Four Questions for Nathan Sears
Sears, the chef de cuisine at Vie in Western Springs, announced this past week that he plans a spring opening for a German restaurant, Radler, and a subrestaurant inside Radler called D.A.S., standing for “ding an sich,” the philosophical concept of the thing in itself independent from human experience of it. Radler’s menu will tend toward Bavarian beer hall food; D.A.S. will offer a fine-dining tasting menu.
Dish: How are these two restaurants related, exactly?
Nathan Sears: We are going to have like Urban Union has, regular dining and the chef’s table. There are other restaurants, sometimes [even] more casual places with a fine-dining tasting menu. It’s very confusing: “Here’s our casual menu, or you can get the $150 menu.” Paul [Virant, the chef at Vie] has talked for years [about] having just one or two people executing the food every day, like EL Ideas but even smaller. [D.A.S. will have] its own room, its own feel, its own atmosphere, and be branded as its own restaurant. [And its] own separate entrance.
D: But they share a kitchen?
NS: Radler will have a main kitchen and prep area. D.A.S. will have a very small line where I can execute personally. Only two turns, three days a week, something like 6:30 and 9 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday.
D: What will Radler’s menu be like?
NS: Radler will be things that won’t take a lot of time to prepare or execute because we are looking for large numbers. [For instance,] we make a guinea hen ballotine at Vie. It’s going to be similar stuff to that, as in a crispy chicken ballotine. I want to break the trend of everything [German] being schnitzel, and sauerkraut, and potato dumplings. It boils down to taking those flavors and lightening them up.
D: What will the D.A.S. menu be like?
NS: I envision six to seven courses, as in what I like to call the glory days of Michelin star food. Gordon Ramsay, Marco Pierre White, Joël Robuchon, Alain Ducasse, Pierre Koffmann. We want to run a 50 to 60 percent food cost. We will lose our asses on this. Radler will carry D.A.S. [financially], and D.A.S. will carry Radler’s reputation.
The Rose Also Rises
Like a pancake, every chef-relocation story has two sides. When Greg Elliott took up the toque at Wave in the W Hotel, he left an opening behind at Lockwood (Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe, 312-917-3404), which has now been filled by Joe Rose, most recently of the Pump Room and also of the opening team at Sixteen. In addition to serving out-of-town guests, drawing in locals presents a separate challenge for a hotel restaurant, in this case one that even some foodies know only in relation to the tweets of its former chef Phillip Foss. Rose plans a classic menu of starters and entrées and a separate tasting menu. “Contemporary American. Very seasonal. Very simple,” he says. “If it’s salmon or halibut, I’m going to concentrate on that fish and let the flavor shine.” Rose missed an opportunity in that statement of his philosophy by not choosing another fish—it could have been the Sole Flavor Principle.
“As the days grow short, some faces grow long. But not mine. Every autumn, when the wind turns cold and darkness comes early, I am suddenly happy. It’s time to start making soup again.” —Leslie Newman (1940–), American screenwriter who co-wrote the first three Superman films
You Can’t Spell Noodle Without Two Doughnuts
Rob and Ann Garrison, the longtime owners of Wilmette’s pasta-from-scratch place The Noodle Café, plan an opening next week for The Noodle Small Plates & Market (1156 Central Ave., Wilmette, 847-251-1183), a bar and restaurant in a space adjacent to the café. The menu at the new spot covers flatbreads such as red potato, bacon, and chive cream; skewers such as Italian sausage and tomato; and spreads such as goat cheese and roasted mushroom. Rob Garrison says they also will serve a made-to-order doughnut with salted caramel dip, thus expanding the doughnut trend’s territory. A walk-up window carved out of the restaurant just for doughnuts is sure to follow.
Waffle: To Fail to Get to the Point
One of the principals behind the upcoming fast-casual waffle-sandwiches shop Bel 50 (738 N. Clark St., no phone yet) is Joey Altman, who gained fame on the San Francisco–based cooking show Bay Cafe. The show ran more than 500 episodes, inviting more than 1,000 chefs to demonstrate their work. A memorable show took the opinionated author/chef Anthony Bourdain in disguise as a health inspector to a fancy French place, claiming someone saw a rat in the dining room. “There are no rats in my restaurant!” Altman recalls the horrified chef saying. “Meanwhile Bourdain swabbed things in the kitchen with toothpicks and said, ‘I think we have a positive,’” Altman says. After going so far as to tell the chef he needed rat traps in the dining room, they revealed the prank. The next time Bourdain ate in the restaurant, they served him a cheese-filled mouse trap under glass.
Oh right, the waffle sandwiches. Bel 50, named for the latitude of Belgium, is scheduled to open at the end of the month with a menu of about 20 sandwiches where a low-sugar waffle takes the place of bread. “Burrata to prosciutto. Cured salmon, corned beef, pastrami, great smoked ham, and wild mushroom with Fontina. They’re small enough so they can be little culinary flavor adventures for people,” Altman says. If they’re half the adventure of talking to Altman, this place will make it.
Updated Review: Pho Xe Tang
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Pho Xe Tang maintained its one-and-a-half-star rating in the October issue, on newsstands now.
Pho Xe Tang (4953-55 N. Broadway, 773-878-2253). Vietnamese.
★½ (good to very good)
¢ (under $20 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
One measure of the quality of the food here is the fact that hordes of people are willing to subject themselves to the utterly charmless dining room. Try the catfish hot pot and you’ll see why: Its dark, concentrated sauce is so addictive it’s tempting to devour the perfectly cooked fish—bones and all. Then there’s the pho, with a broth that boasts a flavor so deep you’ll be convinced it has curative powers. Why the coconut chicken curry is listed among the banh mi or comes with a rice-flour roll is a mystery, but it’s divine nonetheless—“pho real,” according to the waiter’s T-shirt.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
The French Quarter Bakery’s Inventory
A recently retired pharmacist now employing chemistry in a different way, Sherri McClendon opened The French Quarter Bakery (11057 S. Homewood Ave., 773-779-8710) in Morgan Park on September 19, inspired by family trips with her Southern parents. Here’s a sample of what’s in her bakery cases:
- Beignets that might rival Café Du Monde in New Orleans. “I haven’t been since shortly after [Hurricane Katrina], and I don’t have an accurate memory,” McClendon says. “But I think it’s close.” Three beignets and a cup of coffee cost $3.50.
- Divinity, the egg-sugar confection popular in the South
- Snickerdoodles, pecan pralines, and cupcakes
- Pies—apple, pumpkin, sweet potato, pecan, lemon, and lemon meringue, for example. Also peach cobbler.
McClendon says she plans to start serving sandwiches and soups such as seafood gumbo soon. Got to have something to chase those sweets.
- At Goosefoot, Pollack learns the importance of pacing.
- Feeling crabby but good at Pasteur.
- It’s been a week of kitchen-shifting for the chefs Jackie Shen and Kendal Duque.
- Pollack pays Hollywood Grill a late-night visit.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
- Give three cheers to III Forks (180 N. Field Blvd., 312-938-4303), which hosts a rooftop soiree for its first anniversary on Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. Party favors include complimentary pours of Bollinger Special Cuvée NV and samples of caviar flatbread (topped with American sturgeon caviar, pickled shallot, crème fraîche, micro anise hyssop, and quail egg) from the chef Clark Grant.
- Welcome the South Loop newcomer Brasserie by LM (Essex Inn, 800 S. Michigan Ave., 312-431-1788), which welcomes you with $5 martinis (regularly $9) on Saturdays from open to close. Options include the Twisted Frenchie with vodka, St. Germain, Chambord, and Champagne, and the Cucumber Splash with cucumber, lime, St. Germain, and gin.
- Refuel post-marathon at Eleven City Diner (1112 S. Wabash Ave., 312-212-1112), which offers a “finish your plate” menu of hearty dishes such as pasta and paella, or 2Sparrows (553 W. Diversey Pkwy., 773-234-2320), which awards runners (sorry spectators—a race bib is required for this one) a 26 percent discount on all food and nonalcoholic drinks.
- La Boulangerie Café (915 W. Belmont, 773-340-4350), a bakery which also has a two-year-old Logan Square location, is now churning out its French pastries and breads in Lake View.
- Naf Naf Grill (309 W. Washington St., 312-251-9000), a purveyor of Mediterranean fare that bakes its pita bread on-site daily, has opened its first city outpost.
- Merlo’s Italian Restaurant (581 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park, 847-266-0600) is scheduled to open Friday where Trattoria Valle D’Itria operated until August. “I like to call it Chicago-style Italian, if it’s not a misnomer,” says John Merlo, the owner. Nope, we think that kinda nails it.
- Baume & Brix (351 W. Hubbard St., 312-321-0351), a River North spot with small, large, and sweet plates with Greek, French, Italian, Japanese, and American influences, debuts October 9.
- La Sirena Clandestina (954 W. Fulton Market, 312-226-5300), the new venture from the chef John Manion (Mas, Branch 27), was scheduled to open October 1 but has been delayed until at least Saturday.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Homaro Cantu released this video chronicling a day in the life of his Moto partner and chef de cuisine, Richie Farina. The duo also announced a contest calling for ideas for iNG’s next menu theme. Submit yours here. . . . French chef Alex Ageneau (Les Nomades) is the new executive chef at Paris Club. . . . Eater reports that the three-year-old Bagel on Damen has closed and that the owner Dion Antic plans to transform the space into a gourmet sausage spot called Haute & the Dog.