Steaking Out Territory
Two steak-house veterans—David Flom (Rosebud) and Matty Moore (Rosebud, Smith & Wollensky)—think they’ve unearthed some angles that will wedge yet another steak house into River North. Loosely scheduled to open in August, Chicago Cut Steakhouse (300 N. LaSalle St.; no phone yet) will butcher and dry-age prime Black Angus steaks in-house and plans to serve them with (as-yet-undetermined) sides that will add a little pizzazz to the standard steak-house lineup. “Obviously, a lot of the steak houses are monotonous and similar—caesar salads and big baked potatoes,” Flom says. “We are trying to put a culinary flair on everything besides the steak.” They also intend to have a carving station for prime rib, ham, and turkey in the bar area, and they’ll offer a white-tablecloth breakfast for business meetings. Interestingly, Flom’s former Rosebud boss, Alex Dana, is also shooting for the River North breakfast crowd with his upcoming Eatt. “Brilliant move,” says Flom. “Obviously he is one of the best restaurateurs in Chicago.”
“Mustard’s no good without roast beef.” –Chico Marx (1891-1961), American entertainer
Mama Said, Part One
“We’re doing the restaurant as a family,” says José Rodríguez, the manager and chef at Aripo’s (118 N. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-386-1313), a Venezuelan restaurant that opened April 14th near the end of the Green Line. Rodríguez is getting labor from his brothers, and his menu consists of his mom’s recipes, especially for arepas, the South American cornmeal-pancake sandwiches that indirectly give the restaurant its name—an aripo is the griddle on which arepas are cooked. Aripo’s also serves empanadas, tequeños (“the Venezuelan version of a cheese stick,” Rodríguez says), and pabellón, Venezuela’s national dish of shredded beef, rice, black beans, and fried plantains. Mom herself is training the cooks. “She will be here at least until the beginning of May,” Rodríguez says, “in the kitchen, ensuring that all her recipes are done properly.” Is she really doing quality control, or is she just making sure you kids behave yourselves?
Mama Said, Part Two
The gravity of the restaurant business was too strong to escape for Nick Gazzano, the manager of La Tosca (123 E. St. Charles Rd., Villa Park; 630-832-5300), an Italian place in the western suburbs that opened April 13th. His parents owned Sorrento’s in Melrose Park for many years, but Gazzano became—and remains—an auditor. “I work from 9 to 5 p.m., and then I go to the restaurant,” he says. When his family opened La Tosca, he once again felt the magnetism of the restaurant biz. With Mom in the kitchen making cannoli and tiramisù, the draw would admittedly be hard to resist.
Accanto Quite Get There
Totally intrigued by an international chef (Domenico Acampora) tucked into a kitchen on a scruffy corner of Logan Square, the Dish team decided to check out Accanto (2171 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-227-2727)—on separate nights.
PP: Calamari tempura ($16) wasn’t really tempura or even mildly spicy as the menu promised, but I liked it for what it was: tender squid in a soft breading bathed in a subtle tomato sauce. Lobster bisque, on the other hand, was tepid, and the lobster, though generously portioned, was oddly textured, making it an $18 flop.
GM: The guacamole tian with crabmeat was pedestrian but $16. Could have used some zing. The venison chop with chocolate–juniper berry reduction ($18) was lean and not at all gamey, but the best part—the surprising and boreal juniper—was underrepresented, with only three peppercorn-sized berries.
PP: Risotto with braised short rib ($24) was a big beefy-flavored win but so very heavy I wondered why it was on an opening spring menu.
GM: The other risotto, with white celery and pecorino ($20), got springiness from a spoonful of pear sorbet.
PP: Tuna with vegetarian couscous ($27) was much lighter but kind of a mess with mushy tuna and overcooked couscous. Orecchiette con verdure ($20) made much more sense and delivered the message: Domenico Acampora loves lavish flavors.
GM: The beef tenderloin with braised endive and porcini and port wine glaze ($29) was as rich as the description promised, made even more so by the gnocchi with quarter-sized truffle shavings on top.
PP: The tortino di cioccolato ($12) was supremely delicioso: Top-quality chocolate, not too sweet, not too runny, not too cakey. Delightfully warm with mango ice cream for a perfectly tangy counterpoint.
GM: We skipped dessert, even though our waiter recommended the sorbet assortment, including “bloody orange.”
PP: The room is a chic shock compared with the pizzeria it took space from, and the chef’s heart seems to be in the right place, but there’s something out of sync about the entire experience. Could be as simple as the prices.
She Said It
“I don’t use fondants. Fondants are fine, but fondant is a European product, and European cakes are not as sweet as American cakes. It’s also kind of the consistency of Play-Doh.” –Melissa Miller, a baker and co-owner at Cream Cake Co. (847-440-7933), a specialty-cake bakery that also uses a cream-based frosting instead of buttercream
After wading through an interview full of statements like “When people ask if we are a chain restaurant, we say we are a change restaurant,” here’s what we’ve determined about Seasons 52 (1770 E. Higgins Rd., Schaumburg), coming to the northwest suburbs on May 10th:
- The Schaumburg location will be the chain’s 11th and its first in Illinois.
- Schaumburg’s core menu is the same as in other locations in Florida, Georgia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, but each uses local ingredients.
- The wine list features 60 by-the-glass choices.
- No single menu item exceeds 475 calories.
- The spokeswoman recommends the grilled steak and cremini flatbread with blue cheese and spinach, but she adores the mocha macchiato, a chocolate mousse with caramel and coffee flavorings.
Things to Do
- Celebrate Earth Day (a couple of days late) on April 24th with a free sloppy Joe, served at the Northbrook Village Green between 8:30 a.m. and 2 p.m., courtesy of Prairie Grass Café (601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433).
- Hit the jackpot at Heaven on Seven (111 N. Wabash Ave.; 312-263-6443), which is celebrating its 30th anniversary throughout May by selling every entrée for $7.77. “You know, like when all sevens come up on the slot machines,” says Jimmy Bannos, the chef-owner.
- Be a prix fixe zealot at Zealous (419 W. Superior St.; 312-475-9112), where $35 gets you three courses on Wednesdays.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Cuatro (2030 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-842-8856) closed briefly, from April 10th to 15th, while sorting out new-investor issues. Their liquor license comes back soon, they say, and the patio should open in May. . . . A Friend of Dish let us know that the Andersonville chocolatier Bon Bon (5410 N. Clark St.) has closed. . . . In a nice change from all the closings of the past few weeks, new places are now opening along with the flowers: Benny’s Chop House (444 N. Wabash St.; 312-626-2444) in River North and Floriole Cafe & Bakery (1220 W. Webster; 773-883-1313) (try the shortbread) in Lincoln Park. . . . If you can’t afford to go to Alinea (1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110), try a blogger’s jellybean version of their menu.