The Stuff Dreams, and Branzino, Are Made Of
With Cibo Matto (now closed) and The Florentine already on his resumé, Todd Stein has upscale-Italian credentials to spare. Further polishing the proverbial boot, his next step will be to run the kitchen at Piccolo Sogno Due (340 N. Clark St.; 312-822-0077), the sister restaurant to Piccolo Sogno, which means “little dream.” Stein and Tony Priolo, the chef/owner of both Piccolo Sognos, will collaborate on the food. A pizza oven—probably gas fired—will factor into the equation, but beyond the size (150 seats) and the estimated opening (June or July), not much has been determined. “We will highlight a lot of great fish and pastas, but specifics aren’t really there yet,” Stein says. “It’s not a burger bar, and it’s not small plates with cool beers and records, and it’s not a steak house. Being Chicago, there will be meat. I mean, how could we not?” His last day at The Florentine will be April 28. When we talked to Priolo, he sounded over the moon about hiring Stein—like it’s his little dream come true.
The Lakeshore East neighborhood (the area just south of the river along the lake, for those who don’t speak Realtor) has teemed with news of restaurant openings lately: III Forks, Filini, the upcoming Maison and Eggy’s, and now Amuse (Swissôtel Chicago, 323 E. Wacker Dr.; 312-565-0565), a reconcepting of the Swissôtel’s lobby lounge. Dan McGee, who operates a namesake restaurant in Frankfort, will cook a menu of items that can be ordered in small or large portions, such as Gorgonzola flan with port-wine-roasted figs, or fried panko-breaded avocados in a crab salad made with a Sriracha and pepper flake rémoulade. Herb-based cocktails using thyme, basil, and mint will feature on the drink menu. Part of a $10 million renovation to the entire hotel, Amuse should open by March 31. And unlike many other hotel restaurants, you won’t have to wander through the hotel to get there. “You will have to walk through Amuse to get to the reservation desk,” McGee says. The first thing you encounter on your way in—just like an amuse-bouche.
“Eggs Benedict is genius. It’s eggs covered in eggs. I mean, come on, that person should be the president.” —Wylie Dufresne (1970–), chef and owner of WD-50 restaurant in Manhattan and a leading American proponent of molecular gastronomy
March to a Different Drumbar
The early taste of summer got us musing about outdoor dining and drinking, and right on cue, the owners of the Hotel Raffaello announced the May opening of Drumbar (Hotel Raffaello, 201 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-943-5000), a speakeasy-inspired lounge and bar on the 18th floor. “We want to provide something that you can’t find everywhere, like special Kentucky bourbon that they did only one barrel of,” says Jared Galbut, a partner of Menin Hotels. He says Drumbar will also serve single-cask Scotch and single-malt whiskeys not normally provided to restaurants, through a connection with the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. The cocktail menu will consist of 10 or 12 classics, and the food menu will include small-plate pastas, charcuterie, and other dishes from Mauro Mafrici, the chef at Pelago, the hotel’s fancy Italian restaurant. The space is divided between 4,000 square feet indoors and 2,000 outdoors. Too bad it’s not open already, but who in Chicago would have thought that May would seem late for a new rooftop?
One Question for Jimmy Bannos
Bannos, who owns the Loop lunch staple Heaven on Seven, opened The Big Easy by Jimmy Bannos (10 S. Dearborn St.; 312-732-6505) in the Chase Tower five weeks ago, which we first heard about on Eater. He partnered with the food conglomerate Compass Group to open the counter-service spot, which serves Cajun staples such as jambalaya, various étouffées, and muffuletta sandwiches.
Dish: Are you looking to open these all over the country?
Jimmy Bannos: We are going to do one. If it’s successful, and so far it looks like it’s going pretty good, Compass might use it elsewhere. For instance, they do food service for Microsoft. They might take our concept and put it on the Microsoft campus. It’s a beautiful thing.
Updated Review: Katsu
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Katsu’s rating increased from two to two-and-a-half stars.
Katsu (2651 W. Peterson Ave.; 773-784-3383) Sushi, Japanese
★★½ (very good to excellent)
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
At a time when most sushi bars seem obsessed with gimmicky maki rolls—both overthought and oversauced—the selections at this low-key spot lean toward simple, authentic Japanese fare, prepared with great skill. Nothing comes cheap, whether it’s a warming bowl of sukiyaki noodles in a gentle beef broth or a divine miso-glazed grilled-duck appetizer, but rest assured that you’ll get precisely the quality you pay for, especially in the chef’s signature sushi platter, which shows what expertly sourced seafood can taste like in the hands of a master.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
He Said It
“It’s going to be a bar lounge. There’s going to be food, and the view is incredible. South, you see the skyline and the lakeshore, and the old cathedral as you look west. There’s nothing like it in Old Town.” —Paul Virant, of the rooftop bar The Parker (Hotel Lincoln, 1816 N. Clark St.; 312-254-4700), opening this summer on the 12th floor of the Hotel Lincoln. (We first heard about The Parker from Eater.) Virant oversees the food at the hotel’s properties: Perennial Virant, the coffee shop Elaine’s Coffee Call, and The Parker.
It’s a Small World
Gusti Korotkov, the 20-year-old owner of the four-week-old Cassianas (3205 N. Opal Ave.; 773-417-2751), a 30-seat BYO in Belmont Heights, credits the restaurant’s concept to his father, Jozi Korotkov, who is also the chef. “My dad is good at what he does,” Gusti says. “Nothing molecular—he is a rustic chef and a good one.” The food brings together global influences from places as varied as Korea, South America, the Caribbean, and Jozi Korotkov’s former home of Florida, which he draws on for his Cuban sandwich, using pork braised for six hours, homemade pickles, and authentic bread made with lard. In a substitution reminiscent of the Chicago-born jibarito sandwich, Cassianas’s seviche is served on flattened plantains instead of crackers, a reminder that global is really just a lot of locals.
- Pollack says “queso” at Paola’s Vinum.
- Bargain alert: hanger steak and frites from The Market Bistro at Fox & Obel.
- Black Dog Gelato to let the dogs out in Roscoe Village.
- Pollack sizes up Siunik Armenian Grill.
- Japonais plates one “pretty” tartare.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
1. Arrive hungry at Standard Market (333 E. Ogden Ave., Westmont; 630-366-7030), a recently opened chef-driven food store throwing an open house Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Round-the-clock regalement will include a chili cook-off, wine and cheese tastings, and a vendor fair.
2. Head over to Perennial Virant (1800 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-981-7070) while Matty Eggleston is still the mix master. Paul Virant confirms that Eggleston’s last day will be March 31. (We learned from 312 Dining Diva that the ace mixologist has taken a gig with Tenzing Wine & Spirits.)
3. Hightail it to any location of M Burger right this minute for the local chain’s second birthday celebration. Until 7 p.m. tonight, purchase anything from the menu and your burger is on the house.
- Mexican spot La Z de Oro (6241 W. Cermak Rd., Berwyn; 708-788-7602) a retooling of the fast-casual taquería Los Jarritos, is off and running in Berwyn.
- We learned from Thrillist that BadHappy Poutine Shop (939 N. Orleans; 773-490-5671) has opened just in time for bathing-suit season.
- The first city location of the Middle Eastern restaurant Naf Naf Grill (309 W. Washington St.; no phone yet) is set to open by August.
- Rosebud Restaurants announced plans to open Bar Umbriago (6 W. Hubbard St.; no phone yet), an Italian wine bar, in the newly vacated Eatt space.
- The Park at Rosemont (5501 Park Pl., Rosemont; 847-698-1190), a ginormous (200,000 square feet) development housing restaurants and bars—such as Taverna Opa and Hofbräuhaus Chicago—as well as a bowling alley and a Zanies Comedy Club, will open in phases beginning in April.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Following last week’s departure of Frank Mnuk, the French-Moroccan chef Farid Oualidi has taken over at Bistro Voltaire. . . . The names of the final nominees for the 2012 James Beard Foundation Awards were released this week, and Chicago was well represented. Peruse the list here.