Get Provincial

Randy Zweiban, the longtime exec chef/partner of Nacional 27 (325 W. Huron St.; 312-664-2727), steps down on April 30th to open Province (161 N. Jefferson St.), a 140-seat spot in the West Loop. “It’s modern American cuisine influenced by the flavors of South America and Spain,” Zweiban says. “It will be a bit broader than what I’ve done here at Nacional.” A few dishes he’s got nailed down for the menu: Tasmanian salmon carpaccio with preserved Meyer lemon and salsa; spice-rubbed grilled ahi tuna taco with chipotle tartar salsa; prawn and bay scallop “paella” with saffron and roasted peppers. The décor, influenced by the legendary Mexican architect Luis Barragán, will be “very modern in a comfortable sort of way.” Zweiban, a former diamond setter, caterer, and rock-and-roll drummer, has been around a while; he helped Norman Van Aken open Norman’s in Coral Gables, Florida, back in 1995. “Norman taught me how to cook and Rich [Melman] taught me how to be an entrepreneur.” Not a bad combination. ETA for Province: September 2008.

The Noodle Dumpling Gang

Bill Kim, the chef of Le Lan (749 N. Clark St.; 312-280-9100) and brains behind the upcoming Soul (1 Walker Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-920-1999), can’t seem to get enough irons in the fire. Now he is also unveiling Urban Belly (3053 N. California Ave.), a cutely named 40-seat noodle-and-dumpling house, in June. “It’s been a dream of mine for 18 years,” says Kim, whose wife, Yvonne Cadiz-Kim (Daniel, Takashi), is going to run the place. “I will produce the food, do the menu, and some of my cooks from Le Lan will go over there and execute it,” Kim says.

Now That’s Funny

Gordon Ramsay (Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares) is in town to plug his new book, Gordon Ramsay’s Fast Food (Key Porter), so we got him on the horn. During our chat, we asked him to describe the first funny restaurant moment that popped into his head. “A gentleman came to the kitchen to meet me and the team and thank us for a fantastic dinner,” he said. “He took one look at me, fell flat on his face, and had a heart attack. Actually, it was not funny. A dangerous moment. He was taken by ambulance seven minutes later and he survived. Three years later he had bypass surgery. I keep in touch with him. Still comes to the restaurant and I always let him in the kitchen. God knows why.”


“Always rise from the table with an appetite, and you will never sit down without one.” –William Penn (1644-1718), founder of Pennsylvania

5 Questions for Kurt Serpin

Serpin is the chef/partner at Café Orchid (1746 W. Addison St.; 773-327-3808), a tiny Turkish BYO that has flown under the radar in West Lake View since June 2007.

D: Where have you cooked before?
KS: Do you remember Café Istanbul? I was chef there. I was at A La Turka, too, for almost five years.

D: What sets Café Orchid apart from other Turkish spots?
KS: We have beds and pillows, like a long chair. It’s low, with cushions. So comfortable. Better than chairs. And the menu is 90 percent Ottoman cuisine.

D: What is Ottoman cuisine?
KS: For example, I have Turkish ravioli with butter and hot Turkish pepper, which we call manti. This is really Ottoman. You will not find it at any Turkish place in Chicago. My wife and I make 20 to 25 orders with homemade dough, which takes eight hours. We make kibbeh with ground lamb inside. Other people make it with ground beef. Everything is charcoal grilled. Nothing with oil.

D: You have something on your menu called uskudar. What is it?
KS: This is a really famous food in Turkey from a small town, Üsküdar. We slice eggplant, keep in salty water for two hours. After we dry it, the salt goes out. Then we pan-fry small pieces of lamb in extra virgin olive oil, rub the eggplant with lamb, and put them in the oven together for 15 minutes. Serve with fresh tomato sauce and peppers.

D: Anything else?
KS: I make homemade baklava and I make Turkish custard. And I have a great patio and huge parking lot for 20 to 25 cars.  

Inside the Coffee Studio

“Our espresso machine is a one-of-a-kind in Chicago,” says Lee Corrina Cano, co-owner of The Coffee Studio (5628 N. Clark St.; 773-271-7881), which opened last December. “It’s kind of the Ferrari. I think that’s the right comparison; I’m not a car person. But it’s very high-end and gives you a lot of manual control.” (FYI: It’s a Synesso.) The Coffee Studio also boasts granola from Milk & Honey, organic quiches from Bleeding Heart Bakery, and a child-friendly vibe. (“It’s not a playground, but we have some toys out.”) To learn about coffee, Cano went so far as to get a job as a barista at Starbucks in 2005. “Instead, we learned things we didn’t want to do,” Cano says. “On the other hand, I also went to the best coffee shops in the country.”

Them’s Bitin’ Words

Vietnam Bistro (600 E. North Ave., Carol Stream; 630-510-8400), a nine-month-old contemporary spot from Victoria Nguyen, former partner of Pho 777 (1065 W. Argyle St.), is an effort to make Vietnamese food accessible. “It’s traditional and authentic, but we made the menu more Americanized so you can read it,” says Nguyen, who describes the dishes as “more sophisticated” than your average Vietnamese restaurant. “It’s lighter and less greasy and that’s what our menu is all about. Our banh xeo is crispier and less greasy than the one in your article.” (She’s referring to Tay Do [1232 Bloomingdale Rd., Glendale Heights; 630-462-8888] from Best New Restaurants, May 2007.)

Two Quick Hits

Pollack here. I was a busy diner this week and wanted to mention two things from my visits to new restaurants. The shortbread cookies at Wicker Park’s Mado (1647 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-342-2340) are the lightest, most melt-in-your-mouth shortbreads I’ve ever tried: a life-transforming experience. And Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.; 773-275-5725), while not a place I would eat frequently, was fun. We were pleasantly surprised by the dry-rubbed ribs, and the fried green tomato BLT earned a place in my heart. Unfortunately, most everything on that menu will also find a place in your arteries.

Things to Do

  1. Make your own infused vodka on May 3rd at Pastoral’s Loop location (53 E. Lake St.; 312-658-1250) during a 90-minute class with Pastoral’s wine gal, Jan Henrichsen, and Death’s Door Vodka producer Brian Ellison. Your $50 also buys you two cocktails and a Mason jar of your creation to take home.
  2. Get free French-style hot dogs (on baguettes with mustard) between 5 and 9 p.m. on May 1st at Brasserie Jo (59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800), which is celebrating “Fête du Travail,” a.k.a. French Labor Day.
  3. Wonder how this happened.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

The opening of Jackson Park Bar and Grill (444 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-644-7200), Jason Paskewitz’s grand plan in River North, is being delayed six weeks to mid-June. “We need a new power supply from ComEd,” says Phil Lotsoff, a partner. Yeah, good luck with that. . . . In May, Whole Foods will offer eco-friendly artisanal chocolate truffles by Katherine Anne Confections, a Chicago-based company run by the chocolatier Katherine Anne Duncan. . . . Tiny Lounge, the beloved martini bar that ruled 1814 West Addison Street for seven years before a CTA Brown Line renovation shuttered it in 2006, will reopen in Lincoln Square’s old Charlie’s on Leavitt space (4352 N. Leavitt St.; 773-463-0396) early this summer with a small-plate menu plus expanded draught beer and wine selection.