Chop Down the Tree, Plant a New One
Oak Tree Restaurant (900 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-751-1988), a Chicago institution that has held court in the Bloomingdale’s building for 18 years, has closed for three months so the space can be gutted and reintroduced on October 1st as Oak Tree Restaurant & Bakery. “It’s a little tired, design-wise,” says Hale DeMar, the owner. “It’s a very, very sophisticated neighborhood, and we are going to provide a new environment: stylish, urban, cosmopolitan.” The straight-up American menu of sandwiches, soups, salads, and breakfast all day, will remain, plus dinner will be served. DeMar also promises a “healthier consciousness,” and a European artisan bakery with breads made on site.
“I cook with wine; sometimes I even add it to the food.” –W. C. Fields (1880-1946), American humorist and actor
4 Questions for Andrés Lara
Lara, a Skokie native, French Pastry School graduate, and veteran of kitchens from China to Denmark to El Bulli in Roses, Spain, is the new pastry chef at NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030).
D: What is it about desserts that intrigues you?
AL: I’m not into the savory side. I’ll try anything once, but the thought of having to work with raw products and things that are dead doesn’t appeal to me. With desserts, you are working with things that are very much alive.
D: How would you describe your desserts?
AL: The style is very modern but more than anything we try to make them look alive. Do not like them to be stacked in squares. They should look like something from your garden or something that just fell out of a tree and looks naturally beautiful.
D: What can we look forward to this summer at NoMI?
AL: My favorite dessert is called the apricot pearl [$10]. It mimics oysters and pearls but it’s a half-roasted apricot, and where the pit used to be, there’s an organic whole yogurt sphere with tarragon dust. Once you break [the sphere], it oozes out onto the plate as a sauce. That goes with fromage blanc sorbet, micro tarragon, and edible orchids.
D: Is this a brand-new idea?
AL: Yes, brand new. It started with an idea of corn and peaches. A few frustrating weeks later, it turned into apricot and tarragon.
Isaac Yoon, the Korean-born owner of Shabu House (8257 W. Golf Rd., Niles; 847-470-1700), can’t stop talking about his 75-seat spot. “This is a special food,” he says. “You don’t need a chef, a special man working in the kitchen. Because this is a cook-it-yourself for the customers. Every seat has a cooker built in. We serve 13 different kinds of vegetables for everybody, and three varieties of beef. We have special Korean dishes, and special dessert: paz. It’s a fried sweet potato with natural sugar syrup—very crispy, just like a candy.” Yoon, a former businessman, has plans to franchise the shabu-shabu concept and take it to Naperville, Gurnee, and downtown Chicago.
He Said It
“I see people who come in for breakfast on Thursday and I will see them again for dinner that night. But in the restaurant business, you can never have enough business. If there’s not a line out the door, there’s not enough business.” –Mike Dixon, owner of Nosh (211 James St., Geneva; 630-845-1570), which recently added an “eclectic American small-plates” dinner three nights a week to its breakfast and lunch hours
An FOD raved about her recent experience at Little Brother’s (818 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-661-6482), a bright new Korean-influenced fast-food joint in Lincoln Park from Christian Oh, a graduate of CHIC. “The offerings are limited for now, but we were told they will be expanded. Basically it’s chicken, tender short ribs, or tofu with rice and a choice of three sauces (we liked the “sweet chil-antro”) and fresh, crisp salads (cucumber-onion, wasabi cole slaw, or lettuce). Big taste for small change. We also had a pineapple lemonade with small chunks of fresh fruit, and a slightly sour cherry limeade.”
From Sur, With Love
Tango Sur (3763 N. Southport Ave.; 773-477-5466), the BYO Argentinean steak house that has been packed on Southport for years, has plans to open a new 100-seat location at 2100 West Division Street in August. “It’s going to be like [the original] Tango Sur, but with a full bar,” says Sergio Di Sapio, the owner. “Might be a couple of new things [on the menu], some new steaks, and a little bit more fish.” Like every other place on Division, it will have outdoor seating—plus live music and DJs.
Melman: The Next Generation
On our visit to the brand-new HUB 51 (51 W. Hubbard St.; 312-828-0051), R. J. and Jerrod Melman worked the room as tirelessly as their old man used to. They schmoozed, made suggestions, and knew when to move on. As for dinner, the spicy shrimp/king crab sushi roll didn’t blow us away, but pulled chicken nachos were a bar-food revelation. The homemade chips were so thin and delicate that they could barely support the tender chicken, melted cheese, and fresh guac, but that didn’t stop our foursome from picking the platter clean. The tuna burger was rare and succulent; overnight-braised short ribs scored melt-in-your-mouth praise all around.
Things to Do
- One Tuesday in July, check out the lunch buffet at The Signature Room (John Hancock Center, 875 N. Michigan Ave., 95th floor; 312-787-9596), which is only $10, plus tax and tip, for the month. (Normally it’s $18.) Hell, the view alone is worth the $10.
- If you’re attending a Thursday night outdoor concert at Deerfield Commons from July 10th to July 31st, stop in to Wildfish (730 Waukegan Rd., Deerfield; 847-317-9453), where four-course Japanese dinners are $28 from 5 to 9 p.m. on the night of the concert.
- Send your hot, flaky pot pies to the FDA.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
A correction: Oni, the sushi chef at Inari Sushi, never worked at Tsuki, as we wrote in last week’s column. We regret the error. . . . According to the new Zagat Survey for Chicago, the average diner here tips 19.1 percent. . . . Ted Allen, our former colleague at Chicago magazine, stars in Food Detectives, the Food Network’s upcoming series that teams up with Popular Science magazine to demystify old food conundrums (Does it really take seven years for gum to digest in your stomach?). . . . Michael Gebert, a co-founder of LTHforum.com, has launched a thought-provoking video podcast series, Sky Full of Bacon, which delves into serious food topics such as the challenges of eating locally in Chicago.