Six Questions for Brian Runge

Runge (Graham Elliot, Brasserie Ruhlmann) is the chef at Premise (5420 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9463), the new restaurant that replaced the wine-bar half of In Fine Spirits. (The wine shop remains open.)
Dish: Why the change at In Fine Spirits?
Brian Runge: People were looking for a little more food here and there. [The owners] made the decision to go full-blown. I wanted to do fine dining, and they were all about it.
D: How does your menu compare to your goal for Premise?
BR: I wanted to ease the people of Andersonville into what I do culinarily. This was an entry-level menu to where we are going to go from here. [At Graham Elliot,] I could play with anything and make the strangest food, and people would try it. Here I have to ease them into the chaos that I consider my food.
D: How would you describe your food?
BR: Modernist American. I’m not Alinea, but I would say [Michael] Carlson from Schwa is my biggest influence in Chicago. I also want to give a lot of credit to Graham Elliot for allowing me the freedom to express and really discover my style of cooking. I owe him that.
D: What about cocktails?
BR: The cocktail program is amazing, and we have a salon upstairs, like a den with limited seating. A private cocktail program run by Luke [LeFiles]. Being that In Fine Spirits was one of the progressive members of that scene, it’s got leather couches, a candlelit laid-back mood, a den.
D: What are some bold dishes on your current menu?
BR: I have tempura sweetbreads, and I have Spanish mackerel with manzanilla tapenade and pickled quail egg. Those are appetizers. I try to mix sweet and savory progressively. Fluke tartare with uni sabayon, lotus root, and dashi gel. I like savory desserts, and I like to put some sweets in my entrées, so over time you will see more of that mix.
D: Is everything à la carte?
BR: À la carte menu. It’s a fairly concise menu: six apps, five entrées, and three desserts. I have a five-course and an eight-course prix fixe, and I am always available to do whatever tasting someone wants. If someone wants the whole menu, I can do a 14-course tasting.


Colombia, Gem of North Center

Bad news for Colombian-food lovers in North Center: El Llano on Lincoln Avenue closed. (The location on Elston Avenue is still open.) Good news: Melao Latin Cuisine (3941 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-868-4501) took its place less than two weeks later. Madeleine Solarte, who owns Melao with Claudinette Rojas, says Melao serves Latin American food such as arepas, empanadas, and platters of chicken breast and churrasco with yuca, plantains, potatoes, and chimichurri. The owners also brought a dessert from their hometown of Calí, Colombia, called bocadillo (meaning "sandwich"), consisting of guava candy and mozzarella cheese between two slices of fried plantain. Coffee flan with Bailey’s sauce also appears on the dessert menu. If only every restaurant closing turned out this way.


A Peek at The Monkey’s Paw

Nolan Nguyen Green, recently named chef at the gastropub The Monkey’s Paw (2524 N. Southport Ave.; 773-413-9314), told us a few things to expect from him when the place opens in May.
• Poutine with house-cut fries, duck confit, pear béchamel, and Emmental cheese
• Robata-type skewers called lollipops, including chicken tandoori and steak au poivre
• Barrel-aged cocktails such as Rob Roys and old fashioneds
• Coffee flan with Kahlúa gastrique [One more coffee flan with liqueur makes a trend. —Eds.]
• Ice carving (sometime in the future). “I worked with Dean Murray [at Western Culinary Institute] for garde manger and for ice carving,” Green says. “He is an ice carving Olympian for the National Ice Carving Association. I did a lot of catering and different ice carving events through him. . . . [I will use it] as much as I possibly can with the space in the restaurant.”



“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.” —G. K. Chesterton (1874–1936), English writer


New Review: Avli Estiatorio

New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Avli Estiatorio previously was not listed.
Avli Estiatorio (566 Chestnut St., Winnetka; 847-446-9300). Greek.
 ½ (good to very good)
$ ($20–$29 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
This sophisticated spot inside the Laundry Mall offers regional specialties and polished Greektown favorites. Begin by sharing a selection of mezedes (small plates) such as cold marinated giant white beans, tender grilled octopus, and spetzofai (sautéed Greek sausage and grilled peppers from the Volos region). Whole broiled fish of the day—likely Mediterranean sea bass—expertly boned tableside is a fine entrée, as are artichoke moussaka and char-grilled rack of lamb. Manouri (Greek cheese) cheesecake with poached fig sauce is among the unusual desserts. Let your server guide you through the impressive Greek wine list; sit in the lovely courtyard in warm weather.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.


Roll with It

Despite being named after two archetypically immovable geographic features, a mountain and the ocean, Kai Zan (2557 1/2 W. Chicago Ave.; no phone yet) will have a menu in flux. “We are going to start out just probably with a little menu,” says Carlo Vizconde, who hopes to open the 22-seat Japanese BYO by mid-May with his twin brother, Melvin. “And then we will take it from there and see what people like.” The brothers developed the method out of previous sushi jobs, including at Kamehachi in Northbrook and Kyoto Sushi in Lincoln Park. “Me and my brother used to have regulars,” Carlo says, “and most of them never really ordered from the menu.” Order off the menu often enough, and eventually you transcend the menu. There’s a Zen koan in there somewhere.


What’s in a Name?

Although the original was named after 103rd Street, the new Café 103 (9 S. La Grange Rd., La Grange; no phone yet), scheduled to open in July, will keep its name. (The one on 103rd closed earlier this month because of a lease problem.) The owners, Blair and Shirley Makinney, say the new location will have the same chef (Rob Kurecki) and the same menu, but a few more seats and a liquor license. The attached market, Beverly’s Pantry, was named for its Chicago neighborhood, but it will be rechristened Café 103 Chef’s Kitchen, because a grocery store by any other name would smell as sweet. 


On Twitter

Follow Pollack on Twitter.


On the Blog


Things to Do

1. Feed your culinary passions at the Pastoral Artisan Producer Festival, a free event held Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m at the Chicago French Market (131 N. Clinton St.; 312-454-2200). Expect to rub elbows with more than 70 producers from around the globe (including the UK’s Neal’s Yard Dairy, Spain’s Marques de Vargas Vineyards, and Chicago’s own Stu’s Sour Pickles). Sample their products, celebrate small-batch food, beer, and wine, and stuff yourself silly.

2. Prepare to sip and mingle at Scoozi! (410 W. Huron St.; 312-943-5900), which hosts its Spring Wine Down on Friday from 6 to 8 p.m. Four of the restaurant’s wine suppliers will offer samples of 20 wines, and passed appetizers such as bruschetta and pizza will soak up the drinks. The shindig costs $20. Reservations are encouraged.    

3. Keep up the pizza-eating throughout May, when Pizza D.O.C. (2251 W. Lawrence Ave.; 773-784-8777) celebrates its fifth anniversary with a month-long bevy of bargains. Saturdays bring pizza-making classes (2 to 4 p.m., $18.95) using D.O.C.’s wood-fired ovens, Tuesdays mean a free pizza for five randomly selected lucky customers, and every day of the month there are $5 appetizers and drink specials.



  • Falafill (72 E. Adams St.; 312-360-9400), the quick-serve vegetarian joint with a DIY “mezza bar,” has opened a Loop location.
  • Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana (1443 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-6600), the long-awaited spot from Nella Grassano (Spacca Napoli, Nella Pizzeria Napoletana), makes its debut on Friday.
  • Moderno (1850 Second St., Highland Park; 847-433-8600), an Italian restaurant from John des Rosiers (Inovasi, Wisma), also begins service Friday.
  • Paladar (2115 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-252-4747), a rum bar serving traditional Cuban fare, joins the opening-Friday party.
  • M. Belle’s Pie Shop & Café (230 Robert Parker Coffin Rd., Long Grove; no phone yet), a purveyor of small-batch pies and farmer’s market–inspired breakfasts and lunches, opens May 1.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

The Boarding House, Alpana Singh’s wine bar scheduled for late this summer, will feature the culinary concoctions of Christian Gosselin (Bistronomic, Quebec’s Les Trois Tilleuls, and New Zealand’s Verve Café). “We try to focus on produce that is not too expensive, and we work that produce so it becomes really refined,” he says. Possible menu items include a Maine lobster poutine and Gosselin’s mom’s potato doughnuts. . . . As was reported by both 312 Dining Diva and Eater, Sushi Wabi shuttered last weekend. . . . Grub Street reports that Matthew Kirkley of L2O is installing a huge tank in order to serve even fresher fish. . . . As if you needed another reason to queue up at Doughnut Vault, Food & Wine has named its doughnuts the best in the nation.