How To Taste Food

Restaurant Character of the Week
That would be André Christopher, who just opened The Grocery Bistro (804 W. Washington St.; 312-850-9291), a 68-seat West Loop BYO that lives up to its name. “You can find anything on my menu at the grocery store,” says Christopher, the former executive chef of Pops for Champagne and chef de cuisine of Japonais. “It’s amazing what you can find at Dominick’s, Jewel, and Stanley’s. A lot of the restaurants I worked at were foofy and bourgeoisie…

Restaurant Character of the Week

That would be André Christopher, who just opened The Grocery Bistro (804 W. Washington St.; 312-850-9291), a 68-seat West Loop BYO that lives up to its name. “You can find anything on my menu at the grocery store,” says Christopher, the former executive chef of Pops for Champagne and chef de cuisine of Japonais. “It’s amazing what you can find at Dominick’s, Jewel, and Stanley’s. A lot of the restaurants I worked at were foofy and bourgeoisie, all these fancy products while people are living in tents out in California. Ridiculous. This is a restaurant for now.” Christopher’s “streamlined” menu ($6 to $18) includes shared plates and entrées such as Japanese-style oysters Rockefeller and bacon/herb-crusted whitefish with lemon butter sauce. And Christopher, it turns out, is a vegetarian. “I taste stuff, obviously, but I just take it out of my mouth,” he explains. “My palate knows. For taste you just need your tongue and your brain.”

No More Dinners with Andrés

At the end of April, Andrés Lara, the talented pastry chef of NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030), plans to return to Spain, where he worked at the famed El Bulli. “He is still young and has a love affair with Spain,” says NoMI’s exec chef, Christophe David, who is now looking for a replacement. Is Lara returning to El Bulli? “Officially, I don’t know,” says David. Say no more, Christophe.

Speaking of NoMI . . .

We caught up with Ryan LaRoche—a 30-year-old veteran of Tru, DeLaCosta, and Las Vegas’s L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon—who beat out more than 100 applicants to become NoMI’s new chef de cuisine.

D: Where are you from?
RL: My father was with airlines, so we moved around a bit. California, Florida, started cooking in St. Louis. Then I moved to Breckenridge, Colorado, to do the old ski bum thing. That’s where I figured out that this is what I really wanted to do. Went to CIA in New York. Internship was at Aqua in San Francisco. Came to Chicago when I graduated, to work at Four Seasons under Robert Sulatycky.

D: You obviously have a lot to bring to the table at NoMI, but Christophe David is the executive chef. How does the collaboration work?
RL: He tells me what he wants and I interpret that into what I want to do. That’s my understanding. I present things to him and get his approval; he is the ultimate deciding factor in any decision we make here at the hotel.

D: How do you feel about this opportunity at NoMI?
RL: I am in awe right now. Not saying that I don’t deserve it, but to be here, talking to you on the phone . . . coming out of a tough job market . . . It takes a new kind of chef right now. Business-minded. And I’m not stepping into a place that’s in turmoil. They have really good systems. They have [equipment] here that I don’t even know how to use.

D: What was on your audition menu?
RL: The amuse was uni with orange soy broth. Cold appetizer was crab and shaved beet dome. Hot appetizer was a golden egg. Fish course was snapper with sauce basquaise. Excuse me. [to someone else in the kitchen] Can you turn off the heat under the pork jus for me? Thanks. I don’t want it to reduce too far. Sorry. The meat course was seared rib eye with shallot confit and pomme purée.

D: How long will it take for you to evolve the menu and call it your own?
RL: Andrew [Zimmerman, NoMI’s former chef de cuisine] was a very talented chef. There’s nothing here that I need to change immediately. . . . It takes a couple of months to have a solid Ryan LaRoche menu.

Quotable

“There are some things I don’t like, about which I think, well, that’s me. But coriander is a giant hoax perpetrated by a perverted society.” –Stephen Fry (b. 1957), English actor

Beard Science

Every year, the list of Chicagoans we congratulate for James Beard Award nominations grows longer. This time, all praise goes to HotChocolate’s Mindy Segal, nominated for the outstanding pastry chef; Rich Melman (outstanding restaurateur); Paul Kahan (outstanding chef, for his work at Blackbird; Avec’s Koren Grieveson (best chef: Great Lakes); Arun Sampanthavivat of Arun’s (best chef: Great Lakes); North Pond’s Bruce Sherman (best chef: Great Lakes); the crew at L2O (best new restaurant); Bin 36 (outstanding wine service); Spiaggia (outstanding service); The Publican (for both restaurant design and restaurant graphics); the smart folks behind the Alinea cookbook; Carol Mighton Haddix for the Tribune’s food section; ABC 7’s Steve Dolinsky (television food segment); the Chicago Tribune’s Phil Vettel and Monica Eng for this story; Eng again for this one; and chicagoreader.com’s Mike Sula and Michael Gebert for “The Whole Hog Project.”

Cheap Things to Do

  1. Go to Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn St.; 312-422-0150) any night after 7 p.m., and create your own three-course, $20 dinner from the comfort food menu.
  2. If you love halibut, or just have a secret crush on it, get to Tin Fish (18201 S. Harlem Ave.; 708-532-0200) between March 27th and April 5th, when the flaky Alaskan fish will be highlighted in various guises: as chowder, seviche, salad. They’re also poaching it, roasting it, and surf-and-turfing it. Huzzah, halibut.
  3. Check out the “tiffin” menu at Wave (W Chicago—Lakeshore, 644 N. Lake Shore Dr.; 312-255-4460), which is a fancy way of saying small plates. The difference is, these have an Indian slant (grilled chicken tikka with coriander peanut chutney), and are presented in “tiffin boxes.” FYI: Parking is free for diners.
  4. Watch Ruby’s new video, which mixes punk rock, state capitals, and marauding dinosaurs. Oh, and 10,000 M&Ms on his basement floor.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St.; 312-943-3000) has finally launched The Brasserie’s Market (1211 N. Wells St.; 312-943-0540), the European-style pastry/coffee/takeout spot owner Bob Djahanguiri has been promising next door, for like, two years. . . . Hop Haus, a River North burger-and-beer haven, has opened an offshoot in Rogers Park (7545 N. Clark St.; 773-262-3783), with similar offbeat game choices and late hours. . . . Muqdisho (2826 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-857-0707), a new Somalian restaurant, has opened in the old Calliope Cafe space. . . . Sign spotting: “Coming: Cocodrilos” at 1758 West Grand Avenue (the old II Jacks and Colucci’s space). . . . On the heels of Café Iberico’s opening of its own Basque-style pintxos bar upstairs (737 N. LaSalle St.; 312-573-1510) on weekends, its longtime rival Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba! (2024 N. Halsted St.; 773-935-5000) has introduced its own pintxos menu. Coincidence? Trend? Something else?

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