Into the restaurant-rich Randolph Street area, the owner of Gilt Bar, Brendan Sodikoff, is bringing Maude’s Liquor Bar (840 W. Randolph St.; no phone yet), which we first heard about from the 312 Dining Diva. “The theme we are going with is dirty French barbecue,” Sodikoff says. (“Dirty” apparently means “like a dive bar in Paris,” according to Sodikoff.) Fresh-made sausage, grilled food, and a raw bar will appear, as well as fancy cocktails, which Sodikoff says they’re hoping to deliver within three to five minutes of ordering. “Everyone else is telling me five to seven minutes [is the best possible],” he says. “They are probably right. They are always right.” The 45-seater (plus upstairs lounge area), named after a French immigrant Sodikoff encountered in an “American roots kind of book,” is scheduled to open in 87 days, according to a countdown on the restaurant’s website. Sodikoff acknowledges the countdown date might be overoptimistic. “My guess is that we won’t do it in [time], but that’s my plan,” he says.
“I won’t eat anything that has intelligent life, but I’d gladly eat a network executive or a politician.” –Marty Feldman (1934–1982), English actor
Don of a New Day
After a September debut, rapidly followed by a November closing for basement renovations, Don Diablo (3749 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-489-3748), has come back to life. Doors reopened July 18th under the supervision of Angel Hernandez, the chef and owner of the space’s previous occupant, Fonda del Mar, and its reincarnation, Don Diablo. The revamped menu focuses on entrées without abandoning the smaller stuff. “I still keep a few tacos,” Hernandez says. “[They’re] good for the people.” Entrées include lamb in salsa borracha ($16) and slow-cooked pork in banana leaf with achiote ($14). “We went cheaper but kept the same quality of food,” he says. It’s BYO (Fonda del Mar had a full bar), and if you bring your own tequila, the kitchen will use it to make margaritas. Maybe this concept could be extended—we’d be happy to bring some restaurant the huge sheaf of garlic chives from our CSA last week if they’d use them in something and feed it to us.
Five Questions about Rustico Grill and Groupon
Alma Herrera was a partner at Rustico Grill (2515 N. California Ave.), which closed June 18th, a few months after offering a steeply discounted coupon through Groupon, in which customers could pay $20 for a coupon for $50 worth of food. Groupon usually splits revenues 50-50 with businesses, so Rustico’s cut of the proceeds would be $10 per coupon, minus credit-card-processing fees. (Groupon holders who did not redeem their Rustico coupons may call 877-788-7858 before the expiration date for a full refund.)
D: When you had the idea of doing a Groupon, were you looking to bring in more people?
AH: Yes. It was the middle of the winter, about February. We were in need of customers. No one was going out, and no one was spending money. [Rustico’s offer posted in April.]
D: So what happened?
AH: We sold about 3,600 Groupons.
D: Did it bring in a lot of people to spend their $50?
AH: It did, but, unfortunately, it brought the most people the first three or four weeks. Most people ordered exactly $50. It would be better if people ordered more than $50 because then they would spend a little more money. There were even groups of four or six spending $50 total.
D: Did the new customers at least enjoy themselves?
AH: People started complaining because they thought the service was bad, [but it was] because we were so full. We hired more people, but then we had some inexperienced people working. So that affected the overall impression of people of the restaurant. And they would post reviews online.
D: Why didn’t Groupon work for Rustico?
AH: I never thought we would be selling that many Groupons. That was a bad decision on our part. If I knew better, I would probably [still] do it, [but do] a $20 coupon where people would have to pay $10.
Raise the Roof
The newest bar/restaurant from Four Corners Tavern Group is Benchmark (1510 N. Wells St.; 312-649-9640), planning to open in Old Town as soon as the city issues it a liquor license. “We realize that the tavern business is becoming more competitive with good quality food, so we need to take it up a notch,” says Jim Hoban, the executive chef of the Four Corners group. He cites a couple of pizzas to illustrate: one with olive oil, manchego cheese, cured chorizo, piquillo peppers, and fresh basil, and one with white sauce, olive oil, garlic, oyster mushrooms, asparagus, spinach, and truffled pecorino cheese. The 266-seat spot also features a second-floor beer garden with a retractable roof. It’ll be nice to see something retracted at a bar other than predictions that Jay Cutler will lead the Bears to the Super Bowl.
On the Blog
Things to Do
1. Sample the trio of filet medallions at Chicago Firehouse (1401 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-786-1401), priced at $21.10 (normally $34.95) from now until August 10th to celebrate the restaurant’s tenth anniversary.
2. Park free with the purchase of two entrees at Atwood Cafe (1 W. Washington St.; 312-368-1900), any time after 7:30 p.m.
3. Eat three courses at Erwin (2925 N. Halsted St.; 773-528-7200) any night of the week for $18. Diners get a choice of soup or salad, and then an entrée and dessert that rotate nightly.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
After a 44-year run, Cafe La Cave (2777 Mannheim Rd., Des Plaines; 847-827-7818) closed its dining room August 1st. The banquet halls remain open for special events. . . . St. Andrews Inn (5938 N. Broadway; 773-784-5540) has revamped its menu under new ownership and now offers 138 beers. . . . The pair that formerly owned Vella Café are each on to new ventures. Melissa Yen sells her custom syrups to restaurants such as Milk & Honey Café and Cipollina and is launching a retail line in November. Sara Voden and her business partner Geraldine Vo collaborate on Vo, a Vietnamese spring roll business that vends at the Logan Square farmers’ market. . . . A flight attendant named Satoko Takeyama and a chiropractor/acupuncturist named Jee Kim are making their first restaurant venture with Wasabi (2539 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-227-8180), a 60-seat BYO Japanese place that is scheduled to open in late summer. . . . OrgaNick (1223 Chicago Ave., Evanston; 847-563-8056), a new vegetarian spot near the Dempster stop on the Purple Line, is the brainchild of Nick Patel, the founder and CEO of LA Tan.