Two Notorious Bakers Land in New Gigs

Sweet talk from two returning pastry chefs; Fat Rice sets the bar for Macanese cuisine; six openings.

Heart Transplant

Now that the flour has settled in the too-public meltdown of Bleeding Heart Bakery, the beating heart of Bleeding Heart, the extravagantly tattooed Michelle Garcia, has taken up at E.Leaven (54 E. Ontario St., 312-202-0899), an everything-from-scratch bakery on the Near North Side. After closing BHB, Garcia spent a three-month sojourn in San Francisco as the executive pastry chef of the Four Seasons. But she missed the customer interaction of retail, so she returned for E.Leaven, where she can work from 4 a.m. until school pick-up time. Garcia makes six to eight breads daily, as well as three pies, cookies, eight kinds of bagels, and “flagels”—flat bagels for sandwiches. She’s also introduced her Take a Hike scone, the single most popular item from BHB. “As long as we sold those scones, we knew we would make rent,” she says. Here’s hoping everything’s cauterized.

Value-Added Taxim

Also returned to town is Natalie Zarzour, the former owner of Pasticceria Natalina, an exquisite but expensive bakery that, combined with Zarzour’s brash Twitter feed and unbending principles, earned her some celebrity. After she closed her bakery, she traveled in Italy, exchanging labor for a bed at a breadmaker in Campagna, a sheep farm in Lazio, and a citrus grove in Sicily. This past summer, she took a job baking at the Greek restaurant Taxim (1558 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-252-1558), making olive-oil-based spice cookies dipped in honey syrup and crushed walnuts, a yogurt–olive oil–mahlepi (a spice made of pulverized cherry pits) cookie, and the classic buttery ground-nuts cookie covered in powdered sugar. She’s also publishing her recipes on her website. Frankly, we didn’t expect her to return to Chicago. We’ll cede Zarzour the floor to explain.

Penny Pollack: I thought you were disillusioned with Chicago, and so I was surprised to hear you were back.
Natalie Zarzour: Penny, I’m disillusioned with the Planet Earth, but I have to make peace with it until it’s time to go home to the stars. Disenchanted with the planet doesn’t mean that I’m not madly in love with the planet. What people don’t understand is that my realism isn’t about anger and bitterness. It’s just about realism. I’m in love with nature, science, people. It’s not like Chicago has anything to like or dislike that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. I was really angry, but I feel so good now. I’m still totally blunt. I am totally happy.

Quotable

“My respect for the glories of French cuisine is unsurpassed, but I am a fool for junk food.” —Gael Greene (1933– ), American restaurant critic and author

Macau College

“Going to Macau to study food is like going to Las Vegas to study cacti,” says Abraham Conlon, one of the owners of Fat Rice (2957 W. Diversey Ave., 773-661-9170). Conlon and his partner, Adrienne Lo, visited the onetime Portuguese colony, now a Chinese gambling mecca, to learn about the unique fusion of European and Asian influences in traditional Macanese cuisine, although it’s getting hard to find, like a cactus on the Strip. The Macanese-influenced dishes on their Fat Rice menu include:

  • Pato de cabidela—duck stewed with red wine, star anise, cinnamon, and soy, then thickened with duck’s blood
  • Arroz gordo, the eponym of the restaurant—a paella-like dish of crispy rice, Chinese sausage, linguiça, salted Chinese-style duck, clams, and grilled prawns flavored with garlic, sofrito, and pickled raisins
  • Balichang catfish—catfish steamed in a clay pot with pork belly cooked with tamarind, palm sugar, and the shrimp paste called balichao, as well as egg tofu and mushrooms
  • Macau crisp—“It’s essentially a Rice Krispie treat that has pork floss [a fried-pork Asian snack], nori, and sesame,” Conlon says.

The no-reservations spot, which replaced the pair’s earlier concept Flour and Bones, has been open about a month. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to Atlantic City to study the migration of the brant.

What Is So Rare as a Restaurant Named Juno?

Recently back from a two-week swing through Korea and Japan, the former Urban Union partner Jason Chan reported on the progress of his project with the former Arami chef B.K. Park. The both-raw-and-cooked-Japanese place will be called Juno (2638 N. Lincoln Ave., no phone yet), not for the Roman goddess, pregnant Ellen Page, or Alaskan homophony, but for Park’s son. The kanji characters for Juno mean “successful achievement,” Chan says. After hiring a hot-kitchen sous chef, Chan and Park and the two sous will leave for another research trip, to New York and Los Angeles. “With so many sushi restaurants in Chicago and in America, we want to set ourselves apart,” Chan says. “We want five dishes that nobody else is doing.” They plan to open in late January or early February, and diners citywide hope it doesn’t drag out until June-o.

New Review: Arami

Chicago magazine’s December issue contains a review of Park’s last stop, Arami. 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. Arami previously was not listed. The December issue is for sale on newsstands now.

Arami (1829 W. Chicago Ave., 312-243-1535). Japanese.
★ (good)
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
If you think this is a place for sushi, reset. Before the opening chef B. K. Park left, yes, raw fish dishes outshined the rest, but now it’s the pickles and the output of the robata grill that deserve your belly space. Well-tuned flavors come in simple-looking packages, such as maitake mushrooms in two sauces (black garlic and pickled-plum) or bourbon-soaked tofu with scallions and shallots. Braised-duck donburi brings pickled plums and Fresno peppers to bear on tender duck leg and crispy skin. Alas, the sushi magic mostly left with Park. Loud when full. Sake list is expansive and expensive.

For the dishes we liked best, click here.

He Said It

“[My grandfather] was a World War Two veteran and loved to cook. He had a beautiful garden. He did all the right things before it was cool to do all the right things. Hopefully it’s in my bloodline to do this.” —Travis Strickland, the chef at Local (Hilton Suites, 198 E. Delaware Pl., 312-280-8887), the comfort-food spot that opened yesterday from the owners of Chicago Cut Steakhouse. Strickland most recently worked at Blackberry Farms in the Tennessee Smoky Mountains.

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Things to Do

1. Prep for seasonal hospitality with the Holiday Apps & Bubbly cooking class this Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Socca (3301 N. Clark St., 773-248-1155). For $45, guests learn to make four gourmet appetizers and sample sparkling wine pairings. Call the restaurant for reservations.

2. Donate a new, unwrapped toy and get a free cupcake at Sprinkles (50 E. Walton St., 312-573-1600) from now till December 14. This sweet deal benefits Toys for Tots Chicago.

3. Read A. A. Gill’s beef with Michelin in Vanity Fair.

Openings

  • The 300-seat Park Tavern (1645 W. Jackson Blvd., 312-243-4276) soft-opens today.
  • The all-vegetarian Ground Control (3315 W. Armitage Ave., 773-772-9446) lifted off yesterday in Logan Square.
  • The South American bar food spot Suite 25 (2529 N. Milwaukee Ave., 2nd Floor, 773-360-7478) opened this past Monday, under the same owner as Rio’s d’Sudamerica.
  • After closing its Uptown storefront this summer, the Indian restaurant Marigold (5413 N. Clark St., 773-989-4300) re-blossomed in Andersonville last week.
  • Following a quiet launch the Monday before Thanksgiving, Piggyback Tavern (410 Circle Ave., Forest Park, 708-669-9744) and its lower lounge are now full-service.
  • Blue Cat Café (600 Central Ave., Highland Park, 847-875-3201) opens this Saturday.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

The southern-tinged American restaurant M has closed up shop in Highland Park. . . . Roka Akor has announced a second Chicago-area location in Old Orchard Mall in Skokie, set for May 2013. . . . Jonathan Harootunian now heads Carlucci in Downers Grove, where he worked in the mid-’90s. His résumé also includes Courtright’s, Vivere, and Meritage. . . . Carly Fisher tweets that Andrew Brochu (most recently of Graham Elliot) landed at the currently considerably less haute-cuisine Uberstein in Wicker Park, introducing a new menu in January. . . . Scott Harris announced via text message that an “improved Davanti” is coming to the corner of Hubbard and State Streets on March 1.

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