Watershed Moment

Mr. Beef Lives!

Seems everyone in Chicago was already mourning the death of the famous Italian beef shack (666 N. Orleans St.; 312-337-8500) following a story in Crain’s Chicago Business last week that reported its owners owed a bank $650,000. “We refinanced and we’re not going anywhere,” says Chris Zucchero, the son of Mr. Beef’s owner, Joseph Zucchero. “But we’re touched by the outpouring of support we got from Chicagoans.” In other words…

Mr. Beef Lives!

Seems everyone in Chicago was already mourning the death of the famous Italian beef shack (666 N. Orleans St.; 312-337-8500) following a story in Crain’s Chicago Business last week that reported its owners owed a bank $650,000. “We refinanced and we’re not going anywhere,” says Chris Zucchero, the son of Mr. Beef’s owner, Joseph Zucchero. “But we’re touched by the outpouring of support we got from Chicagoans.” In other words, if you were about to rush out to River North

After the Flood

Maybe you noticed A Mano (335 N. Dearborn St.), aka The Italian Place Underneath Bin 36 (339 N. Dearborn St.; 312-755-9463), has been closed lately. The story behind its closure is exponentially more interesting than the usual boring economic reasons. “On January 16th, when it was like 20 below, we were in the middle of lunch service when we hear this loud bang,” says Dan Sachs, the owner. “A pipe had burst. Within five minutes the entire restaurant flooded. We all stood there, like they do in the movies, in shock. The customers thought it was exciting. Nobody left. A few changed tables or picked up their feet while we mopped and squeegeed around. Chicagoans can handle anything. But we had to pull out the floor and the booze and everything.” Sachs and John Caputo, his chef, have used the disaster to rethink A Mano and go back to Caputo’s rustic Italian roots. “We got too cerebral with the complicated menus and delicate presentations,” says Sachs. “So we’re not taking ourselves too seriously this time. Basically we’re keeping the stuff people love.” Expect an early March return.

Quotable

“As they say in Italy, Italians were eating with a knife and fork when the French were still eating each other.” –Mario Batali (b. 1960), American chef

6 Questions for Matthew Moss

Moss, the chef of District Bar (170 W. Ontario St.; 312-337-3477), slated to open on March 12th, is a veteran of Crofton on Wells, Ohba, and Park 52. Now he’s charged with differentiating this new 82-seat dining room from scores of other upscale taverns around town.

D: What will District’s menu be like?
MM: Eric’s vision [that’s Eric Tucker, District’s owner] was “a contemporary interpretation of classic dishes” and he basically let me run with the concept. I went out to San Francisco for research and development, ate at all the great spots out there: French Laundry, Zuni, Bar Tartine, Anchor and Hope, SPQR.

D: How did eating at these places help you?
MM: The simplicity of San Francisco food. The casual dining.

D: What’s your background?
MM: I went to CHIC [Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago] and I trained in Europe twice. Cascina Langa, a spa in Alba, Italy. I also worked at Costella d’Alba, where the truffle auction is.

D: How are you translating all of this to “a contemporary interpretation of classic dishes”?
MM: I’m well rounded in all types of cooking. I’m a Chicago boy. I used to work at Fox’s Pizza in Beverly. Working on Chicago classics like shrimp de jonghe. I’m doing artichoke fries with spinach dipping sauce. The base for the fries will be chickpea flour. And pork wing.

D: Pork wing?
MM: I went down to Key West, and got the idea. It’s basically the shank, pieces that look like chicken wings. We will marinate it in a cross between Buffalo wing sauce and mojo, braise it, and then fry, in the style of chicken wings. An entrée I’m really proud of is chicken-fried pork with parsnips, pearl-onion-and-fig hash, and a red-eye gravy–influenced sauce.

D: Desserts?
MM: Kicking around some ideas, like a Guinness float with caramel ice cream, Baileys cream, cocoa nibs, and graham cracker. Also working on Almond Joy: coconut ice cream, almond tuile, and some chocolate component.

Same Name, Different Game

Pizzeria Brandi (67 E. Cermak Rd.; 312-794-5900), a 35-seat spot near McCormick Place that conveniently shares its name with Naples’s most legendary pizzeria, opened at the end of January. Giulio Spizzirri, a partner with John Mauro, also owns La Cantina Grill (1911 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-842-1911) and Spizzico in Elmwood Park, and he neatly sidesteps the obvious question. “It’s just a name,” Spizzirri says. “We just wanted to make it different, in case people don’t like the other place.” (Spizzico, we assume.) At least he’s not doing Neapolitan pizza: “I know it’s really popular now,” he says. “But we do Chicago-style thin crust, deep-dish, and stuffed.” The counter spot also has been doing well with its baked Calabrese focaccia sandwich with salami, capocollo, prosciutto, mozzarella, provolone, and tomatoes, with balsamic vinaigrette ($7).

Artichokealypse Now

Jeff Muldrow, the owner of Va Pensiero (1566 Oak St., Evanston; 847-475-7779), has had the reins of his respected Evanston kitchen since Eric Hammond departed for Coco Pazzo Café (636 N. St. Clair St.; 312-664-2777) last September. “We have changed 70 percent of the menu,” says Muldrow. “My style is more product driven. We are doing a fresh rosemary-infused pappardelle right now with artichokes, pancetta, and diced tomatoes. Not cherry tomatoes and not a tomato sauce. It’s about artichokes. Really, now is the time for them.”

Things to Do

  1. Consider the sausage/beer/cheese event on February 21st at Rock Bottom Brewery (1 W. Grand Ave.; 312-755-9339): five original handmade sausage recipes, 20 craft beers from RB and local brewers, and ten artisanal cheese pairings from Marion Street Cheese Market (100 S. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-725-7200). The guest speaker is Abe Froman.
  2. Seek out The Eiffel Tower Restaurant Cookbook: Capturing the Magic of Paris (Chronicle), a plush new volume by Everest’s Jean Joho (with Chandra Ram) packed with recipes from Joho’s Vegas restaurant. We’re bummed they didn’t do an Everest cookbook, but hey.
  3. Bookmark The Local Beet, a smart new site dedicated to local and organic eating in Chicago.
  4. Take your pick between Restaurant Week and Chicago Chef Week. Both have some impressive spots and deals involved.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Osteria di Tramonto, the glitziest opening of 2006, has closed for remodeling. We have been assured it will reopen “in a few months.” Its sibling spot inside the Westin Chicago North Shore, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood (601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling; 847-777-6575), now serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. . . . The Markethouse (611 N. Fairbanks Ct.; 312-224-2200), a 160-seat seasonal American restaurant, opened on February 16th next to the Doubletree Hotel. . . . Feast unveiled its new 120-seat Gold Coast outpost (25 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-337-4001) on February 18th. . . . This luscious NPR story proves French kids are the luckiest on earth. . . . Timothy O’Toole’s, a popular Streeterville pub and grill, plans in March to open another location in the old Monkey Dish space near Great America (5572 Grand Ave., Gurnee).

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