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Jimmy & the Blowfish

Mana Mia!

One of our top FODs checked out MANA foodbar (1742 W. Division St.; 773-342-1742), Jill Barron and Susan Thompson’s (Sushi Wabi and De Cero) new vege-focused boîte in Wicker Park. Herein the report, verbatim: “Just had lunch at Mana. Very organic. Reminds me a little of the Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC. Very small, like the portions. Blue cheese tart with caramelized onion was YUM!, but one bite full for $7. The spanakopita was more generous for $8—firm and very…

Mana Mia!

One of our top FODs checked out MANA foodbar (1742 W. Division St.; 773-342-1742), Jill Barron and Susan Thompson’s (Sushi Wabi and De Cero) new vege-focused boîte in Wicker Park. Herein the report, verbatim: “Just had lunch at Mana. Very organic. Reminds me a little of the Momofuku Noodle Bar in NYC. Very small, like the portions. Blue cheese tart with caramelized onion was YUM!, but one bite full for $7. The spanakopita was more generous for $8—firm and very tasty. The charred artichoke with sweet chili dipping sauce was excellent. Loved the grilled Japanese eggplant in a miso glaze, but $11 for a large order, again, was [a] small [portion]. Great that they can cook vegetarian without the tofu thing going.”

A Conversation with Jimmy Sneed

Sneed, 56, won James Beard nominations and acclaim from Esquire as chef of The Frog and the Redneck in Richmond, Virginia. On September 12th he’s opening SugarToad, a 95-seat regional American spot in Naperville’s brand-new, luxury-green Hotel Arista (Route 59, just north of the I-88 corridor).

D: What’s your background?
JS: I was working at awful restaurants back in the ’70s. Got lucky to get a job with Jean-Louis Palladin at the Watergate. Greatest chef America had ever seen. All you had to do was ask him. I worked with him for 5½ miserable years and he screamed at me for 3½ hours a night. First week in the kitchen, the maître d’ walked in and said, “Jean-Louis, we have customers out there who say they are going to leave if you don’t stop screaming.” “I don’t care!” he screamed back.

D: But did you love him?
JS: Oh, my God, yes. He was genuine and passionate. At his funeral I gave the first eulogy. I said: “Jean-Louis’s last words were, ‘Jimmy is still an asshole.’”

D: Tell us about SugarToad. What’s your style like?  
JS: Utter simplicity. Chefs look at my food and think, he didn’t garnish it. What’s he thinking? I don’t sprinkle, dribble, stack, squirt, or in any way take away from the food. A few years back [Esquire’s food writer] John Mariani said to me, “I’ve seldom met a dish that wouldn’t benefit from the removal of two or three ingredients.” And I said: “John, if you take two or three ingredients off my plate, you have a plate.”

D: What will be my favorite dish at SugarToad?
JS: My waiters are not allowed to recommend a dish. Traditionally, waiters recommend dishes to steer you away from the bad items. My servers will eat every dish on the menu. If there is a dish they don’t like, we will fix it or take it off the menu. I want every bite of every dish to taste great.

D: How about desserts?
JS: I like the classics. I do old-fashioned pearl tapioca pudding that will make you cry. But if I find a pastry chef who wants to dribble and squirt, I would allow him a certain amount of freedom of expression.

D: OK. So what’s with the name?
JS: Sugar toad is a blowfish from the Chesapeake Bay. I had a little restaurant on the Rappahannock River. One of the crabbers brought me a half a dozen of these fish one day. I said: “What are those?” He said: “Them are sugar toads. They’re sweet as sugar and ugly as toads.” [Editor’s note: Sneed will present tempura-battered sugar toads as a free teaser for all guests.]

Quotable

“In Spain, attempting to obtain a chicken salad sandwich, you wind up with a dish whose name, when you look it up in your Spanish-English dictionary, turns out to mean: Eel with big abscess.” –Dave Barry (b. 1947), American humorist

A Simple Plan

Paul Wildermuth, last seen as the exec chef of Opera (1301 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-461-0161), now runs the kitchen at the Briarwood Country Club (355 Deerfield Rd., Deerfield; 847-945-2660). “I have always wanted to chef at a private club,” Wildermuth says. “This has always been part of the master plan, and [general manager] Ed Conter is one of the best GMs in the game.” Wildermuth put in nine years with KDK (Gioco, Marché, Red Light, and Opera), opening and maintaining three of its four restaurants, and left on “very good terms” with the partners. We asked if his master plan included a return to the city, and Wildermuth played coy: “Right now, I am exactly where I want to be. Ask me again after the season is over.”

Hey, Bon Appétit, Check This Out

John Manion (Mas) really gets around these days. He will run the kitchen at West Town’s beer-centric Old Oak Tap (2109 W. Chicago Ave.) when it opens in mid-August, says Chris Ongkiko (The Continental and Lava Lounge), a co-owner. “We aren’t looking for Bon Appétit to write about us,” says Ongkiko. “It’s high-end bar food. Gourmet sandwiches and salads. Not things you can get off a truck and throw into a deep fryer.” The place, which has three sets of double doors that’ll be open in good weather, will also serve 12 draft beers and 30 to 40 bottled beers. As for Manion’s role, Ongkiko describes it thusly: “John’s our consultant. It’s up to him to see that we are not doing anything too earth-shattering but that the quality and the freshness are high.”

Things to Do

  1. Read where the Obamas like to dine in Chicago.
  2. Sample free pizza at La Madia (59 W. Grand Ave.; 312-329-0400) Mondays through Fridays, 4 to 6 p.m., when you try the weekly wine selections ($5 per glass).
  3. Learn how to flaunt French at a supermarché.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

The suspense is over. Paul Kahan settled on a name for his beer-centric spot at 845 West Fulton Market: The Publican. A few months back Kahan said he thought “The Publican” sounded too political, but hey, it’s a political year. Think late August; no phone number yet. . . . Mrs. Park’s Tavern (Hilton Suites, 198 E. Delaware Pl.) has closed (although it still provides food service on the second floor of the hotel). The Bice Group has taken over the vacated space with plans to open Café Med by the end of August. . . . Red & White (1861 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-486-4769), a new sustainable- and organic-minded wine shop—racks and counters hand-built from 100-year-old recovered barn wood—in Bucktown stocks many small-batch and Old World wines frequently priced at under $20 a bottle. . . . Tom Eckert has left his chef post at Café 103 (1909 W. 103rd St.; 773-238-5115) for the corporate chef position with Rizzo’s Corp. (6 W. Jefferson St., Naperville; 630-305-4396). Eckert reports that 103’s owners, Blair and Shirley Makinney, hired talented new chef, Rob Kurecki, to take over their kitchen. “I tested some of the food he’s going to put out and I was pretty impressed. He spent time at Spiaggia and Fahrenheit.”

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