Into Africa

“Iyanzé is my mother’s nickname,” says Emmanuel Abidemi, partner of Iyanzé (4623 N. Broadway; 773-944-1417), a West African spinoff of Bolat (3346 N. Clark St.) that opened on April 13th. “Iyanzé is very hard to translate because it is a rich word, but it’s like, ‘Man, that lady can cook.’” And cook she does. The restaurant’s chef/mom, Remi Abidemi, attempts to cover four West African countries, with dishes such as attieke, a couscous-like grain made from cassava with fish and diced tomatoes, an Ivory Coast staple. Jollof rice, cooked in tomato sauce and spices, will be in abundance at the 92-seat Uptown BYO. “We would be crucified if we didn’t have it,” says Emmanuel Abidemi. FYI: Bolat on Clark suffered a fire last October and will reopen as a more formal restaurant in July with a lounge upstairs.


“I’m walking out my door to get like a Snapple, and someone’s like, ‘Yo, man, you want to buy some heroin?’ ‘No . . . got any Snapple?’” Mike Birbiglia (b. 1978), American comedian

A Conversation with Jason McLeod

The 38-year-old native of Vancouver Island, Canada, will be the exec chef at Elysian (11 E. Walton St.) when the hotel opens in July, which is a long way from his first job, as a dishwasher at a Canadian pancake house. His pastry chef, by the way, will be Mindy Segal (HotChocolate).

D: What path did you take to end up here?
JM: I would love to say I grew up on the farm and loved to cook, but that’s not true. But I was lucky to pick it up quickly. I did a three-year program in Canada, then made contact with Raymond Blanc, a two-Michelin-star chef in England, who was opening Le Petit Blanc in Oxford. I ended up spending almost five years there. Then I worked for Marco Pierre White.

D: So how did you make this connection with Elysian?
JM: Moved back to Canada, joined the Four Seasons Hotel chain. About seven years with them, involved with about five properties. One of my food and beverage directors contacted me about the job at the Elysian.  

D: What’s your vision for Elysian?
JM: It’s a collaboration. Especially with Mindy Segal coming on board. We want to take out the feel of a hotel restaurant. With my luxury hotel background and Mindy’s understanding of the local business, we will bring this great vision forward.

D: Which is?
JM: We want to be that comfort zone for the locals, for Chicagoans to come to the restaurant and feel it’s an extension of their home, not a hotel.   

D: Have you begun developing the menu?
JM: I’m still meeting farmers, suppliers. Will take some time to put some dishes together. I’m working at HotChocolate because we don’t have access to a kitchen here yet. David Pisor [Elysian’s CEO] really understands what it’s going to take to be successful. He worked at Chez Panisse with Alice Waters for six years. She is his aunt. He has an unbelievable passion for food.  

Coming Soon

Jerry Kleiner’s upcoming spot in the western suburbs, tentatively titled Il Poggiolo (8 E. First St., Hinsdale; 630-734-9400)—but you know how Kleiner is about names—is slated to open in mid-May. “It’s in an old theatre with a mezzanine balcony in there,” says Kleiner, in explaining the name, which is the Italian word for balcony. “I knocked out one of the floors. It’s so pretty you won’t even believe this thing.” Kleiner’s partner at Il Poggiolo is Peter Burdi, whose family owns Burdi, a clothing store at 58 East Walton Street.

Worse Than Worst-Case Scenario

“When you are in bed about to go to sleep, you’ve had a couple of glasses of wine, ready to fade away into dreamland, if you own a business, negative things go through your mind. A fire, a holdup; a key employee might leave. Never once does it occur that the chimney next door will explode. You know the expression, ‘It hit us like a ton of bricks’? This was tons of bricks.” –GianCarlo Nardini, third-generation owner of Club Lago (331 W. Superior St.; 312-337-9444), an Italian joint that had been open on the same River North corner since 1952 until March 18th, when a boiler in the building next door exploded, sending its chimney toppling onto Club Lago’s roof. Nardini, who is still paying his whole staff in the meantime, says the place will be back, the same as always, by summer.

Other Disasters

Honey 1 BBQ (2241 N. Western Ave.; 773-227-5130), whose Web site un-ironically has long said, “The smoke is no joke,” caught fire last week, a disaster caught on camera by a freelance photographer for Time Out Chicago. Honey 1’s answering machine says, “Honey 1 is currently closed due to repairs. . . . We will reopen in further notice.” No real update beyond that, but all involved agree that this gives Honey 1 all kinds of credibility.

Cheap Things to Do

  1. Rekindle your love for the all-you-can-eat buffet, in the form of Klay Oven (414 N. Orleans St.; 312-527-3999) or Red Apple (3121 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-588-5781; and 6474 N. Milwaukee Ave., 773-763-3407) FYI: Klay Oven is Indian and $11; Red Apple is Polish and $10.
  2. Speaking of all-you-can-eat, Dunlays on the Square (3137 W. Logan Blvd.; 773-227-2400) hosts a patio pig roast from noon to 5 p.m. on April 18th. Go eat pork for five hours for $14 and listen to music by the gloriously underrated Northside Southpaws.
  3. Eat dinner at Maya Del Sol (144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 708-358-9800) on April 15th, and pay “what you think is fair.”
  4. Pick up the May issue of Chicago magazine, which features the 22 best new restaurants of the year. Then listen to Pollack discuss it on Dean Richards’ Sunday Morning show on WGN (720 AM), April 19th at 11:05 a.m.    

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Fred’s at Barneys New York (15 E. Oak St., 6th floor; 312-596-1111) has opened for business. . . . The voice message at Moon Palace (216 W. Cermak Rd.; 312-225-4081) says the Chinatown spot will reopen on April 20th. . . . Meanwhile, a block away, construction on Penang (2201 S. Wentworth Ave.; 312-326-6888) is just starting, following its fire last October. Expect a June opening. . . . El Llano (3941 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-1659) plans to launch another outpost for its Colombian wares at Elston and Irving Park next month. . . . Thai Pastry II (7350 W. Lawrence Ave., Harwood Heights; 708-867-8840) opened three weeks ago in the north suburbs. . . . Among the other stuff Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750) is giving away to diners to celebrate its 25th anniversary, two roundtrip airline tickets to Italy are yours to win. . . . Rick’s Café (3915 N. Sheridan Rd.), a Euro-focused storefront spot in Lake View, has closed. . . . Linda Raydl, former chef-partner at Tomboy, has been named the executive chef of Briejo (211 Harrison St., Oak Park; 708-848-2743). . . . A taxi apparently crashed into Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn St.; 312-422-0150) yesterday. No one was hurt, but there have got to be easier ways to get a reservation.