For NoMI (Park Hyatt Chicago, 800 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-239-4030), the end of 2010 was a roller coaster. In August, executive chef Christophe David resigned to move to Switzerland. Then in November, the restaurant garnered a Michelin star and announced shortly after that it was closing in January for renovations. According to the new, young (32) executive chef, Ryan LaRoche, the new NoMI—scheduled to reopen this summer—will keep what worked at the old NoMI but lighten up a little. The style of the food will stay the same. “I will always stick to my French guns,” LaRoche says. But this doesn’t mean jettisoning the not-French elements. “The sushi is staying,” he says. “Absolutely, I would be crucified if we got rid of that.” The menu will be larger, and the increase in options will allow for shorter meals. “We want this to be a frequent location [for diners]. Not just once a year for their anniversary,” he says. And the décor is getting a complete overhaul, down to the rebar. A new look and a loosened-up attitude—after a tumultuous year, who couldn’t use a makeover and a massage?
A friend of Dish visited the brand-new Fish Bar (2956 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-687-8177) last weekend and gave us this early report:
What started a little sour (apparently 3:30 p.m. falls during a service break) ended sweet as pie. Specifically, Key lime from Mindy Segal of HotChocolate. I was on board with the kitschy nautical décor—a Mason jar here, an upside-down canoe there—but the cutesy names and uninformative descriptions on the cocktail list rubbed me wrong. Happily, the Old School (a Paloma, renamed) packed a wallop in its eight-ounce Mason jar. Another Mason jar—they’re fond of them—delivered fresh tuna and salmon tartare, which hopped up nicely with some hot sauce. The Eastern belly clams were sold out—sniff, sniff—but I got my fried fix from the meaty tail-on shrimp. The daily catch, a Tasmanian sea trout, paled in comparison to a zesty crab patty on the most buttery of buns. I’ll be back to try those clams.
From the Mouths of Babes
When David Stearns had the word out that he was searching for a name for his forthcoming low-key bar and restaurant, a friend was reading her daughter Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? On the appropriate page, the daughter said, “Black sheep!” and the name clicked into place: Bar Bar Black Sheep (1415 N. Milwaukee Ave.; no phone yet). “It’s simple. No pretense,” Stearns says. The management hopes for a quiet atmosphere and straightforward, healthful food such as soups, salads, and panini, designed to appeal to busy neighborhood professionals looking for a break. A sandwich and a drink should cost less than $20. The opening is planned for mid-April. Lucky the kid was the right age to inspire the name—one year younger and the place might have been called Gaaaaaaaah.
Six Questions for Bruce Finkelman and Rodney Staton
Finkelman owns The Empty Bottle and Longman & Eagle. Staton is a chef with experience at Spiaggia, Topolobampo, Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, and Longman. Together, they’re heading Bite Café (1039 N. Western Ave.; 773-395-2483), which is scheduled to reopen Monday after two and a half months of renovations.
Dish: Why did you rework Bite?
Bruce Finkelman: When we opened Bite in 1995, Ukrainian Village was a little bit more of a challenging area. Now the area has grown up, and we’ve grown up. It was time to upgrade a little. My friends Robert McAdams and Cody Hudson helped take the thing to the cleaners a little bit. We’re going back to the original kind of diner that we were. [Foodwise, it’s] a chef-to-customer experience. A very personal experience where the specials board will reign.
D: Rodney, how did you go from the fine-dining world to a casual place like Bite?
Rodney Staton: I have been very, very fortunate in a lot of the restaurants that I have landed in. But my approach has always been everyday food. A place where we can know [the customers], know their likes and dislikes, their faces.
D: What do you bring from Keller and Spiaggia’s Tony Mantuano to a place like Bite?
RS: My experience working for these guys is that they have a true appreciation for the craft and the product. You see on a daily basis the care and love they put on the things that walk through the door. You work for these guys, and it just becomes ingrained in you.
D: But how does, say, a Keller chicken dish connect with a Bite chicken dish?
BF: Keller did a very simple roasted chicken dish. A simpler approach to cooking. I really kind of appreciate that about Rodney.
RS: Thank you, Bruce.
D: So what’s the Bite roast chicken like?
RS: It’s served with wonderful braised greens, a real simple chicken with jus and confit of garlic added to the chicken jus. It is a half chicken, partially on the bone.
D: So what is this place? A gastropub, a diner, a comfort food café, what?
BF: A modern American diner. Rodney, you like that?
RS: I think that kind of nails it.
“The trouble with eating Italian food is that five or six days later you’re hungry again.” —George Miller (1941–2003), Australian comedian
When people use the word “experimental” to describe food, usually it doesn’t describe the food of chain restaurants. When the full-service DC Sarnies (649 Lake Cook Rd., Deerfield; 847-509-2000) opens May 3rd, however, large chain restaurants may occasionally make use of the restaurant to test out menu items. Looking to start a research and development facility, Highland Baking Company hit upon the idea of doing the R & D in an upscale-casual restaurant focused on sandwiches and burgers. (“Sarnies” is British slang for sandwiches.) Wholesale clients of the bakery also will have the opportunity to send in guest chefs to get live feedback. “It’s a pretty unique restaurant,” says Robert LaPata, the managing partner. Indeed, you might say it’s an experiment in the market for experiments.
694 Wine & Spirits’ Inventory
In the space that formerly housed Juicy Wine Bar, the new owners have been making small changes for a few months, but never closing. The gradual remake culminates tomorrow when they hang the sign with their new name, 694 Wine & Spirits (694 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 312-492-6620). Here’s what you’ll find there.
• Small-allocation wines, including more than 20 whites, reds, sparkling wines, and dessert wines served by the glass.
• Salumi from Armandino Batali, Mario’s father; 694 is the only place in the Midwest to sell Batali’s salumi.
• Small-batch spirits such as Pure Blue vodka, a Kentucky corn- and grain-based vodka.
• Simple food, such as panini, flatbreads, and “butter and salt”—baguettes with gourmet butters and sea salts.
• No kitchen. Most hot items are made on a panini press behind the bar. “We have a grill on which we use wood charcoal to grill burgers and other things,” says Chris Dunstatter, a co-owner. “Wednesday is our day to do that. Wednesday is burger time.”
• A rooftop patio that’s open year-round. “It’s not warm right now, but you can go out there if you want to,” Dunstatter says.
Things to Do
1. Toast the city’s top toques March 20th through 26th during Chicago Chef Week, when more than 50 restaurants will showcase their goods with $22 three-course prix fixe lunches and $33 three-course prix fixe dinners. (Note: Many restaurants will offer only the dinner deal. View the participant list and make reservations here.)
2. Dust off your bike and catch up with the Southern Mac Truck March 22nd to 24th, when chef Mark Steuer (The Gage, HotChocolate) will be aboard, previewing grub from his soon-to-be-open Wicker Park spot, The Bedford, and donating the proceeds to Working Bikes Cooperative. Show your wheels and you’ll pedal away with a coupon for a free drink at The Southern.
3. Show your support for victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami at Takashi (1952 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-6170), where owner Takashi Yagihashi, whose family lives in Japan, is collecting $5 donations from benevolent diners.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
First, the bad news. The dining scene lost two players: Fredhots and Fries (1707 Chestnut Ave., Glenview) and Francesca’s Pizzeria Napoletana (2423 N. Clark St.). . . . On a brighter note, Antico (1946 N. Leavitt St.; 773-489-4895) will fire up the roasters Saturday for the opening of its café. Dinner, which will spotlight Old World Italian cuisine, begins March 23rd. . . . Aria (Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus Dr.; 312-444-9494) brought on Beverly Kim Clark, a KDK Restaurants veteran, as chef de cuisine. . . . We learned from Chicago Breaking Business that NYC-based cupcakery Magnolia Bakery will set up shop in the Block 37 Shops (108 N. State St.) and aims to start baking in June. A word to the cupcake-weary: Magnolia’s owner, Steven Abrams, told Dish in November, “I sell 60 products. Cupcakes is one of them.”
Dish was originally released with an error in comedian George Miller’s birth year. The correct year is 1941.