Stein and Dine
The mystery about who would helm the kitchen of The Florentine (JW Marriott, 151 W. Adams St.; no phone yet), the upcoming Chicago debut of BLT Restaurant Group, didn’t stay mysterious for long. It’s Todd Stein, the chef at Cibo Matto. “[The Florentine] will be a modern Italian restaurant in the vein of Cibo Matto,” Stein says. The menu will feature pasta, fish, and meat dishes made with local ingredients and served in a 200-plus-seat dining room that compares to Cibo Matto’s. “It will be a touch more rustic but still comfortable and hip,” Stein says. Neither his last day nor his replacement at Cibo Matto has been determined, but The Florentine is scheduled to open in mid-October.
“Comedy just pokes at problems, rarely confronts them squarely. Drama is like a plate of meat and potatoes; comedy is rather the dessert, a bit like meringue.”
–Woody Allen (1935– ), American filmmaker
Seven Questions for Phillip Foss
It’s been a big week for Foss. On Friday, he tells us, he was fired from his post as executive chef at Lockwood. On Sunday, he and his wife, Kenni, operated a pop-up restaurant at the storefront of Gaztro-Wagon.
D: What happened at Lockwood?
PF: I saw this one coming for a while. For at least six months. I kind of felt the writing was on the wall, really, since my first suspension.
D: What was that about?
PF: That was because I had castigated a Lockwood server on Facebook.
D: And things deteriorated from there?
PF: I don’t want you to think that was the first time. I had some sit-downs with HR before. This was the first one that they felt they had to take some action toward.
D: Are you a wild guy? A maverick?
PF: It seems I’ve turned into that. I like making this life interesting. We only go through this life once. In my heart of hearts, I’m a nice guy, a fun dad. But I believe in having fun in this life. You only get an opportunity to go through it once, so why not push the envelope?
D: You’ve participated in Franks ’N’ Dawgs competition to design a gourmet sausage that sells better than a colleague’s. A lot of people have already noticed that the competition seems to be cursed—you and Aaron Deal [Custom House Tavern] were both fired, and now Todd Stein [Cibo Matto] is moving on, too.
PF: At least I was winning the competition. I don’t want to curse the guys, but it is kind of goofy. Curtis Duffy [Avenues] and Mike Sheerin [Blackbird] are still around. I beat the pants off both of those guys.
D: What’s your specialty dog?
PF: I did the Foss Hog. Mine was a pork sausage with bacon lardons, maple mayo, and a sunny-side-up egg. Exactly what you would expect from a good Jewish boy.
D: I would expect brisket.
PF: I would have lost for sure [with that]. Put bacon and eggs on anything, and you are guaranteed a winner.
Slated for the 292-seat space that most famously housed Barney’s Market Club is Haymarket Pub & Brewery (737 W. Randolph St.; 312-638-0700), a craft brewer to join recent Chicago arrivals Half Acre, Metropolitan, and Revolution. Handmade sausages and slow-cooked barbecue dominate the menu. “We’re going to have excellent ribs and excellent brisket, but the sausages are really our first love,” says Pete Crowley, the brewmaster and general manager, most recently of Rock Bottom Brewery. The chef, Chris Buccheri, also sports a brewing pedigree, having come from Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana. If all goes well—now that the total remodel of the basement is out of the way—the current ETA is October 14th. “Saying. Hoping. Praying,” Crowley says.
When Mary Nguyen Aregoni, one of the eponymous Saigon Sisters of the Chicago French Market, found a potential prep and storage space nearby at 567 West Lake Street, she saw visions of seats and table service, too. “It’s 1,800 square feet, the whole thing. This place is so cute and charming,” says Nguyen Aregoni, who works with Theresa Nguyen (her sister) as well as her mother, whom they call Mama Suu. The restaurant, also called Saigon Sisters, will offer the banh mi, spring rolls, and pho available at the French Market as well as tapas-style Vietnamese street food and large plates made from family recipes. Mid-September is the target for opening the 36-seat spot, which will give new meaning to the term “sister restaurant.”
Michael Roper of Hopleaf (5148 N. Clark St.; 773-334-9851) told us why he’s expanding the famed beer bar and restaurant into the space next door at 5146. His current goal is to open by the holidays. (Roper’s quotation below was condensed from a longer interview.)
“We’re mostly making this place more efficient. The biggest thing will be a bigger kitchen. The current kitchen is only 12 by 17 feet. One oven, six burners. We don’t serve lunch because we can’t do prep and service at the same time. Our grill is only 15 inches wide. We wash all of our dishes by hand.
“We’ve gotten to be more busy than our physical plant can handle. We are going to put a big wood-fired grill in. We will be able to do a lot more grilled meats, poultry, and fish. Baking our own bread will be really great. We’ve always wanted to do oysters but had no place to shuck them.
“If there’s any complaint that we get, it’s that it’s so busy, so crowded. Food comes out so slowly when it’s busy. This just solves all those problems. That’s what we are excited about.”
Things to Do
1. Discount your food 25 percent at Sola (3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-3868) on Fridays in August—which at this point means just the 20th and 27th. Mention Foodie Friday when making your reservation.
2. Spend Wednesday nights at either location of Feast (1616 N. Damen Ave.; 773-772-7100 or 25 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-337-4001), when a starter, an entrée, and a glass of wine go for $25.
3. Order a drink on Tuesdays at The Portage (3938 N. Central Ave.; 773-853-0779) off the menu of four craft beers and four martini-style cocktails that cost $4 each.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Pei Wei Asian Diner (2709 N. Elston Ave.; 773-687-0290) opens Tuesday. . . . The new sibling of The Gage, named Henri (18 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-578-0763) opens Saturday. . . . A veteran of Hyatt and the Rosebud restaurants, Jaime García opened Monte Alban (6012 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-622-8278) in the Belmont Central neighborhood on August 9th. “Like a dream,” says García, who immigrated from Oaxaca, Mexico. “I hope everything will be OK. [It’s a] dream to own your own business.” . . . Congratulations to The Purple Pig, named one of Bon Appétit’s ten best new restaurants in the United States in its upcoming September issue. Also receiving shout-outs in the issue are Big Star, Danny’s, Edzo’s Burger Shop, and Franks ’N’ Dawgs.