Ross Mendoza is leaving his post at the Pump Room to head up the kitchen at BLVD (817 W. Lake), a retro-Hollywood lounge coming to restaurant row this summer.
Mendoza, a native Californian, has spent most of his working life in New York. There, he rose from humble butcher to sous chef at Tabla, Danny Meyer’s contemporary Indian eatery, before falling in with chef Dan Kluger and the Jean-Georges restaurant group. Mendoza helped open two new restaurants in the Big Apple, including the 2011 James Beard winner for Best New Restaurant, ABC Kitchen. His performance landed him a chance to helm Chicago’s sole Jean-Georges outpost, the aforementioned Pump Room. But, two years in, he seems ready for the next step in his career. “We scooped him up when we caught wind he was ready to spread his wings,” says BLVD co-owner Kara Callero.
With BLVD’s opening date looking toward summer, the details of Mendoza’s food program are still a bit raw. But, he says, there are a few key trends that will guide his thinking as he develops the dishes from scratch. The 1950s vibe will extend to the kitchen, he says, but don’t expect to find any Jell-O suspensions on the menu. Instead, Mendoza hopes to replicate the inventive cooking of the postwar era, a time when many new cultures and flavors entered the culinary mainstream. Quoting the late, great actor Vincent Price, Mendoza says, “The finest food, like the best of every art, is simply a matter of excellence, of preparation, imagination, and performance.”
Mendoza seems equally excited about BLVD’s design (perhaps his time at the Pump Room gave him a taste for mid-century interiors). Expect a slick, modern dining room with plenty of Art Deco flourishes—a bit of a departure from the typical factory chic of Randolph Street. “It won’t be dark, but there will be a feeling of intimacy,” he says. “Hopefully going through the door will transport you to a different time.”