Now that he’s got Park 52 (5201 S. Harper Ave.; 773-241-5200) and Room 21 (2110 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-328-1198) under his belt, Jerry Kleiner is looking for the next big score. Or, rather, scores. In October, Kleiner plans to open a 120-seat “nice little Italian eclectic” spot at 8 First Avenue in downtown Hinsdale. After that, he’s got his eye on Old Town, specifically an old warehouse garage in the 1400 North block of Wells Street. “I had to dig out a basement, so I’m getting to the empty canvas right now. Get ready for another picture.” Or two.
“Govern a great nation as you would cook a small fish. Do not overdo it.” –Lao-tzu (6th century B.C.), reputed founder of Taoism
House of Pain
It’s hard to know what to make of the situation at Powerhouse, (215 N. Clinton St., 312-928-0800). Jimmy Alexander’s American restaurant, one of Chicago magazine’s Best New Restaurants of 2008, is undergoing growing pains. The chef, John Peters, who crafted “surprisingly sophisticated seasonal fare,” and a minority partner/GM, Mitchell Schmieding, both left in the past week. Depending on whom you ask, their exit from the explosive West Loop spot may not have been harmonious.
Schmieding, who gave up his job as GM of New York’s Eleven Madison Park to take the post at Powerhouse, says that Alexander is in breach of contract for bringing in alternative management. Peters, an Alinea and Naha veteran, says the kitchen staff complained to him about bounced checks. “The whole thing was a breach of our agreement, which spiraled out of control very quickly,” says Peters.
Though Alexander does not deny that checks bounced, he says everyone was reimbursed—and he has a different take on Peters’ departure. “He was talking about how he wanted to move on, take time off and find himself,” Alexander says. “He could not take excessive pressure. I guess John had other plans.” (Peters’ response: “He’s denying what is actually happening at that restaurant.”) As for Schmieding’s allegations, Alexander says the man he brought in, a friend and restaurant consultant, wasn’t officially alternative management. “He’s assisting us in promoting our bar, and for some reason Mitchell was not happy with that,” Alexander says.
Peters plans to take some time off to travel and visit his parents in Colorado before returning to the Chicago restaurant scene. “It feels good to clear my head,” Peters says. “Because it’s pretty foggy at this point.” Schmieding, for his part, has hired a lawyer, who was slated to present final suit papers to Alexander on June 25th. And Powerhouse, per Alexander, will continue in the current direction under the new chef, Jeff Mauro. “Jeff is young and he has a great future here with us,” Alexander says.
Mauro, the former executive sous-chef under Peters (and former sous-chef at North Pond), says that the menu will shift to a more “traditional American,” rather than the contemporary tack Peters took: “Because,” as he says, “the man [Jimmy Alexander] said so.”
Ajasteak in 132 Words
Paper-wrapped wooden chopsticks—just like in Chinatown—were an omen of things to come during Pollack’s recent meal at Ajasteak (660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050). It’s a stunning multilevel space—chain mail window coverings, floating sushi bar, a menu rife with expensive wagyu and Kobe preps—but inside this pretty package, nothing works particularly well. At $24 for shaken wagyu (think steak tartare) and $18 an ounce for Kobe strip steak, she expected an in-depth explanation of the difference between the two prized cuts, but the sweet server had no clue. The kitchen seems flat-out MIA (limp “crispy” chili rock shrimp, lukewarm twice-baked potatoes, and worst of all, insanely salty Kobe). By the time she left, the lounge buzzed with cocktail culture and high sushi rollers. Could be that’s the best ticket you can buy here.
“My cousin is Franco Gianni, the owner of Tank Sushi. He was in having lunch one day and I brought it up to him: I’m thinking about sushi. He said it was a great idea and that he would help us out. With my executive chef, Lina Barbera, who is also Italian, we developed a cooked menu. We then acquired a sushi chef, Oni, who trained under Hemmi [at Tsuki and Ai]. The response has been unbelievable. Everyone was watching us: ‘What are you doing? You’re Italian. You’re the gelato guy. You’re from Massa.’ But I know what I like and I know what’s good. Give me a chance.” –Angelo Lollino, co-owner (along with wife Giovanna) of the month-old Inari Sushi (7428 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park; 708-583-2300)
5 Questions for Michael Taus
Duchamp, the new casual spot Taus is opening with Jason Freiman, Peter Gogarty, and Nick Podesta (Lumen), is slated to arrive late next month in Bucktown’s former Meritage space (2118 North Damen Avenue).
D: We liked Meritage. Will we recognize the space at all?
MT: We’ve redone the outside area. Very nice, clean design, very serene. Will be the go-to place for the summer.
D: How will Duchamp differentiate itself from what you do at Zealous?
MT: The menu will be very simple. Pricing will be fairly reasonable. We want to be an everyday place. I love what I do at Zealous but want to do something different here.
D: Like what?
MT: Doing a little French, a little Med. Throwing in a couple of fun Asian dishes. Thai bouillabaisse loaded with seafood in a red coconut curry. Spicy East-meets-West chicken wings. Braised pork shoulder with puttanesca ragù and spinach salad. Fish and chips with crispy skate wing and little garlic fries with homemade tartar sauce.
D: Jeez. Anything else?
MT: We’re going to start doing a Sunday barbecue, doing grilling outside. Really high-end burgers on homemade rolls.
D: Sure you’re covering enough ground?
MT: My style has been so global, it’s always hard for me to write a menu and not have a little bit of everything. But I have a classical French background. One of my first jobs was at Le Titi de Paris in Arlington Heights. Pierre Pollin said, “I have a stack of résumés this high; why should I hire you?” “Because I’m free.” I started the next day. That’s how you got into a restaurant then—by working for free.
Things to Do
- Go to Geja’s Cafe (340 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-281-9101), which seems to celebrate anniversaries more often than other restaurants. Lincoln Park’s fondue king commemorates its 43rd anniversary next week by offering 43 percent off all food bills from June 29th to July 3rd.
- Celebrate the annual Chicago Pride Parade at Ai Japanese Restaurant (358 W. Ontario St.; 312-335-9888) with a rainbow spicy tuna maki ($14.50) and a free glass of sparkling saké.
- See how the Hungarians once sold sausage and sing along with the catchy lyrics (“Ez a Jóska/Ez a Gyurka/Ez meg itt a véres hurka!”).
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Masala Yangu (43 E. Jefferson Ave.; Naperville), an East African spot that lasted 14 months, has closed. It will operate as a catering company. . . . Yats, a promising budget-friendly Cajun/Creole spot that has taken Indianapolis by storm, is opening at 955 West Randolph Street. . . . Fred Ramos (Room 21, Gioco) has taken over the kitchen at Angelina, 3561 N. Broadway; 773-935-5933), a popular Italian restaurant in Lake View. “I’ve changed the menu and increased the quality of the food and the dining experience,” he says. . . . If the Cubs’ right fielder, Kosuke Fukudome, hits a home run in any Friday game this season, RA Sushi (1139 N. State St., 312-274-0111; plus two other area locations) will offer every patron a 12-ounce Sapporo beer for a penny. Kosuke’s not exactly a power hitter, but he did connect Tuesday night against Baltimore.