The 12th floor of the Ritz-Carlton, known in the past for The Dining Room, Café at Ritz, and an opulent fountain, will emerge from renovation in the first week of May to reveal Deca Restaurant + Bar (The Ritz-Carlton, 160 E. Pearson St.; 312-573-5160), with “brasserie-inspired cuisine” such as a croque-madame and a tuna niçoise salad with confit of tuna. “We want to make it a neighborhood eatery that just happens to be inside the Ritz-Carlton,” says Mark Payne, who is Deca’s chef and was the chef at the two previous 12th-floor restaurants. The change means lower prices, too—topping out under $20 for lunch (except for the flat iron steak frites, $23) at the restaurant and at $14 on the bar menu. You know it’s a recession when the source of the word “ritzy” scales back. But it’s not a complete 180: They did keep the fountain.
“It takes a certain kind of mind to see beauty in a hamburger bun. Yet is it any more unusual to find grace in the texture and softly carved silhouette of a bun than to reflect lovingly on the hackles of a fishing fly? Or the arrangements and textures on a butterfly’s wing?” –Ray Kroc (1902-1983), McDonald’s founder
The Red Meat of Courage
You may have noticed that there are already several successful steak houses around here, including the highest-grossing restaurant in Chicago (Gibsons) and the flagship for a 76-restaurant chain (Morton’s). Undeterred, Mark Levy and Tom Heymann are bringing a satellite of their SoCal-based, paparazzi-encircled steak house, Mastro’s, to the old Blue Water Grill space at 520 North Dearborn Street. “The one thing that I think really differentiates us is it’s more a supper club–type environment,” Levy says. Slated to open by midsummer, Mastro’s will have a piano player every night, as well as dry-aged prime beef and a lot of seats—400 (including 120 in a private-party area upstairs) spread over approximately 20,000 square feet, which is 30 percent more space than Gibsons has. A bold move, but big in a steak house is in the eye of the rib.
He Said It
“I like the word ‘eat,’ and I just wanted to give it its own look.” –Alex Dana, the owner of the Rosebud restaurants, who hopes to open Eatt (6 W. Hubbard St., no phone yet) in late June where Vong’s Thai Kitchen used to be. Departing from the Rosebud model, Eatt will serve sandwiches and comfort food all day, including dinner/breakfast until 2 or 3 a.m.
On April 16th, Amaury Rosado, the chef and owner of Chef Amaury’s Epicurean Affair (481 N. Commons Dr., Aurora; 630-375-0426), plans to open 33 West Trattoria (33 W. New York St., Aurora; 630-340-3095) with a view of the Fox River in downtown Aurora. 33 West will be a regional Italian–inspired spot with an average entrée price of about $15. “I don’t want to say that I’m going to be authentic Italian,” Rosado says, because he won’t be sourcing exclusively from Italy. “My focus will be local, on local ingredients, [such as] prosciutto from Iowa, from La Quercia.” As sample dishes, Rosado cites wild mushroom ravioli using seasonal mushrooms and an herbed roast chicken with rosemary, garlic, olive oil, and lemon. This kind of cuisine needs a new name, punchier and more emphatic than the limp regional Italian–inspired. How about Italic?
Like the neutral vowel it’s named for, Schwa (1466 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-252-1466) has been known to disappear. Starting March 31st, the restaurant canceled all its reservations and closed to fix some plumbing problems, replace the gas lines, and give the dining room a face-lift. Predictably for a restaurant where the same person can be reservation booker, maître d’, server, chef, and busser, the rehab is a friends-and-family operation. “[I] look around and see all my kitchen guys stripping down the kitchen, my publicist throwing blood on the walls, [and] The Aluminum Group guys putting a disco floor on the ceiling,” says Michael Carlson, the chef and owner. (By the way, The Aluminum Group isn’t a contractor. It’s a rock band.) “We also addressed that our Strawberry Shortcake website needed some work,” he says. The new site is scheduled to launch in the middle of the month, and the restaurant will resume honoring reservations (and making amends with cancelees) on Thursday, although we’d suggest not leaning against the wall in a white shirt that day.
Things to Do
- Sample and purchase the work of local pastry creators at Logan Square Kitchen (2333 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2333), on April 10th from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission and samples are free, and some of the exhibitors will prepare the food in-house.
- Try the smothered burger at The Lucky Monk (105 Hollywood Blvd., South Barrington; 847-898-0500). Topped with caramelized sweet onions, Gruyère, lettuce, tomato, and pickle and grilled to a nice rare, it’s a bargain at $8.50 for a six-ounce version or $10.50 for a nine-ounce.
- Snap up tickets for Chicago Gourmet, which takes place in Millennium Park September 25th and 26th. Early-registration tickets go on sale today. Jackrabbits get one-day passes for $90 and two-days for $175, snails get them for $150 and $250. Also check out the constellation of culinary stars participating this year.
- Get shown to your seat by Betty Loren-Maltese, the ex-con ex-mayor of Cicero who now works as a hostess at Salerno’s (7128 Roosevelt Rd., Oak Park; 708-383-1500), according to Michael Sneed.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The reality-TV icon and multiple Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay announced that one of his fellow judges on the forthcoming amateur-chef competition show MasterChef would be Graham Elliot Bowles (Graham Elliot, the forthcoming Grahamwich). . . . Chiyo (3800 W. Lawrence Ave.) closed March 30th. Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St.). closed April 4th. In a just world, restaurants as good as these would last forever. . . . May 1st is the hoped-for reopening date for Lao Sze Chuan (2172 S. Archer Ave.; 312-326-5040), which closed after a fire March 29th. The owner, Tony Hu, says water damage from the recent rain has exacerbated the problem. Lao Sze Chuan’s food is available down the plaza at Lao Beijing (2138 S. Archer Ave.; 312-881-0168), but Hu’s next project, Tony’s Lao You Ju (2002 S. Wentworth), is delayed until June. . . . Proceeds from the sale of T-shirts will help out the employees of Cakegirls (formerly at 2207 W. Belmont Ave.), which, in a sad coincidence, was also shuttered by a fire on March 29th. . . . Ciao Napoli Pizzeria (2607 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-278-7300) is finally open. . . . Congratulations to Mike Sheerin, the chef de cuisine at Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708), one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, an honor previously won by Grant Achatz, Rick Tramonto, Rick Bayless, and many other big names. Also on this year’s list are Missy Robbins, who started at Spiaggia and now runs A Voce in New York, and John Shields, who passed through Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea before landing at Town House in Chilhowie, Virginia.