Call of the Mild
David Richards, the chef/owner of Sweets & Savories, opens a new place in the northern suburbs today: Bluette (1162 Wilmette Ave., Wilmette; 847-853-8988), a 40-seater featuring food Richards describes as “updated classic French.” Duck cassoulet with fresh beans, a croque-monsieur, and a lobster risotto (which also appears on Sweets & Savories’ menu) typify the style. As to why a seemingly city guy (he also co-owns Mado) is branching out to the burbs, Richards cites the magnetism of comfort. “It’s so relaxing up here. I have a parking space,” he says. “The friendliest people ever. People come in and ask what’s going on, and I feel like I should have a tray of food, like [for] a housewarming party.” What an idyll. Fortunately Richards is likely to be too busy for The Stepford Wives or John Cheever.
“The two biggest sellers in any bookstore are the cookbooks and the diet books. The cookbooks tell you how to prepare the food, and the diet books tell you how not to eat any of it.” —Andy Rooney (1919–), TV commentator
Mai Kind of Town
Remember Chicago magazine’s Best of Chicago feature from December 1995? No? Maybe you’ll remember the restaurant our erstwhile colleagues said had the best booths in the city: Julie Mai’s Le Bistro, the Andersonville French-Vietnamese spot that closed in 2000. The booths were cozy, private nooks with switches to control the lights and call the servers, and the semi-exotic food and nice wine list added up to a romantic atmosphere. Well, Julie Mai is back, at MC Bistro (1401 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-489-5600), a new 110-seat French-Vietnamese spot in Wicker Park that opened last week. Mai, partnering with her sister Thanh Chi, offers Vietnamese classics such as spring rolls and papaya salad, as well as pho of which she’s proud. How does it feel to be back? “It feels good,” she says. “I love food. Now I think I can do better than before.”
Six Questions for Sandy Dinkel Karl
Karl, a fourth-generation Dinkel working at the 88-year-old Dinkel’s Bakery (3329 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-281-7300), told us about plans to open Dinkel’s Café in the space next door at 3327, by March 1st if all goes well.
Dish: Is it true that you’re building a café next door?
Sandy Dinkel Karl: We are. It’s kind of funny. We found plans from 1947 to do this.
D: What is the concept?
SDK: Incredible sandwiches and soups. Family atmosphere. And just enjoying being alive and eating good baked goods after a great sandwich.
D: What kind of sandwiches does that mean?
SDK: Some pumpernickel breads. Some roast beef. Hams and really good cheeses.
D: You are going to make the breads?
SDK: Oh yeah. That’s what we do here. Everything is made here, down to the nitty-gritty, except we don’t grow our own wheat for flour. It would be cool if we did.
D: Are you yourself a good baker?
SDK: I am not. But my husband [Luke Karl] comes from a baking family, too. His family owned a bakery that started in 1911 in Kansas City—Karl’s Bakery.
D: How did you two meet?
SDK: Snowboarding in Colorado. It was really random.
The Eagle Has Landed (Almost)
If you don’t know the word “eyrie,” often spelled “aerie,” meaning “the nest of a predatory bird,” you probably don’t do crossword puzzles. If you don’t know the restaurant Eyrie (128 N. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; no phone yet), that’s because it hasn’t opened yet—its ETA is late spring or early summer. The restaurant is the brainchild of Michael Viollt, the president of Robert Morris University, who conceived of it as a live workshop for the school’s culinary students. (RMU’s mascot is the eagle.) The dean of the cooking school, Nancy Rotunno, says, “The students will come up with menu ideas and will implement as many of their ideas as possible,” under the supervision of faculty members and using seasonal ingredients from Oak Park farmers’ markets. Perfect for students who want to break into the restaurant field but feel they need an entrée.
A Love-Haiti Relationship
A healthy shank of the Chicago foodie community lives to experience a new-to-them ethnic cuisine. (We’re looking at you, LTHForum.) The ethnicophiles’ radar screen gains a blip Friday when Rogers Park sees the opening of a new Haitian restaurant, Chez Violette (2311 W. Howard St.; 773-961-7275). A specialty will be the national staple of pâté, a savory filled pastry. “If you have a Haitian party and you don’t have that, they say, ‘This is not Haitian,’” says Violetta Adrien, the chef/owner. The menu also includes griot, the classic fried-pork dish, which comes with fried plantains and a spicy slaw. “I will try to please everyone who comes to the door,” says Adrien, a native Haitian and 30-year resident of Chicago. “Some people are hard to please, but I will try my best.”
• Burgers and fries are nice sometimes.
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Things to Do
1. Treat yourself and a friend to lunch at David Burke’s Primehouse (The James, 616 N. Rush St.; 312-660-6000), where you can get two burgers and two glasses of cabernet for $15 any Friday in December.
2. Lock in your chance to sample free wine and cheese at a reservations-required tasting on December 13th at Grotto Italian Steakhouse (3011 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook; 630-571-5700).
3. Take a chance on fugu—the infamous Japanese pufferfish—with a reservation this month at Ai Japanese Restaurant & Lounge (358 W. Ontario St.; 312-335-9888). Toyoji Hemmi, the executive chef at Ai, holds Chicago’s only license to prepare the rarity, a delicate business that involves carving out the parts that have potentially deadly neurotoxins.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Kitchen blazes will be A-OK at RedFlame (2417 N. Clybourn Ave.; 312-462-0486), a pizzeria opening this month near the western edge of Lincoln Park, where the pizza dough is grilled, and then the toppings are torched. . . . Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (798 W. Algonquin Rd., Arlington Heights; 847-228-9551) will serve the last of its Cajun-style cooking in mid-January. . . . The team behind the French-and-Italian Café Amano (105 S. York Rd., Elmhurst; 630-279-9333) recently opened Amano Boucherie (630-279-9229), a deli and butcher shop, in the space next door. . . . The restaurant at Splice Kitchen (2826 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-360-8774), a shared-kitchen space in Lake View, had morphed briefly into a DIY stir-fry joint called Firepot Grill but now has parted ways with the chef John Moultrie to reassume its original all-Splice identity (and, in addition to stir-frys, will be serving build-your-own burgers, tacos, and sandwiches). . . . On Twitter, Graham Elliot swears that Grahamwich (615 N. State St.; no phone yet) will open this month and releases the official menu.