The beautiful space with the epic, high-rise view that used to contain GreenRiver has been sitting dormant in the Gold Coast for more than a year and a half. Now, with the opening of WoodWind this week, a new concept promises high-end cuisine with a serious sense of fun, plus the return of a well-liked Chicago chef.
The restaurant comes from Craveable Hospitality; their culinary director Matt O’Neill came up with the original concept. After more than a year of talks to get the property, he and his team started a redesign that was meant to make the space less formal and more comfortable without changing the floorplan. The colors are warmer, and a new chef’s counter will bring diners right up to the action in the gorgeous open kitchen. Another big change is a presence in the building’s lobby — a lack of street-level visibility helped doom GreenRiver, and O’Neill’s people are determined to avoid that problem.
O’Neill brought on a chef familiar to Chicago diners: Don Young, who got a Michelin star during his time at the acclaimed Temporis. His food at WoodWind won’t be quite so fancy, but it will incorporate some high-end techniques to create variations on casual dishes. For example, if you’re a fan of Outback Steakhouse (or even if you aren’t), you’ll love the Bloomin’ Maitake. The huge mushroom is coated in a mix of rice, corn, and potato starches for optimum crispiness, fried, and served with a burnt sesame caramel, savory bonito flakes, and a pour of sake.
“We came up with this on a whim; our farmer came and brought us these beautiful maitakes, and they present very well whole,” O’Neill says.
This “high-end party food” approach pervades the entire menu, but nothing will take diners back to their drinkin’ days more than WoodWind’s roasted bone marrow, served with leek and apple relish: If diners choose, they can make it a luge.
“We take the bone marrow, we add a little bit of flake salt, and we have the guest put it up to their mouth like an ice luge and pour bourbon down it,” O’Neill says. “It washes the fat and collects the salt. It’s a great way to finish the dish.”
That’s not the only unexpected twist coming out of WoodWind’s kitchen. Expect dry-aged duck served in tacos, foie gras stuffed hamburger-style inside a bao bun, and buffalo wing–flavored chicken chicharrón.
“It’s American fare [in] small plates, served family style,” O’Neill says. “We want people to be able to taste a lot of different things.”
Carolina Gonzalez directs the drink program, which includes cocktails that pair directly with specific menu items. The WoodWind signature cocktail combines habanero with pineapple rum; it’s a perfect pairing for the duck, which is served with a pineapple salsa. To pair with that Bloomin’ mushroom: a green tea flambé martini with Chartreuse and burnt rosemary, contributing herbal notes that match well with the maitake.
Upon opening, WoodWind will only serve dinner, with lunch and brunch to come shortly. Sadly, the restaurant is opening too late in the year to get much use out of the gorgeous patio, but expect a lot of activity there next year. Also, for fans of the private drinking space that used to be the Annex at GreenRiver, expect a totally new concept to come in the spring.