“I have no restaurant experience,” says Hector Peña, owner of Café Bella (3311 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-292-5040), a brand-new Logan Square BYO. “I’m a real estate broker. My experience is McDonald’s, when I was 17 years old. My buddy is the chef, and I have always wanted him to open up his own place because his food is marvelous.” The buddy in question is Cesar Casas, a veteran of Ambria who most recently ran an Internet café in Pilsen, so Peña’s 35-seat “coffee shop with food” (and free wi-fi) shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Expect an original coffee blend and bargain-basement sandwiches, skewers, seviches, and bruschettas. “Our sandwiches are under $6, and you get a choice of pasta primavera or chips,” says Peña. “We are doing our part for the economy.”
“That is sort of an oaky afterbirth.” –Steve Carell (b. 1962) American actor, after sipping wine on NBC’s The Office
Sandwich Hunters, Take Note
Birchwood Kitchen (2211 W. North Ave.; 773-276-2100), run by Judd Murphy and Daniel Sirko, should be ready to rock in the former Cold Comfort space by mid-March. All meats will be roasted in house; mozzarella and condiments will be made in house, too. Sirko (Pastoral, Fox & Obel) has high hopes for the sandwiches, which include a leg of lamb French dip with pickled onions and homemade aïoli. “We just tested our club sandwich and we were really pleased,” he says. “Fresh pan-sliced turkey on the bone, Nueske’s bacon, field greens, roasted tomato jam, and mayo on multigrain bread.” The 35-seat BYO won’t have much hint of its former inhabitant. “We kind of gutted it,” says Sirko. “But it’s still cozy and comfortable. Our checkout counter is from a 100-year-old general store in downstate Illinois, and we’ve salvaged church pews from a church in Oak Park.”
Meet Sinee Techa
Techa is the owner of Oishii Thai (1113 Weiland Rd., Buffalo Grove; 847-537-8889), a new 50-seat spot in the northwest suburbs.
D: We hear you took an interesting route into the restaurant business.
ST: I came here from Thailand in 1984, because my husband was here. I graduated from IIT and went back home to work with the United Nations, resettling refugees from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. I worked there for five years. When I came back to America, I had nothing to do. It was very difficult for me to get a job. I decided to take up a window treatment business. I still have a store in Wheeling.
D: How did this lead to Oishii?
ST: Last year was a very slow year. My husband has passed away, and I am a little worried about myself and my family and my children, and I had free time to think, What should I do? I decided I should try the food business because people have to eat no matter what.
D: But what did you know about running a restaurant?
ST: I didn’t really know, frankly, but I took my chance. I don’t know much but I am a good cook. I am the one who does all the recipes. I hired three cooks, all from Thailand, with restaurant experience.
D: What are your specialties?
ST: The duck teriyaki or the maple duck, and the curry. The pot stickers. Thai custard. Fresh fruit freezes. I have a plan to add Japanese cuisine in the near future. I wanted to put Thai and Japanese together from the beginning but it is a lot of work.
Everything You Need to Know About . . .
. . . Palette Bistro (2834 N. Southport Ave.; 773-477-2565), a new 50-seat spot in the former Lucca’s space: “It’s a combination of French, American, and Italian,” says Salvatore Traina, the chef. “We have five pasta dishes. We have a beautiful scallop appetizer wrapped in bacon with pickled onion. We have lamb chops with mint. Then we have a whole trout infused with herbs and lemon caper sauce. We have prime filets and rib eyes. Iowa pork chop encrusted with portobello mushrooms. A very romantic place, but we also have Elmo and Big Bird toys. Pretty much families come in, but it is romantic. French doors will open right onto the patio.”
Things to Do
- Take a special bottle of wine or Champagne with you to one of these 12 spots for a meal on February 28th, and they’ll open it for free.
- Dine at a three-star restaurant for $35. Every Tuesday night, Zealous (419 W. Superior St.; 312-475-9112) offers a bargain three-course prix fixe dinner.
- Attend a free winetasting/appetizer sampling at Landmark (1633 N. Halsted St.; 312-587-1600) on February 25th between 7 and 8 p.m. Call for reservations.
- Go to Risqué Café (3419 N. Clark St.; 773-525-7711) on Monday night for all-you-can-eat wings for $6. We have no idea if they’re any good, but hey, $6.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Tapas Valencia (1530 S. State St.; 312-842-4444), a sibling of Mesón Sabika in Naperville, has opened in the South Loop. . . . Speaking of Naperville, Rosebud, synonymous with big Italian food, has closed its outpost there (48 W. Chicago Ave.), with plans to re-emerge in April as a comfort-food restaurant centering on burgers, ribs, and fried chicken. . . . Follow the hilarious adventures of the guy who will eat anything. (“Don’t worry, I checked the ingredients before I tasted it. ‘Smoker’s lung’ was not on there.”) . . . . We hate to finish on a somber note, but please consider Henry Bishop, the beloved sommelier at ¡Salpicón!, who was recently diagnosed with throat cancer. His peers (including Paul Kahan, Rick Bayless, and Bonny Doon’s famed winemaker Randall Grahm) hope to help him pay for his treatment by hosting a $100 benefit dinner in the private room of his previous employer, Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750) on March 3rd. Call 708-386-5994 to make reservations or go on www.henrybishop.net. BTW: $100 is the suggested donation, but you have too much class to contribute a penny less.