Rock of Aja
The new chef at Aja (Dana Hotel and Spa, 660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050) is Ariel Bagadlong. An alumnus of Mango, Wave, and Blue Water Grill, Bagadlong has worked at Aja since its June 2008 opening as Ajasteak. He plans a spring launch of a new menu with bolder flavors and cleaner presentations. To spell out the concept, he previewed an appetizer and an entrée.
• Appetizer: “A really, really big prawn wrapped in crispy potato strings and served with wasabi greens. I say it’s hot not only in temperature. It also has a little bit of spice to it from togarashi—a Japanese spice blend—and some ginger-infused soy and wasabi oil to finish it off.”
• Entrée: “Our wok-seared suzuki is a Japanese sea bass. We take the fillet and score the skin. Wok-sear it, skin side up, so it’s beautiful and crispy. And then the sauce is made with soy, hoisin, sesame oil, and a little bit of brown sugar and rice wine vinegar, and then it’s topped with baby bok choy, ginger, cilantro, and red onion.”
“A true gastronome should always be ready to eat, just as a soldier should always be ready to fight.”—Charles Monselet (1825–1888), French author
The fat lady has sung for Opera, which closed on December 31st. The Scout (1301 S. Wabash Ave.; no phone yet), owned by Chris Bravos (The Pony Inn), George Archos (Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe), and Jeff Wolfe, is its planned replacement. “It’s going to be a neighborhood eatery and upscale sports bar,” Bravos says. “We’re going to go with something cozy, intimate, and lodgey.” With almost 300 seats, 30 TVs, a wide-ranging beer menu, and fancy bar food, the place will fill an unmet South Loop need, Bravos says. The Scout’s owners are shooting for a May 1st opening, as soon as they finish the remodeling, chef hiring, and their orienteering merit badge.
Five Questions for Alex Pescaru
Pescaru and his wife, Mara Jozefi, own Chimney Cake Island (1445 W. Devon Ave.; 773-856-0919), a pastry shop that specializes in the chimney cake, native to Transylvania. Chimney Cake Island opened December 21st.
Dish: So what is a chimney cake?
Alex Pescaru: It’s a yeast dough wrapped around a wooden stick. It’s covered by sugar and baked in an electrical oven, and it takes about five minutes to be ready while the sugar gets caramelized. When the sugar gets melted, we take out the stick with the dough and roll in different toppings like chocolate, Nutella, coconut, walnuts, cinnamon, rainbow sprinkles for kids, cereals.
D: What’s the texture like?
AP: Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
D: Have you been preparing to open for a while?
AP: Before opening the business, we trained for almost one year, here in Chicago. We tried our best to see if we were able to do this product. We realized we can do it, and we moved forward and opened a business.
D: Did you go to a pastry school?
AP: No. We learned ourselves.
D: That’s interesting.
AP: Yes, it’s interesting but at the same time very difficult.
Down the Rabbit Hole
Seeing your meal at Big Stuff (2312 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-472-7795) must be a little like Alice in Wonderland felt after imbibing the bottle marked ‘Drink me.’ “You should see the customers’ eyes when they see the portion they are getting,” says Jason Gorenstein, a partner in Big Stuff and the husband of Sarah Preston Gorenstein, a Chicago magazine contributing editor. For example, the $5 “Bigger” (which is bigger than the “Big”) slice of pizza is a thin-crust wedge measuring 15½ by 15 inches. “We are not claiming to have the biggest slice. But word on the street is that we do have the biggest slice,” Gorenstein says. On second thought, the character from Alice who most resembles Big Stuff diners is probably that caterpillar with the hookah.
On the Blog
Before he died, Paul Wildermuth was working on a South Loop project called Tribute.
• Logan Square will become yakitori territory this summer, courtesy of Matthias Merges.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Revel in Super Bowl Sunday’s traditional gluttony on February 6th at The Southern (1840 W. North Ave.; 773-342-1840), where $10 scores one admission to an all-you-can-eat mac-and-cheese buffet, as well as a sneak peek at the four flavors they’ll soon be slinging from the Southern Mac Truck, the food truck set to hit the streets on Monday.
2. Roll up your sleeves for a $30 soul-food-inspired three-course prix fixe at Hearty (3819 N. Broadway; 773-868-9866) on February 6th, if you didn’t get enough comfort food at The Southern doing Thing #1.
3. Wrangle the whole clan on February 6th for a four- or seven-course family-style dinner at Prasino (93 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; 708-469-7058). Adults’ meals are $15 for the four-courser and $21 for the seven-. Kids’ dinners are $7.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Don’t try any funny business at Donna’s Cafe (1255 S. State St.; 312-461-1005), where the namesake Donna put in 25 years with the Chicago police, patrolling the streets of Englewood. . . . Homemade meat loaf, pulled pork, and hand-carved turkey sandwiches will be on offer at the cafeteria-style TLC (424 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-880-0818), a sister restaurant to Chicago Carry Out. Target opening date is February 15th. . . . The Jean Banchet Awards were doled out on January 28th. Alinea landed the award for best fine dining; Curtis Duffy beat Graham Elliot, Stephanie Izard, and Tony Mantuano for best celebrity chef; and Kith & Kin won for best neighborhood restaurant. . . . John des Rosiers, the chef of Inovasi, plans to expand his gourmet take-and-bake concept Wisma (528 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville; no phone yet). The second location of the Lake Bluff–based market is slated to open March 1st. . . . Java aficionados have a new caffeination destination in CityGrounds (507 W. Dickens Ave.; 773-857-1576), which officially opened its doors January 31st, offering artisan espresso brews and a rotating supply of single-origin Metropolis Coffee Company beans. . . . A whole new generation of fried-zucchini fanatics will be born at the February 8th opening of Bia for Mia (1147 W. Grand Ave.; 312-226-0312), a River West Italian joint from local legend Mel Markon. . . . As reported in The Stew and according to its answering machine, Army & Lou’s (422 E. 75th St.; 773-483-3100) is temporarily closed. Catering is still a go.