As the Stomach Turns
After a lot of big words and fewer than three weeks of work, Christian Fantoni is already out at Pensiero Ristorante (1566 Oak Ave., Evanston; 847-475-7779), and the owner, Michael Pure, sounds steamed. “The man who I hired showed up different from the chef who worked in New York,” he tells Dish.“Despite his intentions and quotes, he is a better fit for Portillo’s than Pensiero Ristorante and its reputation.” For now, Pensiero is interviewing potential chefs—again. Fantoni, for his part, really has taken up with the Portillo’s crew. He’s the new head chef at Luigi’s House (778 N. Rte. 59, Aurora; 630-375-6400). “Not to be pompous or anything, but if you hire me as executive chef, I expected to be treated with respect,” he says of his short stint in Evanston. “Sometimes you make mistakes in life. I take it as a learning experience.”
Bigger Is Better
A high-priced boîte opens as the recession deepens (October 2009), becomes the breakout success story of the year, then gets even bigger. The patio at Sprout (1417 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-348-0706), home of Top Chef’s season 3 runner-up, Dale Levitski, will gain four walls and a skylight-studded ceiling. Construction crews broke ground on Sunday, and they’re supposed to be done by mid-November; the restaurant will remain open, with work halting in time for dinner service. The expansion will double Sprout’s dining space, but kiss outdoor dining goodbye—not that you’ll really miss it until next summer.
“This wine is too good for toast-drinking, my dear. You don’t want to mix emotions up with a wine like that. You lose the taste.” –Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), American writer
Thank You For Smoking
“I started teaching barbecue classes every weekend at Carmichael’s, and I got addicted to one of those Big Green Eggs—that’s a smoker. I got the barbecue bug,” admits Jeff Shapiro, a 13-year Lettuce Entertain You vet who then spent another 13 years at the steak house falling in love with the ’cue. Now he sets out on his own at Real Urban Barbecue (610 Central Ave., Ste. 177, Highland Park; 224-770-4227). Well, not quite on his own—Shapiro brings with him the object of his affection, a 100 percent wood-fired pellet smoker. With a quick-service concept, RUB will serve up brisket, chicken, ribs, smoked turkey, pulled pork, and Texas-style hot links, as well as sides ranging from baked beans and mac and cheese to cranberry bread pudding and flame-roasted Fuji apples. The only downside? It doesn’t open until the end of October.
Looking for Dry Land
Flooding in late July forced Jorge Laguardia to close six-year-old Café Laguardia West after five feet of water infiltrated refrigerators, freezers, and dry storage. Luckily for his devoted clientele, Laguardia already had a new project in the works. Laguardia’s Cuban Bistro (3706 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-772-2822)—which opened in August in the former Brown Sack space—was supposed to be a sandwich shop, but customers kept asking for the breakfast, lunch, and dinner fare they loved at West. Laguardia’s confidence apparently didn’t drown: “Once this gathers steam,” he says, “we can think about opening something else.”
. . . with Pad Thai and Sushi for All
“Americans love pad Thai and pad siew,” says May Semakom. “Usually, they always order that.” Semakom’s uncle and aunt, Ken and Nina Leagnavar, the owners of the just-opened Yindee (1824 W. Addison St.; 773-525-4040), a cozy storefront under the Brown Line el station, get the picture: There’s plenty of pad this and pad that on the menu. And the observant couple noticed that Americans love sushi, too, hence a double-sided menu with Japanese offerings on the flip side. The prices are friendly, especially during happy hour—another thing Americans love.
Things to Do
1. Head to Balsan (Elysian Hotel, 11 E. Walton St.; 312-646-1400) on Sunday evenings for a $29 multicourse, locally sourced family-style dinner that includes an heirloom tomato salad or spot prawns with corn and potatoes; roasted chicken with green beans, pasta carbonara, and bacon; and a homemade peach cobbler. With this kind of deal at such a fancy-pants spot, you would be wise to call ahead.
2. Bring your George Washingtons to Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9555), which is celebrating its first birthday with $1 lunch and dinner menus. Available September 26th to 28th, the menus include chicken tacos with tomato-chipotle sauce, octopus tostada, and a crispy corn shell filled with black beans, achiote pork, and pickled red onion. Enough to start your own party.
3. Celebrate Italian cuisine with Pastoral (at the shop’s Lake View, Loop, and French Market locations). The Euro-inspired shop offers mini courses on buying and pairing wine, cheese, and chocolate. If free tastings are more to your liking, stop by for some Italian cheese and honey on September 27th and 28th. Visit their website for times and locations.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The financial consultant and Ecuador native Jorge Flores jumps into the restaurant biz with Cassava (3338 N. Clark St.; 773-857-3039), opening tomorrow, a gluten-free bakery and smoothie shop rolled into one. . . . The original Rosebud general manager David Flom pairs dry-aged steak with a city club feel at Chicago Cut Steak House (300 N. LaSalle St.; 312-329-1800), which opened yesterday. . . . Low-priced Asian snack food meets Gold Coast boutique auberge at the new Mei’s Corner (Whitehall Hotel, 107 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-573-6288) . . . . Its name means “green” in Greek: The second outpost of La Grange’s eco-friendly Prasino (51 S. First St., St. Charles; 630-908-5200) opened this week in St. Charles; like the original, it, too, will sport a rooftop family of bees. . . . Sonny Tran and April Wong, the husband-and-wife dry-cleaning team at Demetre’s in Edgewater, opened Saigon Grill (5736 N. Elston Ave.; 773-628-7156) down the block last Friday.