The Trump Card
Everyone has been speculating about what high-octane chef would anchor the restaurant coming to the 16th floor of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Chicago (401 N. Wabash Ave.) when it opens in December. Trotter? Robuchon? Ducasse? Nope. The answer is . . . Frank Brunacci. Who? A native of Melbourne, Brunacci, 36, has worked under Alain Chapel and Joël Antunes, learning the ropes in kitchens from London (Les Saveurs) to Atlanta (Ritz-Carlton Buckhead) to New Orleans (Victor’s) to Sedona, Arizona (L’Auberge de Sedona). We chatted with him earlier this week.
D: What is your training?
FB: French-trained, I would say. At Mietta’s in Melbourne. I started cooking at 14, but got an apprenticeship at 17.
D: What did they let you do?
FB: I picked salad and crabmeat and the claws of the lobster and crayfish. It’s up to the individual to get more involved in the kitchen. I would go to the meat guy. He was French and he didn’t want me to touch any of his poultry or meats. But I was so eager, they let me try everything.
D: And then?
FB: Every job I got from that position on, it was because Mietta’s was the best restaurant in Australia at the time. A cooking background is like a passport. Wherever you go, the “customs” of the next restaurant will invite you in.
D: Why did you leave Australia?
FB: My sous in Melbourne had become the sous at Les Saveurs in London. So that got me into the European market. It was a one-star Michelin. I felt like I was doing my apprenticeship all over again. Twenty-three employees were French, and there I was-this little Australian. I learned kitchen French: Instead of getting yelled at, l learned how to yell.
D: How did Trump find you? Or you find him?
FB: I was going for a job interview in another state; then two days later they pulled the plug on the gig. My wife said, “Why don’t you write a letter to Donald Trump?” I was like, “Yeesh, he’s going to read my letter.” My wife said, “He likes the working-class man.”
D: So what happened?
FB: Two days later I’m talking about it to a friend at the Ritz-Carlton in Pasadena. And he consulted with someone who said, “I think I’ve got something for you in Chicago.”
D: You did a tasting?
FB: I was invited to do a tasting but they didn’t have a kitchen, so I called a friend of mine at Hotel 71 across the river [from the Trump building] . They gave me free rein of the kitchen, and five dishes into it, [the Trump contingent] said they didn’t think it could get any better than the course before.
D: What will the concept of the restaurant be?
FB: I am leaning in a direction but don’t want to send the wrong message before everything is determined.
D: Best guess for an opening date?
FB: December 1st.
Sean Eastwood and Dean Georgelos, the chef and partner respectively in Isabella’s Estiatorio (330 W. State St., Geneva; 630-845-8624) plan to open Olo, a 110-seat Mediterranean restaurant, at 1152 West Randolph Street this fall. We are told that the name stands for Oregano, Lemon, and Olives, the three main ingredients in Mediterranean cuisine-so you should know what to expect when the place descends on the West Loop in November. Joel Jones, the pastry chef at Isabella’s, will take over as chef de cuisine in Geneva.
“Aïoli epitomizes the heat, the power, and the joy of the Provençal sun, but it has another virtue-it drives away flies.” –Frédéric Mistral (1830-1914), French writer
Cloning and Carting
A while back, we said that Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto Steak & Seafood and the rest of the new Tramonto/Gand projects in the Westin Chicago North Shore (601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling) seemed born to be replicated. We were part right. Another Osteria will go into the upcoming InterContinental Hotel in Rosemont; the Hyatt Regency across from Schaumburg’s Woodfield Mall will get a Tramonto steakhouse and RT Lounge. ETA: mid-to-late 2008. But in September, Gale’s Coffee Bar, the freestanding coffee shop adjacent to Wheeling’s Osteria, will be nixed in favor of private piazza dining space. What’s happening to Gand’s operation? “I think it will be some sort of very customized upscale cart or stand,” says Stephen Ottman, president of Cenitare Restaurants. A cart? “Yes, but not just a tiny little cart,” he says. “It will be a pretty big deal.”
The Subject Is Rosebud
Alex Dana’s latest addition to his restaurant empire, Rosebud Prime (1 S. Dearborn St.; 312-384-1900), opened two weeks ago in a prime location behind the LaSalle Theatre. The beef-focused menu sounds a lot like the one at Rosebud Steakhouse (192 E. Walton St.; 312-397-1000), but with a few playful additions like a foot-long Kobe beef hot dog appetizer and a one-pound whole Maine lobster cocktail as a lunch entrée (or dinner appetizer). We’ve lost track of how many Rosebuds are out there now, but it’s safe to say that Dana knows what he’s doing.
Scylla, We Hardly Knew Ya
As reported and lamented elsewhere, Stephanie Izard will close her beloved Bucktown Mediterranean spot, Scylla (1952 N. Damen Ave.; 773-227-2995) at the end of August to make room for Takashi Yagihashi’s small-plates spot, Takashi. But according to Izard, the decision to sell had nothing to do with the level of business. “We are actually doing better than ever,” she says. “I just want to improve on my skills and knowledge. I claim to be doing Mediterranean-influenced food and yet I have never stepped foot into a Mediterranean country.” So Izard is off to Europe for a few months; whether she returns to Chicago is the big question.
Intrigued by something other than a fast-food restaurant taking up residence at the Merchandise Mart, Pollack slipped into Bluprint (222 Merchandise Mart, Suite 135; 312-410-9800) to check it out. The Bloody Mary burger came stabbed with a skewer stacked high with celery, a gherkin, a thin slice of salami, a thin slice of cheese, a cocktail onion, a mushroom, a pepper, more cheese, more salami, and a green olive. A cute conceit but the burger failed to ignite. As for the chicken, it was a very ordinary thick-sliced boneless breast with the drummette attached. It’s called airline chicken. Enough said.
Things to Do
1. Get it while you can: The last night of service at Allen’s (217 W. Huron St.; 312-587-9600), Allen Sternweiler’s River North café, will be August 18th.
2. Slide into Pastoral (2945 N. Broadway; 773-472-4781) on August 12th for free cheese and wine at a book signing for Jeffrey Roberts, who is in town plugging his impressive The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese (Chelsea Green, 2007).
3. Learn to cut an onion without crying.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
O’H American Grill (9300 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Rosemont; 847-696-1234), the new upscale comfort-food restaurant in the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, is the centerpiece of the hotel’s $60-million makeover. . . . Café Bionda, Joe Farina’s Southern Italian restaurant at 1924 South State Street, has spawned another location, this one in Wicker Park at 1467 North Milwaukee Avenue (773-342-2100) . . . . Ditto for Davis Street Fishmarket (501 Davis St., Evanston; 847-869-3474), Evanston’s 22-year-old seafood standby, which is branching out to Schaumburg (1383 Meacham Rd.) on August 13th. . . . Fernando Beteta, the sommelier at NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 239-4030), will be featured in Wine & Spirits magazine’s list of “America’s Best New Sommeliers” (October) . . . Paddy Long’s (1028 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-290-6988), co-owned by Loyola rugby coach Patrick Berger, recently opened in the old Lawry’s Tavern space: 16 draft beers, mini cheeseburgers, international sports on TV. Sounds pretty good.