In The Matrix, Neo wraps his mind around the idea that there is no spoon. Riccardo Michi, the owner of Riccardo Trattoria, takes it beyond flatware for his upcoming wine bar across the street, Riccardo Enoteca (2116 N. Clark St.; 773-549-5010). “The deal in the kitchen: There is no kitchen,” Michi says, and he means this literally, not philosophically. “But there is a great and beautiful wood-burning oven.” Michi’s enoteca will feature grigliata, Italian-style grilled food, made in the oven, along with focaccia panini and pizzalike focaccias with toppings. Charcuterie, cheeses, and other hot and cold appetizers round out the menu. Wines culled from all over the globe—unlike the trattoria’s strictly Italian selection—and local beers make up the beverage list. The décor will resemble that of the trattoria, with wooden chairs, a wooden ceiling, and old photographs, but the menu will be distinct—without pastas, for example. “I don’t want to be in competition with myself,” Michi says. Didn’t Neo have to overcome something like that too?
Back in Black
The kitchen staff walked out after dinner service August 2 at The Black Sheep (1132 W. Grand Ave.; 312-997-5100). The chef/owner, James Toland, says the turmoil is over:
“Let me put to rest any rumors that might be circulating. I am the owner, and my investors are 100 percent behind me. We had one night of closure because of the walkout. And that’s it. . . . I had to cut salaries in my kitchen. My staff was too large. So I had to cut middle management, which meant that I had to let go [the executive sous-chef] Philip Rubino and Sarah Jordan, my pastry chef. . . . When that happened, my cooks were displeased and decided they would leave too. So I replaced them all and brought in a brand-new kitchen staff. . . . [In one day,] I grabbed a few people from Tribute and got some people off the street by advertising. . . . I have five new cooks, and I’m also doing the pastries with my cooks. We have a lot of talent in the kitchen, so we are all pitching in on the pastries. . . . [The kitchen staff was] ten before, and now I have seven, plus myself. . . . I have increased the portion sizes and dropped some prices [by about 20 percent]. . . . New items are monkfish Catalan with cockles, sofrito, and Spanish sausage, $24; a new and improved Illinois Beef, which has sirloin, top sirloin, confit of beef heart, and oxtail croquette, $30; and I am very excited that we have an heirloom tomato salad with lemon-basil espuma, a chilled mozzarella balloon, and charred tomato vinaigrette.”
“Vegetables are a must on a diet. I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.”
—Jim Davis (1945–), American cartoonist, in Garfield
Ten Questions for Allen Sternweiler
Sternweiler runs the forthcoming Butcher and the Burger (1021 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-697-3735), now slated to open in the second week of September, pending timely city inspections.
Dish: What will distinguish Butcher and the Burger from the rest of the burger trendies?
Allen Sternweiler: One [thing] is that we are going to offer a variety of different seasonings. I think we have about ten different proprietary spice mixes that we are offering to mix into the ground meat or fish or the veggie burger.
D: What are some examples?
AS: We have a coconut-curry-honey mix. We have one that we call our Chicago steak-house-style blend, [which is] a lot of onion powder and garlic powder, a little paprika, and probably about nine other ingredients that don’t have to be disclosed.
D: What types of meats will you have?
AS: We will have anywhere from 9, 10, 11 types of ground meat. Maybe two or three types of ground beef, turkey, elk, pork. We are offering some fish as well. Salmon. Shrimp.
D: How are the burgers prepared?
AS: They’re six-ounce burgers, all coming off the grill—a very nice grill made by a local manufacturer, EmberGlo, located on the Northwest Side. It’s a gas-fired grill lined with ceramic tiles. The tiles get so hot that when juice hits them, it instantaneously disintegrates into smoke, which goes back into the product.
D: So the burger tastes a little smoky?
AS: A little. Not as intense as hardwood coals, but it does provide a better grill flavor than your standard gas-fired grill.
D: What does Butcher and the Burger look like?
AS: We are trying to replicate a 1940s or 1950s butcher shop with a hint of modernness to it. Josh Woodward [a partner] has a very good knack of finding antiques: antique saws, coffee grinders, and turn-of-the-century swing-arm stools.
D: No liquor license, right? Can people bring beer?
AS: Please. No corkage fee either.
D: How about desserts?
AS: Frozen custard. We are going to make it ourselves.
D: What flavors?
AS: We’ll shoot for four. [Some] traditional flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry. One flavor like spicy curry or smoky bacon. I want to come up with some funky flavors and one that is dairy-free too.
D: How about the butcher-shop aspect?
AS: We will offer all of our ground meats and fish to be taken home, either in patty form, to grill yourself, or meatball form. Also marinara sauce. And we are offering two sizes of meat loaf as well—beef meat loaf, shrimp loaf, elk loaf, whatever you want. If we are grinding some meat, we will have some retail steaks at the next counter. Some fresh chickens every day that were slaughtered that morning. We will definitely be working into specialty homemade sausage and pâtés too. Farm-fresh eggs will be available as well.
To Market, to Market
Speaking of market-restaurant combos, remodeling begins imminently to carve out a portion of the Fishguy Market for Wellfleet (4423 N. Elston Ave.; 773-283-7400). A few years back, Bill Dugan, the fishguy himself, operated a once-a-week restaurant by that name with a prix fixe menu in the market space after regular business hours, but now the goal is lunch and dinner six days a week. Dugan says he hopes to offer four or five market-driven entrées, with a focus on unusual but not expensive ingredients, such as abalone and live Nantucket bay scallops, and with low wine markups. “People should walk out and say, ‘That was good, and it was a heck of a good deal,’” he says. Dugan also pledges to serve pizzas in the style of his hometown of New Haven, Connecticut, including a white pizza with clams as well as a smoked salmon pizza, all made with dough started from a culture collected from a long-abandoned mill in Buchanan, Michigan. Thanksgiving is the hoped-for opening date. Of the Cape Cod towns that could be selected to evoke oceanside, ultrafresh seafood dining, Wellfleet hits the nail on the head. Sandwich probably wouldn’t have gotten the point across.
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Things to Do
1. Express your affinity for freebies (particularly fried freebies) Friday at Epic Burger (multiple city locations). Simply tell counter staff between 3 p.m. and close that you’re celebrating National Potato Day—and really, who won’t be?—and collect your free Friday fresh-cut french fries, which is the longest string of consecutive fr- words that has ever appeared in Dish.
2. Support Garfield Park Conservatory, which suffered extensive hail damage this summer, at a jumbo sidewalk sale on Sunday in the bustling Big Star parking lot (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039). Big Star, The Publican, Blackbird, Avec, and The Violet Hour will team up to peddle unused and extra kitchen swag—everything from beer mugs to chairs—to raise funds to help repair the conservatory.
3. Mingle with members of the Green City Market Junior Board tomorrow from 6 to 8 p.m. at Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted St.; 312-526-3385), where the chefs Jason Hammel and Jason Vincent will serve up free hors d’oeuvres, such as heirloom tomato tarts and corn cakes topped with black beans and kohlrabi, that highlight Genesis Growers produce. Drinks, featuring Death’s Door Spirits, will run you $11 each, a portion of which will benefit the market.
4. Check out this article and consider the fine line between loyalty and obsession.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
With its Ukrainian Village digs only weeks from opening, Bleeding Heart Bakery announced that it will also roll out a fourth location—this one at 116 South York Road in Elmhurst—in September. . . . Kudos to the Ruxbin crew, whose restaurant was named to Bon Appetit’s list of the ten best new restaurants in America. . . . Between Boutique Café & Lounge has been renamed Between Peruvian Café & Lounge, a move that better reflects the menu, which spotlights Peruvian dishes such as arroz con pato (slow-cooked duck with rice). . . . Remember that scene in Ratatouille where Anton Ego eats the reconceptualized ratatouille and instantly is transported to childhood? That’s the next iteration of Next, according to an interview with Time Out Chicago. (Okay, maybe Proust and the madeleine were first, but no one has actually read it.). . . . As was first reported by Uptown Update, Middle Eastern restaurant Caravan will join Uptown’s stacked roster of ethnic eats when it opens September 1.