The Chef Andrew Brochu Tells About Moving Downmarket to The Monarch
Eight Questions for Andrew Brochu
Brochu parted ways with the haute-cuisine restaurant Graham Elliot in September. Meanwhile, the boisterous beer-and-sausage bar Uberstein in Wicker Park closed, remodeled, and reopened a mere ten days later, this past Friday, as the casual restaurant the Monarch (1745 W. North Ave., 773-252-6053), with Brochu running the kitchen. He tells us that he really has left the world of white tablecloths and tasting menus behind.
Dish: How did you wind up in Chicago?
Andrew Brochu: I was born in Florida and raised in Georgia. I moved up here to do my externship at Alinea and never left. I was supposed to be here four months, and eight years have gone by.
D: What did you learn at Alinea?
AB: Obviously, a ton about modern cuisine, but also the push and striving for perfection whether you are doing fine dining or sandwiches or cooking for yourself.
D: What’s the plan for the Monarch?
AB: We want it to be extremely casual. The main goal is letting people enjoy themselves and have fun. Grab a bite to eat. Have a cocktail. No pretension. No fancy stuff.
D: What’s the menu like?
AB: About 16 to 18 items. Two sections. One is more appetizer-focused.
The second section is burgers, some sandwiches, and some larger-portion entrées.
D: Will you offer specials and change the menu seasonally?
AB: If I want to play around with something, I will. We will change seasonally, but not drastically. We will always have wings, a pretzel, and [other] things that aren’t necessary to change seasonally.
D: How are you challenging yourself?
AB: If you look at something like the dill pickle wings [chicken wings with a pickle-juice sauce], there is a massive outlet of creativity there. [Another example is] king salmon served with brown butter sauce. Quite traditional. The way I’m making it different: We are making Banchet-style potatoes—half potato and half butter.
D: How much does it cost to eat at the Monarch?
AB: The menu here, the way it’s set up, you could come in and have a date night and spend $50 a head. But you could come in and get a $9 order of wings or a pimiento cheese spread and a cocktail, and you are looking at $24.
D: What’s the room like?
AB: It’s one long, narrow space. [There’s] no barrier or wall between the dining room and bar, but they have two very different feels. Even if the bar is packed, you can have a [fairly] intimate dinner. We stop serving dinner at 11 p.m. on weekends, and [then] the lights go down, the music goes up, and it turns into a rowdy bar.
What’s Up, Dokku?
Just when you thought every restaurant-zoned storefront near Randolph and Halsted was already filled, Sushi Dokku (823 W. Randolph St., 312-455-8238) is scheduled to open to the public on Monday. The owners, Susan Thompson and Angela Hepler-Lee (Sushi Wabi, De Cero), plan to focus on dressed nigiri bites, where unique marinades or toppings will complement each fish. Omakase-style meals of maybe four courses will introduce diners to sea trout and other rarer fish. The 50-seat indoor space plus 25-seat warm-weather patio will showcase elegant simplicity (think furniture with Japanese joinery), the owners say, but don’t be distracted. “We want people to focus on the food,” Thompson says. Sounds like she’s fishing for compliments.
Last Friday, chef Dirk Flanigan announced that he has moved on from Henri and The Gage to start his own place, still in the planning stages, a move we first heard about from the Tribune. “I’ve been through childbirth and kids graduating from high school,” he says. “It was time. Just time for me to hopefully elevate myself to the next step of chef/owner. It’s bittersweet, but you have to take some risks in order to advance.” At Henri, the former chef de cuisine Chris Gawronski earned a promotion to executive chef. The Gage’s top spot is unfilled—unlike the restaurant itself, which seems permanently packed.
“I judge a restaurant by the bread and by the coffee.” —Burt Lancaster (1913–94), American film actor
Setting the Siena
Siena Tavern (51 W. Kinzie St., 312-788-7078), the Italian concept from the owners of Bull & Bear and Public House and the Top Cheffer Fabio Viviani, has pegged its opening to February 15. Viviani met the Bull & Bear guys over beers at Public House. They hit it off, and he took them on a trip to show them authentic, everyday Italy. “They had been in Italy, but [like] 98 percent of Americans, they hadn’t seen the Italy that the Italians get to see,” Viviani says. Viviani’s from-scratch menu will feature gnocchi, fresh pastas, his grandmother’s lasagne, and pizzas baked in a Woodstone oven. “It’s like a Ferrari for us,” he says. “We may have to charge people a ticket just to walk in and check out the oven.” The place won’t go so far as to produce its own flour, but we wish they would, so we could interview the Siena miller.
Scratch Mac Fever
Speaking of scratch cooking, Scratch Kitchen & Lounge (7445 Madison St., Forest Park, 708-689-8427) opened on Saturday with a core menu of burgers, macaroni and cheese, and french fries, with a radical scratchist philosophy. “We make our own pickles. We make our own ketchup and mustard,” says Bobby Belanski, the chef. The house-ground brisket-chuck burgers start at $9, increasing to $11 for the signature versions, such as the blue cheese, red onion, tomato, and truffled arugula Scratch Burger. Mac and cheese runs $12 for a full portion of the house preparation and $9 for a mini. “Our normal mac and cheese is a full pound of pasta,” Belanski says. “We throw a lot of macaroni at you.” Too bad Belanski isn’t one of those people who use “literally” as an intensifier, because “We literally throw macaroni at you” would have been a great quote.
Maybe We Should Call This Newsletter "Restaurant News Dumb Jokes"
Two-thirds of the menu categories are right in the name of Aguas Tortas (618½ Church St., Evanston, 847-425-3630), a counter-service Mexican spot in downtown Evanston that opened in mid-December. “We do aguas, tortas, and plats,” says Juan Jiménez, the owner. Jiménez, who owned the recently closed Norwood Park neighborhood favorite Tanzitaro, says the aguas include tamarind and hibiscus flower tea, the tortas include pork tenderloin in guajillo sauce, and by plats he means dishes such as chicken mole and a taco dinner. Tanzitaro fans will recognize the mole. Funny, we just typed almost the same sentence in a spy-novel review.
- Pollack leaves her mark at Nightwood.
- Every delicious sauce deserves bread.
- This snapper’s got plenty of, er, pep.
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Things to Do
- Celebrate Pizza Week at Frasca (3358 N. Paulina St., 773-248-5222) with a cooking class tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. For $30, learn to make thin-crust margherita or pepperoni pizza, then eat your handiwork, paired with two glasses of wine. Call for reservations.
- Perk up your Monday night with Flutes and Frites at Atwood Café (1 W. Washington St., 312-368-1900). Every week from 5 p.m. to close, get a flute of sparkling wine, three kinds of fries, and specialty dipping sauces for $10.
- Bring a compañero to Cantina Laredo (508 N. State St., 312-955-0014) for half-price fajitas for two ($17, normally $34) from 5 to 10 p.m. every Wednesday in January.
- Reflect on foodie culture (and possibly your own reflection) as Chicago’s chief dining critic, Jeff Ruby, responds to an influential Vanity Fair essay and reviews the new forager haven Elizabeth.
- Sataza (28 S. Clinton St., 312-655-8292), a Chipotle-style create-your-own-wrap Indian restaurant, opened earlier this month.
- Gene Kato’s Sumi Robata Bar (702 N. Wells St., 312-988-7864) and its downstairs sibling, the 11-seat Japanese cocktail lounge Charcoal Bar, will soft-open tomorrow at 5 p.m.
- Billy Sunday (3143 W. Logan Blvd., 773-661-2485), the new cocktail lounge from Matthias Merges (Yusho) with food based on early-20th-century picnics and Sunday suppers, is slated to open Friday.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
It’s avanti with Davanti Enoteca, as Scott Harris plans to open a branch at 800 West Hillgrove Avenue in Western Springs by March 10. . . . We heard about a new Italian spot called Isle of Sicily in the original Harlem Avenue location of Fiorenza, but that’s all we can say, because when we called they hung up on us, twice. . . . Dollop Coffee & Tea was set to open in Streeterville today at 345 East Ohio Street but was delayed because of a fire. . . . Closed since Christmas for revamping, South Water Kitchen reopened Monday. . . . Eater reports that the Italian small-plates spot Alimentari, neighbor to Blackbird and Avec, closed before the New Year after only six months in business. . . . Hannah’s Bretzel will open a fifth location at 555 West Monroe Street in March. . . . Stretchino’s Pizzeria serving cracker-crust pizzas, Italian beef, breaded-steak sandwiches, and pastas, opened about a month ago in Chicago Ridge, under the ownership of the eponymous Tim Stretch. . . . Big shake-up at Cru: an all-new team, with Alex Shalev (Sola, Park Grill) as executive chef.