Dirk Flanigan and Billy Lawless, the men behind The Gage (24 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-372-4243), have secured the 2,000-square-foot space next door, and are moving forward with a new concept. “We are still working on what we want to do,” Flanigan says, “but I can tell you that it’s going to be one of the coolest spots in Chicago—if not the coolest spot on Michigan Avenue. It’s going to be really, really cool. . . . ‘Cool’ is what I can give you right now.” Stay tuned for more.

An Enigma Wrapped in Lettuce

When Laurent Gras, chef of L.2O (2300 N. Lincoln Park West; 773-868-0002), Lettuce Entertain You’s upcoming 80-seat seafood spot, was at Peacock Alley in Manhattan, he said, “New York is a very specific town where you need to understand what people want.” So we asked him what Chicagoans want. “It’s hard for me to answer your question,” he said, “because I need to be in the restaurant and run the business to understand what people want.” Oh. So does L.2O represent a new direction for him? “It’s seafood,” he responded. “Is it a different direction? I don’t think so. You do something that you like and things evolve around you. You evolve yourself. It’s not something new. You just believe in what you do, and you do better.” OK, so when is this happening? “Everything is really ready. We are just fine-tuning and fine-tuning. . . . When a restaurant is open, it takes two years to be really fine-tuned.” (FYI: The answer is mid-May.)


“There is one thing more exasperating than a wife who can cook and won’t and that’s a wife who can’t cook and will.” –Robert Frost (1874-1963), American poet

6 Questions for Mark F. Kwasigroch

Kwasigroch is a co-owner of Dream Cakes (3455 W. Dempster St., Skokie; 847-675-0500), a two-year-old pastry shop where his wife, Veronica Cañete-Kwasigroch, specializes in “JelArt™”.

D: What is JelArt™?
MFK: It’s Jello that Veronica injects colored gelatin into. They look like flowers. People come in and ask why we are selling paperweights.

D: How did your wife learn to do this?
MFK: She’s from Mexico. She went down there to learn these from a woman. The woman told her it would take three days to teach her everything, but it only took three hours because she learned so fast.

D: Are these desserts or what?
MFK: We do them sweet, and you could definitely eat it, but they’re used for centerpieces. Caterers buy them for baby showers, birthdays. We made poinsettias for a family at Christmas and they used them for place cards.

D: Is it like eating Jell-O?
MFK: Yes. But it’s not Jell-O.

D: Do they have to be refrigerated?
MFK: Yes; they have about a four- to six-week shelf life. Each one ($8) is flavored with essence. Peach, mango, guava. Strawberry, tequila, cucumber, bubblegum, tutti-frutti.

D: How much interest is there in JelArt™?
MFK: Martha Stewart called us three weeks ago and we sent over samples. They found it on our Web site. We overnighted them and it’s a go. We are being filmed next week. Don’t know the airdate.

Arugula Strikes Back

When Pollack heard that Giovanni Carzedda, a seven-year vet of Pizza D.O.C., had opened I Monelli (5019 N. Western Ave.; 773-561-8499), she got herself over there quicker than you can say “pizza Margherita.” The concise menu covers the trattoria basics and Pollack tried it all. Orecchiette with spinach was homey but needed salt; the square-cut Roman-style pizza topped with judicious amounts of tomato, mozzarella, and basil made a good impression; the minestrone merely got the job done. But it was a simple salad—yep, a heap of baby arugula tossed with olive oil and a hint of fresh lemon juice accompanied by a disk of warm scamorza (from Puglia)—that she wouldn’t stop raving about. BTW: I Monelli is BYO.

Toughest Sell

“Does Chicago really need another Irish pub or sports bar? The answer is a resounding ‘YES!’ if it promises to be the best of both worlds.” –From a release about Mahoney’s (551 N. Ogden Ave.; 312-733-2121), a 4,000-square-foot spot from the owners of Mother’s and The Lodge.

Now, That’s Some Tasty Airmail

Lalibela (5633 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-944-0585), a new 50-seat Ethiopian BYO, is getting some buzz in Edgewater. “We were told we would get Ethiopians but we are getting Americans,” says Samson Ayele, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Hirut Ayele. “They love the lentils [yemisir wat, slowly cooked lentils simmered in spicy berbere sauce]; what we call gomen, collard greens sautéed with onions, garlic, and ginger; and atkilt wat [curried vegetable stew] and azifah [lentil salad].” Hirut makes everything in-house, other than the spices, which a relative in Ethiopia mixes and sends 7,500 miles.

Things to Do

  1. Dine at Sola (3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-3868) on April 15th, a.k.a. tax day, and chef Carol Wallack will pay the sales tax on your bill.
  2. Pick up a copy of Wine Bar Food (Clarkson Potter), the terrific new cookbook of Mediterranean snacks by Cathy and Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750).
  3. Learn how a chain saw can improve a hot dog. From a funny dude. In Alaska.
  4. Show up at Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap (41 E. Superior St.; 312-266-0400) tonight (April 9th) between 6 and 9 p.m., plunk down $15, and attend a kickoff party for the Meals on Wheels Celebrity Chef Ball. This includes appetizers, Goose Island beers, “special drinks,” and a preview of an upcoming Top Chef episode.