Yeah, I Wish for 10,000 Hamachi Rolls
Andy Park was the executive chef of Blu Coral (1265 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-252-2020) when one of his longtime customers told him he was building a mall. Turns out the guy was Mike Jaffe, the developer of The Arboretum, a soon-to-open 600,000-square-foot open-air lifestyle center in South Barrington. Next thing you know, Park and three old friends (Ray Wu, Zach Maiorca, and Fred Hong) are opening Nozumi Japanese Cuisine, an ambitious 225-seat restaurant in The Arboretum with a bar/lounge and a private 30-seat tatami room. “‘Nozumi’ means ‘wish’ in Japanese,” says Wu. “In Japanese culture, they make wishes by writing it on a piece of red parchment paper, and tying it to a wish tree. We want to make the concept of the wish become part of the experience. The only thing I don’t want is people knocking on our door at night asking why we didn’t fulfill their wish.”
“Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank.” –Alphonse Allais (1854-1905), French writer
So you probably heard that a Sonic Drive-In (2974 Kirk Rd., Aurora; 630-375-8360) has opened on the outer fringes of Chicagoland, and with all the excitement this is generating—front page in the Trib?—both Pollack and Ruby wondered what the big deal was. Our colleague Jennifer Wehunt, Chicago mag events editor, who grew up on the joint in Texas, set us straight: “Here are three reasons to love Sonic: (1) blue-coconut Slushes, AKA summer in a cup; (2) 44-ounce cherry limeades, stocked with actual limes and cherries; and (3) piping-hot tater tots that rival those at Skylark.” In 2008 alone, Wehunt has braved 99-degree weather outside of Memphis and twentysomething degrees in Champaign-Urbana just to sit in her car and eat Sonic, so she should know. “Now,” she says, “if only we could get a Whataburger.”
Affresco (11 N. Northwest Hwy., Park Ridge; 847-292-0233), a “casual-fine” Italian restaurant in the north suburbs, may just have the most ambitious restaurateur in all of Chicagoland. Sergio Lazzara, the owner, began bussing tables at the age of 10, and working in the restaurant kitchens at 14, then opened his own pizzeria at 20 (Spuntino, also in Park Ridge). “I figured I was young and if it didn’t work I had the rest of my life to make money,” he says. “I rolled, and thank God it worked.” Now 29, Lazzara runs Affresco, a 75-seat spot with a woodburning oven and a rooftop deck; his menu includes a whole rotisserie chicken for $15, and cartocci, fried dough sticks with a cannoli-cream center made in-house. “I don’t like to live my life, ‘What if?’” he says. “I want to show my [two-and-a-half-year-old] daughter if you take a chance, you can do something big.”
The Next Big Trend
“Savory cupcakes,” says Pollack—and she’s always right about these things. So off she went to Chaos Theory Cakes (2961 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-281-2353) to be the first in her pod to try a chocolate cupcake with apple-wood-smoked bacon and peanut butter icing, and a spinach cupcake with purple-onion icing speckled with sautéed apples. She was first, all right. Ever see air go out of a balloon? Small strips of bacon mixed into chocolate: not so much. Spinach as cake topped with slick buttery sweet-tasting onions? Even less. At least they got the name right. (BTW: Now Pollack predicts cocoa nibs will be the next hot ingredient. She’s tasted them at C-House, NoMI, and Perennial. Stay tuned.)
Testing the Bonds of Friendship
Dino Nakos and Philip Ghantous, one Greek and the other Lebanese, opened Cafecito (26 E. Congress Pkwy.; 312-922-2233), a Cuban coffeehouse in the South Loop, last month. “Philip saw these Cuban sandwich eateries in Miami,” says Nakos. “He brought me down there; we took a look around, got a feel for it, and decided to bring it to Chicago. We will see how long our friendship lasts here as partners.” Connected to a youth hostel building, the approximately 1,250-square-foot storefront space has a breezy tropical feel, a roster of fresh pressed sandwiches, and 12 specialty salads. “All the food is made here in small batches to ensure freshness,” says Nakos. “Everything is roasted here. Nothing gets microwaved.”
Things to Do
- Go to Dream Salad (200 E. Randolph St.; 312-861-1740) at some point between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on August 22nd, drop off your business card, and get a free salad in honor of Michael Phelps winning eight gold medals. We’re still not sure what Phelps has to do with salad—nor do we trust the old business-card routine—but, hey, free salad.
- Make Viet Bistro and Lounge (1346 W. Devon Ave.; 773-465-5720) happy by attending its North Shore Distillery tasting on August 22nd, wherein the chef/owner, Dan Nguyen (Pasteur), offers free appetizers to accompany all the gin, vodka, and absinthe flowing that night. RSVP by calling Viet Bistro.
- Watch the Skinny Chef’s irritating smile at the 0:12 mark, and disregard everything she says afterward.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
A quartet of notable spots opened in the past few days: Urban Belly (3053 N. California Ave.; 773-583-0500), the Avondale noodle/dumpling house from Bill Kim (Soul, Le Lan); Tapas Las Ramblas (5101 N. Clark St.; 773-769-9700), the quickie Spanish remake of Andersonville’s Il Fiasco; Old Oak Tap (2109 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-772-0406), a West Town bar/restaurant with a large patio (actually, this opens on August 21st); and It’s India! (9335 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-677-3424), a full-service restaurant run by Mumbai natives Zaheen and Siraj Ahmed, adjacent to Don’s Fishmarket Grill & Tavern. . . . Far East (514 W. Diversey Pkwy.), a decades-old Lincoln Park staple, unceremoniously closed recently. . . . Congratulations to Rick Bayless (Topolobampo), who will be inducted into the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame—who knew?—on August 27th. It’ll cost you $175 to attend the event at the Palmer House Hilton.