Bahena Goes to the Well
Geno Bahena, who launched Real Tenochtitlán (2451 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-227-1050), plans to open Los Moles (3140 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-935-9620), an 80-seat Mexican restaurant, on May 4th. The specialty will be—surprise!—mole. “Three moles every day: Red, green, and black,” says Bahena, who will split his time between Real Tenochtitlán and Los Moles, and has been at so many restaurants we won’t bother to list them here. “Plus new dishes [entrées $12 to $16] that I’ve collected in my experience in the 31 states in Mexico. Smaller dishes and some will be light. Everything is going to be organically raised, free-range meat, and all that stuff.”
“Yesterday American and British troops handed out food to hundreds of Iraqis. Not surprisingly, the Iraqis handed the British food back.” –Conan O’Brien (b. 1963), American comedian
Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St.), the long-awaited 80-seat restaurant from Jason Hammel and Amalea Tshilds (Lula Cafe), finally has an opening guesstimate, as reported by TOC: mid-May. “It’s not just another Lula,” says Hammel. “I don’t think I could re-create Lula if I tried. This is a very different situation, very high profile. No one knew about us when we opened Lula.” Hammel touts chef Jason Vincent’s ever-evolving menu as “seasonal, farm-to-table, handcrafted food,” and says that Melissa Trimmer, Lula’s pastry chef, will do desserts at Nightwood, too. Other bonuses: a basement wine room with communal seating and a covered outdoor patio next to the restaurant.
A Conversation with John des Rosiers
Des Rosiers, 31, is the chef/owner of Inovasi (28 E. Center Ave., Lake Bluff; 847-295-1000), an 80-seat casual contemporary American spot slated to open in early June. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America (and Charlie Trotter’s kitchen), he left his post as chef at Lake Forest’s Bank Lane Bistro last year to develop Inovasi.
D: We hear you started your career early.
JDR: I started at Gabriel’s when I was 16. I was still in high school in Mundelein. My grandmother met Gabriel [Viti] at Taste of Highwood and told him I wanted to cook. He didn’t know her, but he gave me a chance. I was peeling artichokes the first day and picking herbs and stuff. I would get out of school at two, drive right to the restaurant, and work till 11 at night.
D: What does Inovasi mean?
JDR: It means “innovations” in Indonesian. It’s the only cool way to say “innovations.”
D: Tell us about your menu.
JDR: We’re using a lot of local farms. Local foodstuffs. Everything will be the same portion. Instead of a small appetizer and larger entrée, everything will be two-thirds of the size of a regular entrée.
D: Such as?
JDR: Braised and smoked Gunthorp Farms pig. We buy the whole pig, debone it, and marinate the meat with herbs and spices and then kind of reassemble the pig. Then we braise it for 24 hours and smoke it for another six. We slice off a piece and sauté it until it’s nice and crispy on the outside and it just falls apart in the middle. That’s served with handpicked Carolina gold rice, fried scallions, pistachio nuts, and miso [$11].
D: Will desserts be as ambitious?
JDR: We are going to use savory ingredients with all the desserts. Like the one I call creamy frozen Scarborough Fair. Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme ice cream. A scoop of each one.
D: Sounds fun.
JDR: Fun is the basic feeling we are trying to create here.
One of our top spies checked out the West Loop’s hot new Grocery Bistro (804 W. Washington St.; 312-850-9291). Her take: “Noisy! We sat at the bar and could hardly hear each other. But I loved my food: Caesar steak tartare (not sure what makes it Caesar, but very tasty); moist whitefish with a bacon crust atop crisp string beans; great pecan cake with caramel gelato; and the yummy Monte Cristo dessert (chocolate beignets with raspberry sauce) We had the prix fixe dinner for $25 per person, which was quite reasonable for what we got.”
She Said It
“A lot of my inspiration for opening a Mexican restaurant came when I traveled to my husband’s hometown [in the Mexican state of Michoacán] and ate the peasant food he grew up on. Like a Mexican version of a ratatouille: calabacitas con carne de puerco. That’s zucchinis sautéed with onions, garlic, tomatoes, jalapeños, and a little cilantro, and served with a side of pork that’s been braised in a salsa. It doesn’t look very pretty but it’s very good.” –Lisa Lee, partner at La Fonda del Gusto (1408 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-6100), an 85-seat Wicker Park BYO she plans to open with her husband, Jose Palomino, on May 4th
Cheap Things to Do
- Get free French-style hot dogs on baguettes in the bar at Brasserie Jo (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800) on May 1st from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Yes, it’s French Labor Day again.
- Attend a $5 doughnut tasting from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on May 2nd and 3rd at Blue Sky Bakery & Café (4749 N. Albany St.; 773-478-2233), when the nonprofit organization will offer “an assortment of sweet and savory doughnuts.”
- Spend $2 or more at Poag Mahone’s (333 S. Wells St.; 312-566-9100) any time after 3 p.m. on Monday, and your nine-ounce burger is just $2.50.
- Sample the wares of Tapas Valencia (1530 S. State St.; 312-842-4444) for $2 each from 4 to 6 p.m. any weekday.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
NYC Bagel Deli (1001 W. North Ave.; 312-274-1278) plans to open a 65-seat location in the Loop (300 S. Wacker Dr.) at the end of May. . . . We spotted a sign at the (jinxed?) former Haussmann Brasserie space (305 S. Happ Rd.; Northfield): “The Happ Inn Bar and Grill: coming soon.” . . . Mundial Cocina Mestiza (1640 W. 18th St.; 312-491-9908) has named Hector Marcial (formerly of Shikago and Opera), its new exec chef. Expect a revamped “pre-Columbian” menu from Marcial. . . . Market (1113 W. Randolph St.; 312-929-4787), the massive sports lounge from Kenny Williams, the White Sox general manager (among others), opens on May 1st. . . . The brand-new book Hot Dog: A Global History (University of Chicago Press) by Bruce Kraig—a Roosevelt University professor and president of Culinary Historians of Chicago—has everything you need to know about the humble dog in fewer than 150 pages.