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Salero and Laughing Bird Bring Two Unusual Cuisines to Chicago

Salero will serve Basque in the West Loop, and Laughing Bird will do Filipino food in Lincoln Square. Both projects are by the same guy—Franco Gianni, former owner of Tank Sushi.

Lechon kawali at Laughing Bird   Photo: Ashlee Aubin

Franco Gianni—the former owner of Tank Sushi, current owner of Wood—has two restaurants in development right now.

First, in the prime location adjacent to Blackbird, the former home of Meiji and Alimentari, Gianni is constructing Salero (621 W. Randolph St., no phone yet), a Basque restaurant. “The Basque region focuses in heavily on the pig and the seafood: salt cod, octopus, and anchovy and sardines, squid or calamari,” he says.

The 70-seat space, under construction now, will display the design of Karen Herold, the restaurant-design specialist responsible for Girl & the Goat, GT Fish & Oyster, and Embeya. Chef Ashlee Aubin will run the kitchens of both Wood and Salero. “It’s going to be a change of pace, using olive oil instead of butter and embracing the Mediterranean warmth,” he says. Gianni projects the opening for the first week of July.

Second, Gianni has a plan to bring Filipino food to Laughing Bird (4514 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-506-2473), a new restaurant in the shuttered space of Tank Sushi. Although it seemed sudden to neighbors, Gianni decided to close the Lincoln Square sushi spot over the winter holidays. “One day, on a Friday afternoon, I knew. I’m ready,” Gianni says. “We closed on a Sunday. Monday morning, we gutted the place.” Sushi doesn’t have the allure it used to, he says. “It’s on every corner, in groceries, and Walgreens,” he says.

Gianni hopes for a May opening for Laughing Bird, which will be headed by chef Chrissy Camba (Bar Pastoral). Camba, a former Top Chef contestant, is the child of native Filipinos. She’s still working on the menu, but one sure thing is chicken adobo, the unofficial national dish of the Philippines. “It varies from region to region and even from family to family,” she says. “[For example, in] the ratio of vinegar to garlic and soy sauce. [It can be] a dry adobo, which my lola [grandmother] always cooked, but the way I cook it, it has a little more of a gravy to it. Mostly because when I was growing up, I always thought how good it would be if it were moister.”

Impressive to juggle two disparate projects with such different cuisines. If we were trying it, we’d probably meet halfway between Basque and Filipino and just open one Kazakh restaurant.

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