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Russell Kook Takes Over the Kitchen at Hugo’s Frog Bar

Expect a modern approach to the Gold Coast spot’s classics.

Russell Kook   Photo: Huge Galdones

The tides are changing at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House (1024 N. Rush St., 312-640-0999), as the Gold Coast seafood mainstay hired executive chef Russell Kook to shake things up just before its 20th anniversary.

Kook, the former executive chef of Chicago Cut Steakhouse who also spent seven years working with chef Todd Stein (at Cibo Matto, David Burke in Las Vegas, and The Florentine), is taking a modern, seasonal approach to Hugo’s much-loved menu.

“My frame of mind as a chef is less is more,” Kook says. “If you can make it sing with three ingredients, why add a fourth?”

His main source of inspiration will be seafood flown in daily from the East and West Coasts, and as far away as Japan. Hudson Canyon sea scallops get seared and paired with yuzu vinaigrette and sugar snap peas. Line-caught North Carolina wahoo takes a few turns on the grill and is topped with avocado vinaigrette.

“I’ll get an email [from the distributor] about what’s available for tomorrow. It will be caught tonight or tomorrow and flown in tomorrow,” he says. “When the clock or stock runs out, it’s done.”

Hugo’s regulars can also expect to see updated versions of a few classic dishes. The sesame-crusted tuna steak with seaweed salad has been modernized into a togarashi-crusted tuna steak with soy-ginger-braised spinach and kimchi vinaigrette. And the pan-roasted PEI mussels traded their beer and butter bath for a from-scratch harissa and tequila sauce.

Fear not, frog leg lovers: Those meaty little morsels will remain unchanged, as will Hugo’s $1 Oyster Happy Hour—though the bar is bringing back live piano music to zhoosh things up. And as for those succulent, perennial soft shell crabs? “I expect to have them in later this week,” Kook says.

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