lettuce Entertain You, the restaurant continues, throughout its impressive decade-long run, to be booked out months in advance. And for good reason.
The vibe — chic and contemporary, complete white leather seats and high-touch service — sets the mood for a luxurious night out. As far as the menu goes, it’s versatile, with an Italian comfort-food backbone: think antipasto like red sauce-smothered prime beef meatballs, high-end steaks like a Gorgonzola-cured wagyu, and housemade pastas like Mama DePandi’s bucatini pomodoro (reportedly Giuliana’s mother’s recipe).
If you’re wondering how you can snag a seat at RPM Italian, you’ve come to the right place. In our ongoing series, The One Who Keeps The Books, we get insider knowledge about getting into hard-to-book restaurants and spill what you need to know to have the best time once you’re in. We sat down with RPM Italian’s general manager Adam Biolchin, who shared with us when and how to snag a seat through Resy, what to order, and a few fun stories.
And of course, if you happen to be heading on the road, don’t forget there’s also RPM Italian in Las Vegas, where all the advice also applies.)
Resy: How many seats are at RPM Italian?
Biolchin: Right around 300 seats.
When do your reservations drop on Resy?
Reservations are released every day at noon 45 to 60 days out.
How many covers do you usually have on a typical night?
Right now we’re averaging 500-700 covers a night.
How quickly do reservations get booked?
Large party reservations get booked pretty quickly. For smaller reservations, depending on the day of the week, guests can pick them up probably a week or two out. Obviously, it’s busier on Friday and Saturdays than on weekdays. Saturday night around 7 p.m. is always the busiest time of the week for us. We send confirmation emails 12 hours before the reservation itself and we’ve generally found that as soon as we send those out, we lose a couple of reservations. So sometimes within that 12-hour window, you might be able to get a seat. It’s kind of the secret back door to getting a last-minute reservation.
On a typical night, how long is the Resy Notify list?
We love the Notify List! Once those confirmation text messages go out, we always lose a few covers. Notify is great because it immediately reaches out to people and slides them in. It’s a great system for us and allows us to be pretty flexible. Typically on Fridays and Saturdays the Notify List can get a little lengthy, with 25 or more names.
It’s 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, can you set the scene?
Walking in, you’re transported to a different planet. The street noise and lights are shielded from view and you come into a dimly lit dining room, framed by white curtains to the left, and the bustling cocktail bar to the right. From there, depending on which direction you choose, you can have an intimate date night or a more energetic bar scene.
Do you hold any seats for walk-ins?
Yes! We hold hightops in the bar and lounge area (which is adjacent to the bar) for walk-ins. In my opinion, it’s the most vibrant area of the restaurant. The full menu is available there and it’s the same style of service and the same servers you would get in the dining room. It’s just a little more casual and a little more energetic.
Every night of the week starting around 5:30 or 6 p.m., the bar and lounge tables fill up and people around the bar start to enjoy themselves. The chatter of the customers and the energy from the bartenders make it really lively. I don’t know too many places in River North where you can get that energy and have a great cocktail at the same time. You’re either going nightclub style or you’re going to a quiet cocktail bar. There aren’t many in between, and I think we do a great job of hitting that middle ground.
If someone wants to test their luck and walk in without a reservation, what time should they arrive and how long will they wait for a table?
It’s a tricky question because it depends on the night. But generally, we find that before 7 p.m. you can just walk in and when there is a wait, it will normally be around 45 minutes. But there are always different parts of the restaurant where we can funnel people to if they’re into it. At the main bar, I’ve got about 32 seats, and then I’ve got my service bar on the other side of the dining room, called the Amaro Bar, where people can also go.
What’s the Amaro Bar?
We’ve got four seats that used to be held just for VIPs we wanted to sneak in at the last minute. Now we’ve sort of opened that up to everybody, but you do have to ask for it, to know that it’s there.
Can customers grab a drink at the bar while they wait for their table, and what should they drink if so?
It’s encouraged! We make our own vermouth here, so I think that our Negronis are particularly special. We take four or five different vermouths and blend them to make a flavor that we think really complements the other ingredients. You can get a Negroni anywhere because it has three pretty basic components. But adding our own vermouth is a little way to take it to the next level.
Can you tell us about the different areas of the restaurant?
There are almost two different sides. There’s the main dining room, which is energetic but primarily for seated diners with reservations. And there’s the bar, which is more lively, where people are either getting a drink before dinner, coming in to enjoy cocktails, or having a full meal.
In your opinion, what’s the best seat in the house?
Our three large namesake booths, “R,” “P,” and “M,” which are located right in between the dining room and the bar. We took a little bit of extra time designing these tables, and they’re very unique. The booths in the dining room are simple leather, while the leather at these booths is textured with a moleskin backing, so they feel a bit cozier and a bit more luxurious. They’re also the largest booths in the restaurant, fitting up to six or seven people comfortably, and they’re situated slightly higher up, so they tend to command the room.
Is it possible to reserve those booths?
Yes! We also offer something called the Sommelier Experience Tuesdays through Thursdays, which is a more approachable tasting menu with six to eight courses and wine pairings for $165 a person. It always takes place at Table “R.”
How would you describe the menu to a newbie?
It’s modern in approach and Italian in spirit, and everything is meant to be shared. The menu is divided into three parts: antipasti, pastas, and larger-format dishes. Rather than having a first course, second course, and third course (which we certainly can do), I think the best way to eat here is to order a bunch of things in the beginning, give full control to the server, and just sit back and relax. We’ll make sure that there’s always the right amount of food at the table.
What do you recommend first-timers order?
If I had to choose, I’d say the pastas are the star of the show. We make all the pasta fresh in-house, and we tried almost 200 different kinds of Parmesan cheese to find the one that’s aged just right with the perfect melting point. With Italian cooking, it’s all about sourcing really great ingredients and then just getting out of the way. The pappardelle with short rib Bolognese is awesome, and if you don’t order Mama DePandi’s tomato sauce bucatini you’re probably doing it wrong.
Does the menu change often and should we expect to see specials?
We change the menu seasonally based on what’s fresh. Right now we’re running a tomato caprese, which sounds like it’s just a simple dish with mozzarella cheese, olive oil, salt, pepper, and tomatoes. But we source our tomatoes from this farm up in Wisconsin called Butternut Farm, who we’ve worked with for many years. This is going to sound a little extreme, but we pick our tomatoes from a specific part of the property because they get a specific type of sun exposure that we like the taste of. And then we found a killer olive oil and a killer balsamic to put it all together.
Any funny or surprising stories you can share?
I have to leave out the name because we like to respect our guests’ privacy. But during Lollapalooza this summer we hosted a lot of celebrities and musicians. One night, we hosted a very well-known rock star who actually wasn’t performing this year, but had he performed would have been a headliner. Anyway, I remember I walked over to greet him at his table and I said “Hello, welcome to RPM Italian,” and he kind of grabbed my shoulder pulled me in close and whispered in my ear, “The music is a little bit loud… you think you could turn it down?” Of course, I was just like, “Absolutely sir.” But it kind of blew my mind: here’s this famous rock star who does nothing but play loud music who’s asking me to turn down the volume.
Any other tips or tricks you have for getting a table and having a great time at RPM Italian?
If you forgot to make an important reservation, check back closer to the time that you’re looking to dine on Resy. Again, we ask guests to cancel at least 12 hours in advance, so we always find a couple of last-minute openings. But, the other way to do it is to just speak to a manager and make a friend. I give out my cell phone and my business cards more times a night than I can count. That’s kind of the back door into the restaurant, and one of the best parts of the job is getting to know people and making those genuine connections. Really, the trick to getting into any restaurant is making friends with somebody, whether it’s the maître d’ or a manager — just stopping to say hello.