When 42 Grams closed suddenly last year, Chicago lost one of its best fine dining experiences offered in Uptown. Co-owner Alexa Welsh had scheduled something of a fire sale to dispose of the tiny restaurant’s equipment; but luckily, chef Matthew Kerney (Longman & Eagle, Ambria, Schwa) happened to walk in the door that day.
Kerney had spent months scouting his own dining space. “I walked in and said, ‘We’ll take everything,’” he says. “Her jaw dropped.” That was the beginning of Brass Heart (4662 N. Broadway), Kearney’s high-end, tasting menu restaurant set to open on August 21.
Brass Heart isn’t pulling any punches. At $185 a ticket for 15 courses, it will instantly enter the ranks of Chicago’s priciest prix fixe menus. But Kerney, who helped keep Longman & Eagle’s Michelin star for years, wants to show off his chops. “It wasn’t until my last year at Longman that Michelin put me down in the guide,” he says. “This is my way of hopping out and saying, ‘Hey, I did earn those stars!’”
To wow diners and give them their money’s worth, Brass Heart will fly in every piece of seafood on its menu — live. Premium ingredients, like A5 Kobe beef and full legs of Bellota ham abound. “I’m using all the ingredients I’ve always dreamed I could use,” Kerney says.
The chef also wants to focus on presenting those ingredients well, rather than creating overwrought fine dining plates. Take that ham: it’ll be served simply, with cantaloupe and black truffle. “It’s the best ham you’ll ever have in your entire life,” Kerney says. “It’s outrageous.” The kobe beef is presented with a salsify purée, pommes soufflé, and chanterelle mushrooms.
Kerney may be focusing on luxury ingredients, but he’s also doing something that almost no one else in the city is doing: a vegan tasting menu. He was always frustrated at Longman when a diner ordered something vegan — not because he hates vegans, but because he wasn’t able to make something amazing. So his crew spent months experimenting in the kitchen. “I knew that it was going to be a big undertaking doing this right,” says Kerney. “Inherently, vegan food just sucks.” Not anymore. He’s created a vegan demi-glace and a vegan take on bouillabaisse (which even has a stand-in for the savory rouille made from puréed garlic, oil, and sherry). “I know we can do 100 times better than any vegetarian or vegan restaurant in this city,” says Kerney.
If you have visited 42 Grams, don’t expect anything to look familiar at its replacement. There’s now a wall between the kitchen and dining room, and diners sit at more traditional two- and four-person tables. But while Kerney might not be cooking right out in the open, his style is still a bit vulnerable. “I just want to take high-quality ingredients and present them simply,” he says. “That makes it much more difficult, since you don’t have anything to hide behind. You either do it right or you don’t.”
See the full menu below: