Owners of Zak’s Place to Open Two in West Town

Two Market, Two Market
Matthew Van Valkenburgh and Yamandu Perez, the owners of Zak’s Place in Hinsdale, are coming to the city for their next venture, Two, scheduled to open in midsummer…

 

Two Market, Two Market

Matthew Van Valkenburgh and Yamandu Perez, the owners of Zak’s Place in Hinsdale, are coming to the city for their next venture, Two (1132 W. Grand Ave.; no phone yet), scheduled to open in midsummer in the space that housed May Street Market and the ill-starred Black Sheep. The chef Tom Van Lente, who started his career at the Boka Group’s Landmark as an intern, will oversee a Midwest-focused menu of medium-size plates informed by in-house butchering, bacon-smoking, and sausage-making. Two’s name has many fathers—Perez says it’s because there are two partners, it’s their second restaurant, and everything in the décor will be on its second life, such as tables from a Midwestern school and chairs from an Indiana library. Not to mention that it’s another second chance for the space. Maybe the second second chance will be the charm. 

 

Just a Hop, Skip, and Jump Away

Michael Roper, the owner of Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851), told us by e-mail: “June 2012 will mark 3 years since we purchased the former La Donna space. October 2012 will mark 5 years since we started negotiating for it.” Hopleaf’s planned expansion has had Belgian beer buffs and musselmen tapping their toes for months, doubly so when they were already tapping their toes waiting for a table at the always-crowded spot. Well, the weiss at the end of the tunnel is in sight—Roper has targeted April 16 for the opening. The expanded Hopleaf will seat 320 in the two mezzanines, two dining rooms, and patio. Roper is adding 20 new draft beer lines and eight draft wine lines, and lunch will launch about six weeks after the opening. As before, Hopleaf 2.0 will not have TVs, take reservations, or allow children. Inspections and licensing are the only wild cards remaining. “We’ll be ready. Will the city be?” asks Roper. We can’t speak for the municipal government, but we can vouch for the rest of the city when we say, yes, we will be ready.

 

Five Questions for Jackie Shen

Shen signed on as executive chef at Argent (Dana Hotel and Spa, 660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050), a historically minded restaurant and bar coming to River North. The owners plan for the restaurant to go to sleep as Aja on April 30 and wake up May 1 as Argent. Shen’s distinguished résumé includes time at Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Red Light, and her namesake Jackie’s.

Dish: How did you wind up in this job?
Jackie Shen: Toni [Motamen] is one of the two managing [partners of the] company that took over the restaurant and room service. When I was talking with Toni, the whole thing was great. [He said,] “We want you. We want to make sure that we have a great team together,” and it was one, two, three, just because we already have a good rapport.

D: Rodelio Aglibot has been announced as the culinary director of Argent already. How will the work be divided?
JS: He is consulting on the menu. Toni and Sean [Mulroney], they have a vision of the restaurant and so they contacted Rodelio. They explained to him, way before I was on board, they wanted an expert like Rodelio to give advice on the menu. He and I will work on the vision of Toni and Sean and the food.

D: Are you a student of the culinary history that informs Argent?
JS: The whole idea [of Argent] is turn-of-the-century food, which is what I have been thinking about over the last few months—American food as melting pot and the evolution of American food to today.

D: So you were already thinking about food history?
JS: Yes, before I came on board here. I have been researching for the last six months. So now it has just kind of clicked into what I am hoping to do.

D: Will your signature dessert, the chocolate bag, be on the menu at Argent?
JS: Yes. It was featured this past weekend [at Aja]. 

 

Quotable

“Laughter is brightest where food is best.” —Irish proverb

 

The Makeup of a New Restaurant

On a strip of Lincoln Avenue near DePaul with a lot of dive bars, the chef Mario Giuseppe Mentesana opened Forza Ristorante (2476 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-248-7888) in mid-March in the space that most recently housed Bordo’s (a dive bar). Although Mentesana studied and worked in Florence, Forza’s menu features southern Italian food—Mentesana’s family comes from Palermo. “The three most popular [dishes] so far are the Italian truffle fries, the Sicilian arancini, and the mussels in a spicy red sauce,” Mentesana says. He restored several 100-year-old features of the space, including the mahogany bar, a copper ceiling, and brick walls. The goal for the ambiance is elegance, an idea that extends to the black Versace or Victoria’s Secret dresses the servers wear. Also, Mentesana says, “We hired a makeup artist. All the ladies will be expected to wear really, really red lipstick and nice makeup, going for that 1950s look.” He’s thought this whole concept through—right down to the foundation.

 

Rally Around the Standard

Usually it takes a while for trends to filter out to the suburbs, but that’s not the case with Bakersfield (330 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont; no phone yet), the restaurant across the street from—and affiliated with—the Standard Market in Westmont. Slated for a May 1 opening, it takes the model of the recent splashes Publican Quality Meats, Butcher & the Burger, and City Provisions where ingredients in the food are the same stuff customers can buy from the market. “The whole [idea] is to bring the best possible product that we showcase in the market,” says Brian Wright, the chef. “We hand-select produce at the market every day, dry-age our own meat, bring in whole fish and butcher it ourselves.” Wright, who worked with Rosebud for 13 years, also oversees the market’s Standard Grill, the fast-casual spot that uses the same plucked-from-the-stands philosophy. Bakersfield, described as a “straightforward American restaurant,” seats 160 and serves a steaks-chicken-chops menu that ranges from $12 for some sandwiches and burgers up to $42 for a dry-aged strip steak. Desserts, also made in-house, include signature fried Oreos. Now that the line between supplier and restaurant is thoroughly blurred, we predict a restaurant will be opened by a flatware manufacturer within months.

 

Updated Reviews: Alinea and Naha

New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Alinea maintained its four-star rating; Naha maintained its three-star rating. Both reviews appear in the April issue, on newsstands now.

Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110). Progressive American.
★★★★ (superlative)
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Think of this experience not as dinner but as interactive edible performance art, and you’ll be fine. Superstar Grant Achatz is flying higher, faster, and farther than ever when it comes to inventiveness in the kitchen and in the dining room. Printed menus don’t arrive until meal’s end, but they’re so enigmatic (“Woolly pig—fennel, orange, squid”), getting them earlier wouldn’t really prepare you, anyway. Expect one astonishing presentation after another, with revelatory bites served on all sorts of things, including boughs, pillows, driftwood, and—dishless—on the table itself. Seventeen-course tasting menu, $210 per person; wine pairing menu offered.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.

Naha (500 N. Clark St.; 312-321-6242). Contemporary.
★★★ (excellent)
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Carrie Nahabedian could rest on her laurels (including a 2008 Beard Foundation award) if she wanted to, but instead she continues to astonish with a winning combo of experience and enthusiasm. She’s a master at getting the most out of a season’s ingredients and also at catching its mood: We blissed out recently on foie gras with a tarte Tatin of Bartlett pears followed by Great Lakes whitefish with butter-poached crabmeat and caramelized cauliflower, finishing with heavenly custard cake and olive oil ice cream. Service can slow when the place is full. Worldly wines, including many by-the-glass choices.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.

 

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Things to Do

1. Grab a seat in the screening room at Public Chicago (1301 N. State Pkwy.; 312-787-7200) for this week’s installment of Mad Men. Each Sunday, Ian Schrager’s swank Gold Coast hotel hosts a viewing party from 7 to 10 p.m. A $25 admission fee buys Mad Men–inspired tipples such as a three-martini flight (perhaps a classic, a gimlet, and a Manhattan), or this week’s trio of a zombie, a grasshopper, and a Brooklyn, as well as hors d’oeuvres, in the form of Swedish meatballs, tea sandwiches, and pigs in a blanket. E-mail or call 312-787-3700 for reservations.

2. Catch Joe Bastianich (the restaurateur scouting Chicago for a local version of the New York market Eataly) at the flagship Walgreens (151 N. State St.; 312-863-4249) on April 9 from 1 to 2 p.m., when he whips up low-cholesterol, low-fat fare with ingredients off the shelves to promote the Heart in the Kitchen program.

3. Nurse your hangover (and be kind to your empty wallet) at Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9555), where a $12.50 plate of alcohol-sponging chilaquiles comes free with the purchase of any other menu item when you show a receipt—any receipt—proving you went out boozing the night before. The deal runs the entire month of April and is good during brunch service (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sundays).  

 

Openings

  • Amuse (Swissôtel Chicago, 323 E. Wacker Dr.; 312-268-8142), a reconcepting of the Swissôtel’s lobby lounge, is now serving up diversions to hotel guests and Mag Mile office-dwellers alike.
  • Premise (5420 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9463), the restaurant replacing the wine-bar half of In Fine Spirits, opens April 11 under the chef Brian Runge, a former chef de cuisine at Graham Elliot. (In Fine Spirits’ wine shop remains open.)
  • Pizzeria Bombola Burgers & Brews (2901 Ogden Ave., Lisle; 630-922-4100) is open, serving west suburbanites thin-crust pizzas and burgers made from Pat LaFrieda meats.
  • Rockit Burger Bar (3700 N. Clark St.; 773-645-4400) officially becomes a more specialized incarnation of Rockit Bar & Grill tomorrow.
  • Eggy’s (333 E. Benton Pl., Ste. 103; no phone yet), a Lakeshore East spot billing itself as “an urban family diner,” will plate its first stack of pancakes (we’re guessing it’ll be Melissa’s Candy Pancakes, which are served with Snickers and M&Ms) on April 16.

 

Dot Dot Dot . . .

The Streeterville Italian mainstay Volare should reopen later this month after an extreme makeover to both the décor and the menu. Salumi, cheeses, Neapolitan pizzas, and more-sophisticated dishes such as black spaghetti tossed with sage, shrimp, lump crab, scallops, and cream sauce characterize the new menu; most dishes from the old menu will be available by request. . . . Friends of the late Michael Altenberg (Bistro Campagne) who want to help his family financially can click here for information. . . . Tony and Antonella Barbanente, the former owners of La Donna (the space Hopleaf is taking over for its expansion), have abandoned their plans for a restaurant called Deseo in Edgewater. Instead, they plan a summer opening in Rogers Park for Anto Zupperia, a counter-service spot focusing on soups, panini, lasagne, and arancini. . . . We learned from Eater that the Printer’s Row space previously housing Edwardo’s Natural Pizza is undergoing a facelift, and will emerge as a sporty Gino’s East. . . . Eater also broke the news that the new chef at The Florentine will be Chris Macchia of Coco Pazzo. . . . According to Red Eye, the colorful chef Chuy Valencia has sold his stock in Chilam Balam in order to focus his energies on other interests. . . . The Reader stopped in Uptown to check out the American-Chinese and Ethiopian spot Lake Langano and reported on the “false banana bread” that’s got foodies nationwide buzzing. . . . Team Dish will be on spring break next week but tanned and relaxed and back in your in-box on April 18.

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