Samuelsson, Kahan … and Walken?
Little by little, it seems every culinary star has begun setting his sights on Chicago. The latest is Marcus Samuelsson, the highly celebrated chef at New York's Aquavit and Riingo, who announced his intention to open C House, a casual seafood restaurant in Streeterville's Affinia Hotel (formerly the Fitzpatrick; 166 E. Superior St.), in March. "Chicago is an unbelievable food town," says Samuelsson, 36. "And I want to be part of that." C House's menu will be full of crowd pleasers such as whole snapper for two, wild salmon, a lobster club sandwich, and a salmon burger—Samuelsson calls it "simplistic food built on great ingredients," which may be a generic sound bite, but when a chef this talented says it, we take note. Look for an open kitchen in the dining room's center to focus on small dishes, and rooftop seating to follow next summer.
"It's under construction. The process takes a long time unless you have extremely deep pockets. We're hoping to open in spring of '08. We have a working name, but not set in steel, so I'm not gonna cough it up yet. We've worked a lot on the menu; it's been quite a long ride but I think it will be worth it when it opens. It's going to open if it kills me." -Paul Kahan (Blackbird, Avec), on his long-awaited beer-focused place at 845 West Fulton Market Street
"When helicopters were snatching people from the grounds of the American embassy compound during the panic of the final Vietcong push into Saigon, I was sitting in front of the television set shouting, 'Get the chefs! Get the chefs!'" -Calvin Trillin (b. 1935), American writer
Butter (130 S. Green St.; 312-666-9813) has closed to focus on private parties—for the obvious reason. "Business was slow," says chef Lee Wolen, who is off to Oxford to stage at Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir. "It was a good concept, but people come to Greektown for Greek food." Lindsey Webster, Butter's marketing director, says the restaurant always did better with large parties anyway. "We get a lot of requests," she says. "So many places are fighting to be the hottest spot, but our success has been in private dining." The new chef, Spiaggia's former private dining chef Tim Edstrom, will continue in the same contemporary American vein that Wolen (and Ryan Poli before him) maintained at Butter.
Is This Chicago's Most Popular Sandwich?
Alberto Ramos, the owner of El Cubanito (2555 N. Pulaski Rd.; 773-235-2555), purports to sell 400 Cubano sandwiches (roast pork, Swiss cheese, ham, butter, pickles; $3.75) a day. This in a 400-square-foot space with four stools, and no tables; Ramos says some customers eat standing up. "Too many people come," he says. "It's too much for me and my wife; I think I'm going to get another place. I've been in the States for six months and I opened this little place and I don't know what is going on. I think God is helping me."
6 Questions for lthforum.com's David Dickson, whose third annual list of "Great Neighborhood Restaurants" was recently released
D: What's the idea behind the list?
DD: To answer the same question you probably get over and over yourself: Can you recommend a restaurant? But rather than having one person make a recommendation, all 4,400 members of LTHForum recommend places.
D: How does it work?
DD: Each member may make one nomination a year. Some go sample them; then 11 voters vote per the consensus on the forum, not their own opinions. It's simply about one member loving a place, and the other 4,399 saying, "Yeah, this place is great."
D: What's your favorite from this year's list?
DD: I love the whole list in all its eclectic, adventurous splendor, from the simple Khan BBQ (2401 W. Devon Ave.; 773-274-8600) to world-class Vie (4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs; 708-246-2082); from a basic diner like Patty's Diner (3358 Main St., Skokie; 847-675-4274) to a surprisingly ambitious Mexican place in Joliet, Amanecer Tapatio (700 Ruby St., Joliet; 815-727-4001).
D: Do restaurants actively try to get on the list?
DD: I think in three years we have had just one nomination that was clearly a plant, and our posters outed that within an hour.
D: What's your first thought when you see the LTHforum insignia in a restaurant window?
DD: This is a place where I will have a reliably great experience if I like that kind of food. We tell people, don't just eat at the restaurants—talk to the staff, ask them about your meal, where it comes from, what makes it special.
D: What has the effect been on these restaurants?
DD: Very good. We drive business to them, which makes me very happy. Ironically, at least one designee has gone out of business between the nominations and announcements every year, so now we try to guess which one it will be. Nobody guessed it would be Schwa this time.
Try to Follow This One
The eight-year-old Forty One North (445 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook) has lost its lease, and closed on October 9th. Meanwhile, Metropolitan Cafe (1791 St. Johns Ave., Highland Park) closed October 15th. So, in early November, the owners of Forty One North will open The City Park Grill, a more upscale neighborhood restaurant in the old Metropolitan space. And the owners of Metropolitan, Kathy and James Govas, will focus their time on their clubby Grille on Laurel (181 E. Laurel Ave., Lake Forest; 847-234-9660): "It's taken on a life of its own," says Kathy Govas. "And we just hired a pianist: Joe Delaney, formerly with the Artie Shaw Orchestra."
1. Try a $100 maki at Blue Water Grill (520 N. Dearborn St.; 312-777-1400) sometime before the end of October. It's got osetra caviar, lobster, gold leaf, and sea urchin. (No, we don't plan to, but if you do, and you have something interesting to say about it, we'll put it in Dish.)
2. See if you and your crazy friends can finish an entire two-liter boot of beer at Prost (2566 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-880-9900), the new German beer hall in Lincoln Park. (No, we don't plan to do this either; nor do we wish to hear stories about it.)
3. Watch Christopher Walken cook a chicken in his patented, vaguely creepy manner.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Giuseppe Scurato, former chef of Boka, has been named executive chef of Fox & Obel (401 E. Illinois St.; 312-410-7301), where he will mastermind the menu for the store's prepared foods, café, deli, and catering. . . . Mulan (2017 S. Wells St.), a Pan-Asian spot that made a splash when it opened in summer 2006 in Chinatown Square, has closed. . . . Nada Tea & Coffee House (1552 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-529-2239), a Japanese-style café near DePaul, got a nice plug in the November issue of Bon Appétit. . . . Manny's (1141 S. Jefferson St.; 312-939-2855), after 40 years of deli-style breakfast and lunch, has opened for dinner as well. . . . Last week we erroneously reported that Ryan McCaskey was taking over as chef of Courtright's (8989 Archer Ave., Willow Springs; 708-839-8000); turns out he'll be there only through December. "We've received probably 100 résumés, some from France and Italy," says Rebecca Courtright. "Probably after the first of the year, we will put our heads together to make this decision."