Singh a New Song
The sommelier and Check, Please! host Alpana Singh says things are coming into greater focus at the Boarding House (720 N. Wells St., no phone yet), her wine-driven restaurant in a townhouse, where each level will offer customers a different experience, such as more formal dining on the second floor and a late-night lounge in the wine cellar. The food will spin out of Singh’s and chef Christian Gosselin’s travels, rather than the previously announced plan of food from a bygone era. Singh has collaborated closely with Gosselin to optimize wine pairings. Some example dishes:
• Gosselin takes the spiced-meat filling from tourtière, a Québécois meat pie, and relocates it to ravioli. Thyme, sage, and mushrooms predominate. “When I taste the dish, the herbs and mushrooms, I’m thinking pinot noir and wines from southern France,” Singh says.
• “Christian, guys, can we do something with Tater Tots? People love Tater Tots,” Singh requested. Gosselin took homemade Tater Tot coating and wrapped it around spiced pulled pork. “I’m thinking rosé Champagne. We could do something like Spanish red with it,” Singh says.
• Rack of lamb with a chickpea panelle. “Definitely pinot noir, picking up a lot of those Mediterranean flavors. Very Provençal, Côtes du Rhône, Carignan,” Singh says.
The Boarding House is scheduled to open up like a nice Bordeaux by mid-September. Singh also has desserts and baked goods lined up—see the next item.
Sing a Sweet Song
On July 23, Jennifer Templeton opened GingerSnap Sweets & Such (1416 W. Irving Park Rd., 773-697-8529) in a building with a small retail space and a large production kitchen, formerly belonging to the Austrian coffee shop Julius Meinl. Templeton already knew the space well from her time as the executive pastry chef for Meinl, so when it became available, she saw the stars aligning. A first-magnitude star in that constellation is Templeton’s second-degree-of-separation connection with Singh, who hired her to train cooks to produce her wares on a large scale at the Boarding House. Templeton plans a dessert menu of straightforward items such as seasonal fruit tarts and birthday cakes. “I like the idea that everyone should enjoy something really delicious every day, and the more approachable I make it, the more likely they are to do that,” she says. A noble philosophy, but encouraging the readers of this newsletter to enjoy something delicious every day is preaching to the choir.
“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!” —James Beard (1903–1985), American chef and food writer
The frequent Dish mentionee Dudley Nieto (Totopo, Zocalo, y más) did not figure into the mental picture we’d formed of Mezcalina (333 E. Benton Pl., 312-240-5000) while chasing down the Oaxacan restaurant and coffee shop in Lakeshore East since March. Nevertheless, Nieto will serve as a consultant for the chef Manuel Bañuelos, 29, when Mezcalina opens September 15 (the July 4 of Mexico). “We want to have every dish with a Oaxacan signature,” Bañuelos says, citing imported ingredients such as chocolate, hoja santa, and grasshoppers. Dishes will include:
• Octopus chintextle, made with a paste of pasilla chilies, dried shrimp, avocado leaves, and roasted-garlic paste
• Barbacoa tatemada, sour-orange-marinated lamb shank and shoulder cooked for eight to twelve hours
• Tlayuda, a pizzalike dish with a corn tortilla, asiento (a pork or beef fat), tasajo (cured beef), and quesillo, which the Mezcalina partner Ulises Sánchez says is “a very, very high-end Oaxacan cheese—a string cheese.”
The bar specializes in mezcal, the first two-thirds of the restaurant’s name. As for Nieto, he’s onboard until around the new year, virtually guaranteeing another Dish mention in 2013.
Five Questions for Dana Cree
Dish: What have you done at Blackbird so far?
Dana Cree: I think I turned the whole menu in three weeks. The first thing I did was a dessert I did for my tasting [at the job interview]: bubblegum ice cream. Years ago in Seattle at a restaurant called Veil, a friend who is a food scientist helped me come up with a formula for bubblegum without purchasing bubblegum flavoring: orange, lemon, banana, and vanilla. [For the Blackbird dessert,] we added those flavors in different textures on the plate. The sort of little crown jewel is bubblegum mochi. It was like the missing texture. You chew on just a little bite so it replicates the feeling of bubblegum in your mouth, but in five or six chews it’s gone.
D: How do your desserts fit together with the savories at Blackbird?
DC: [Blackbird’s chef] David Posey and I are both very thoughtful about our food. [Blackbird’s executive chef] Paul [Kahan] does not like a lot of kitsch, so you will never see a deconstructed s’mores dessert on the menu, but the bubblegum, it’s a little bit emotional and a little bit intellectual and definitely fits. A lot of the other desserts are more influenced by my time in Scandinavia. And Posey is half Danish and spent time summering in Denmark every year.
D: What’s a Danish dessert on your menu?
DC: Kolbskål. It means “cold bowl.” It’s this really frothy buttermilk custard, and you make it the same way as eggnog but instead of adding rum, you add buttermilk. Danes eat that with just crisp vanilla wafers on top.
D: Do you make that true to form?
DC: Nope. It’s called raspberry sherbet on the menu. I paired it with raspberry and black licorice because those are two very Danish flavors to me. Yogurt is also very Danish to me. We create sort of a well with yogurt and garnish the walls of the well with the crisp cookies and pearls of black licorice, shattered raspberries, and a little bit of raspberry sauce. And then we serve it with raspberry buttermilk sherbet. And at the table we pour the buttermilk custard into the well.
D: Kahan told us you were the absolute right match for the restaurant. Why do you think he said that?
DC: I don’t know, but I felt that same way as soon as I met him as well. The level of creativity that Blackbird allows without going off the deep end is a really good match for all the varied experiences that I have.
New Review: Troquet
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. Troquet previously was not listed. The new review appears in the September issue, on newsstands now.
Troquet (1834 W. Montrose St., 773-334-5664). French.
$ ($20–$29 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
You might think you’ve died and gone to frites heaven at this comfortable corner pub, but the tiny menu includes other great things to eat, too. Steamed mussels get things off to a rousing start; follow with darned good quiche, a cheese plate, a croque monsieur (or its even better vegetarian sibling), or one of the plats of duck, fish of the day, or even a cheddar jalapeño brat. (And yes, it’s fun to say “brat plat.”) The combination of sports on TVs over the bar and modest, convincingly Euro bistro fare on your table is very nice indeed.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
C-House Run. Run, House, Run!
Sometimes things just fall into place, as simple as A, B, C-House (MileNorth Hotel, 166 E. Superior St., 312-523-0923), as they did for Rah Shabazz, lately of the upscale English pub Dandelion in Philadelphia. He moved to Chicago without a job May 11, interviewed at C-House, and started as sous chef May 22. Then, when the head chef, Nicole Pederson, left to join the team opening Evanston’s Found, Shabazz, 28, got promoted—July 15. By fall, the menu will be all his. “I think contemporary American is license to do anything,” he says. “[My food shows] Asian and Latin influences, but I also really like down South, Southern comfort food.” Note to self: Try to make barbecue brisket with Southern Comfort.
- Pollack rolls into Sable Kitchen & Bar . . .
- . . . and slides into City Tavern.
- Messing around at Old Oak Tap.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Defy the maxim and grab a free lunch, compliments of Dos Equis Mobile Academy. Every day through the end of August, the Mobile Academy Food Truck (which is actually the Duck N Roll truck in a temporary disguise) will pass out gratis steamed buns with miso-glazed beef tongue, sea cucumber braised in oyster sauce, and jellyfish salad—all created by Duck N Roll’s Amy Le—from a Loop-ish location. Tomorrow the truck stops at the intersection of Wabash and Van Buren Streets from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Follow Dos Equis on Twitter for location updates.
2. Raise a glass at the Naperville Wine Festival (CityGate Centre, 2135 City Gate Lane, Naperville, 847-382-1480), staining teeth purple from 4 to 10 p.m. on Friday and 3 to 9 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets cost $28 online and $35 at the door, and include a souvenir wine glass, ten tastings, and access to food and wine demonstrations and musical entertainment. Restaurants such as SugarToad and Bullhead Cantina will prepare small plates for purchase.
3. Feed your artsy side at Ada Street (1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069), where the local artist Ruben Aguirre will transform the restaurant’s ten-by-ten-foot garage door into a street-art-inspired backdrop as Michael Kornick and Zoe Schor work their magic on the outdoor grill. Beginning at 6 p.m. on August 28, the chefs will whip up a backyard feast featuring baby back ribs, elotes, vegetable skewers, and watermelon Jell-O. Tickets are $30, and 100 percent of the event’s proceeds benefit Chicago Urban Art Society. Reservations available by e-mail.
• Trattoria Ultimo (1953 W. Chicago Ave., 312-243-6343), a 20-seat BYO Italian spot with a short, simple menu, soft-opened last week. The decor has an unusual aspect. “I have like all tables that I found in a slaughterhouse,” says Antoine Cedicci, the owner.
• BellyQ (1400 W. Randolph St., 312-563-1010), a modern Asian barbecue concept from Bill Kim (Belly Shack, UrbanBelly), opens tonight. BQ2GO (as in, Belly Q’s takeout business), debuts tomorrow at 11 a.m.
• Lao Mala (2017 S. Wells St., no phone yet), a seventh Chinatown spot from Mr. Chinatown himself, Tony Hu, soft-opens today in the former Lure space (per The Stew). Hu also divulged to Dish that he plans to open a second Lao Sze Chuan at 4832 North Broadway (the former Marigold space) on September 1.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
In a big week of chef shuffling, Koren Grieveson parted company with Avec (per Eater), Jonathan Zaragoza (Birrieria Zaragoza) landed at Masa Azul, and Jackie Shen flew the coop at Friendship Chinese Restaurant. . . . Evanston spots Austin’s Tacos and Hota have both called it quits.