Shell Game

Oysters may be the first Chicago food trend of 2011. To the ostreacentric new-year openings of GT Fish & Oyster and Maude’s Liquor Bar, now add Frontier (1072 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-772-4322), a gastropub focusing on oysters and game, from the owners of The Pony Inn and Lottie’s Pub. As to Frontier’s other focus, diners who sit at the chef’s table can preorder spit-roasted whole animals for $70 per person. The chef, Brian Jupiter, says, “You can order a whole pig, a whole lamb, a whole goat, a whole boar, and it comes with,” meaning sides are included in the price. Some meats, such as Dietzler Farms beef ground for hamburgers, will come from The Butcher & Larder, just a few doors down. Game appears on the brunch menu, too, as in fried rabbit and waffles. Never had it, but we are game to try.



“Mince [pie]’s overnight decline remains an unexampled mystery. Imagine, by way of analogy, that Americans abruptly and collectively lost their taste for cheeseburgers. Imagine the cheeseburger demoted to the same rank as eggnog, ritually consumed only on, say, July 4th. Suppose furthermore that the vestigial cheeseburgers served on America’s birthday were prepared without meat. Now suppose that a condition of cultural amnesia set in such that we all forgot, within the space of a decade or so, that cheeseburgers had ever been considered the iconic centerpiece of our nation’s diet.”
Cliff Doerksen (1963–2010), in the James Beard Award–winning “The Real American Pie,” in the Chicago Reader. Doerksen passed away last Friday.


The Life of Pie

“We are going to focus on savory pies. That sums it up,” says Art Jackson, who will run Pleasant House Bakery (964 W. 31st St.; no phone yet) with his wife, Chelsea Kalberloh-Jackson. Ingredients will be seasonal and local—hyperlocal in the case of the urban farm on which Jackson and his brother-in-law work. Jackson, formerly of Bijan’s Bistro, rents the space from the Marszewski family, which also owns Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar next door. The restaurant and the bar plan to cross promote, inviting pie eaters into the bar and pairing beverages with the pastries. For example, a pocketful of rye goes great with blackbird pie, or so we’ve heard.


Thinking Inside the Box

Rick Spiros, formerly of Red Canary and the mayfly-lived Mantou Noodle Bar, runs a company called Artisan Catering in Bucktown. Although he operates in a 750-square-foot space, he realized he could squeeze in 12 seats. On December 1st, Spiros made the world a more efficient place and opened The Bento Box (2246 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-278-3932), a counter-service BYO that serves Asian food such as ramen and curries in its namesake boxes ($12 to $16), for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Saturday. He’ll rotate the menu frequently, as well as branching out with the catering business. “I’ll throw a bunch of stuff at the wall and see what sticks,” Spiros says. Even though we’re talking about noodles, we’re pretty sure he meant that metaphorically.


He Said It

“I mean N9NE, it’s going on 11 years old. It’s been pretty popular for a long time. I kind of feel that we paved the way for the modern steak house. Once we opened N9NE, other places across the country popped up. [Wolfgang] Puck opened places. [Tom] Colicchio opened a place. All these celeb chefs had a steak house. David Burke. I think even Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] has one.”
Michael Shrader, the outgoing chef at N9NE and the incoming chef at Epic


But Who Will Wear the Crown?

In Chicago dining, 2010 was the Year of Very Short Tenure. Don Diablo, Aldino’s, and Mado all had high-profile eye-blinks, but the grand champion was Pensiero Ristorante, which now introduces its fourth chef since July: Joe Wojciechowski, previously of Restaurant Michael. To recap: After closing in April, Pensiero reopened in July under an interim chef, Alan Lake. The first “permanent” chef was Christian Fantoni, who came and went in September. (“Christian wanted to do something different [from what he told us],” says Pensiero’s general manager, Emlyn Thomas.) Next was Frank Mnuk, whose five weeks ended in early December. (“It just wasn’t a fit,” Thomas says.) Wojciechowski doesn’t plan to shake things up any more than they’re already shook. “We are staying in the Italian mode. The menu is going to stay pretty much the Pensiero menu that it’s been,” Thomas says. Sounds like this time there might still be someone there when they finish stirring the risotto.


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Things to Do

1. Take a deep breath, procrastinators. Pollack’s list of favorite cookbooks of 2010 has got you covered with 11th-hour foodie gift ideas.

2. Get ready to host your New Year’s Eve soiree with a canapé and cocktail demonstration, including recipes, at Prairie Fire (215 N. Clinton St.; 312-382-8300) on December 28th from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sample five canapés for $10 while sipping $5 sparkling cocktails.

3. Roll out of bed and shuffle into Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! (2024 N. Halsted St.; 773-935-5000) on New Year’s Day for a pajama brunch from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. If you wear your PJs, you will receive a gift card for a future date that equals the price of your tab before tax or tip.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

“People just call me O,” says the one-letter chef (it’s not Oprah) who left Coast after more than seven years in its top spot to open Seadog Sushi Bar (1500 W. Division St.; 773-235-8100) last week. . . . With nearly 300 seats, Haymarket Pub & Brewery (737 W. Randolph St.; 312-638-0700) is going big—and will be serving craft brews starting Christmas Eve. Specialty sausages to follow soon. . . . In March, Everardo García will open Del Toro (2133 S. Halsted St.; no phone yet), a taco restaurant and high-end tequila bar that will feature spirits that you can buy from F&R Liquors, the shop next door, owned by García’s parents. . . . At the risk of being redundant, Scott Harris adds Salatino’s (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300) to his passel of Italian restaurants on December 28th. . . . Hello to winter, but farewell to Spring (2039 W. North Ave.; 773-395-7100), which serves its last meal at dinner on New Year’s Eve. . . . BYO on NYE? Unheard of. But that’s the deal at Leopold (1450 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-733-5601) when it opens December 31st.


Dish is taking a break next week to work on the most labor-intensive New Year’s cocktail ever. We won’t give away the recipe, but we will tell you it involves sous vide. The next Dish should hit your in box on January 5th.