I’m So Hungry I Could Eat a Horse
It started with the name Ox Diner, then it was Sweeney’s Diner, and now, as Au Cheval (800 W. Randolph St.; no phone yet), it’s about a month and a half from opening. The 50-seat diner occupies the space that housed Greektown Gyros and was remodeled to look like it’s been there forever, with a hand-painted sign and artisanal touches. “Rough around the edges and really comfortable,” says Brendan Sodikoff, the chef/owner. “The opposite of modern.” When it opens, Au Cheval will serve dinner Wednesday through Saturday, adding Sunday brunch through dinner shortly after. If it’s successful, Sodikoff would like it to be open 24 hours. He previewed a few menu items for us, with commentary.
• Peppered bacon steak with truffle jus and potato purée
“It’s bacon cut like a steak and slow-cooked.”
• Two-pound slow-roasted pork porterhouse with foie gras, roasted apples, and cinnamon pork jus
“If you want an egg on it, you get an egg on it.”
• Fried bologna sandwich
“We make the bologna in-house. Smoke it and do it the way we want it done.”
• Potato hash
“Really crispy hash-brown style with something that’s maybe not so common, like duck-heart gravy or confit of duck tongues, with an egg on top.”
• House-made knackwurst
“With spätzle with mixed herbs and a little bit of ricotta, so it’s lighter.”
• 36 draft beers
“Almost a draft per seat.”
“It’s about four by four square and about six inches tall. The [confectioner’s] sugar is put on the puff for the last ten minutes of cooking, so it gets cooked and looks shiny, like a mirror. We’ve been working on it literally for two months. It’s awesome.”
Speaking of horses, an exchange with Rose Duong, a member of the family that owns Kingsbury Street Cafe (1523 N. Kingsbury St.; 312-280-1718), a 100-seat café that opened in September near the aircraft carrier–size Whole Foods:
Dish: What used to be in the Kingsbury space?
Rose Duong: It used to be a stable house for horses.
D: Way back when?
RD: About a year ago.
D: What? For the carriages downtown?
RD: Yes. It was pretty dark and smelly in here.
After several months of remodeling and, presumably, deodorizing, the Duongs opened for breakfast, lunch, and brunch, and they plan to serve dinner within a month. Dinner marks a return for the family, who served it many years ago at their other business, a caterer called Work of Art on Halsted Street, but they shut the restaurant operation down because the bar next door was so loud it interfered with conversation in the restaurant. (They closed the Halsted location, and the catering business now operates out of the Kingsbury location.) Duong recommends the lemon-blueberry pancakes—that’s straight from the horse’s mouth.
You may have heard that college kids like pizza. Loyola Limited, a collection of student-run businesses operated by Loyola University, is capitalizing on the demographics of its neighborhood and constructing Felice’s Roman Style Pizza (6441 N. Sheridan Rd.; no phone yet), a counter-service spot right at the edge of campus. “It’s all student-run from top to bottom,” says Sean Connolly, the CEO of Felice’s and a senior political-science major from Florence, Alabama. Students negotiated the licensing and inspections, taste-tested pizzas around town, and developed the recipes. “One of our big missions with this is to bring back the pizza al taglio,” Connolly says, referring to the sheet pizzas sold by weight that he enjoyed in Rome during a semester abroad. They hope to open in early February. Best to get the place up and running before all the employees have midterms.
Reptile Rising in River North
Keene Addington, the founder and former CEO of Flat Top Grill, announced his intent to bring classic American dining back to Chicago. The result is a restaurant called Tortoise Club (350 N. State St.; no phone yet), scheduled to open in late spring, with a chef to be named in January. Food will include club staples such as Dover sole, steak tartare, pheasant pie, and a lobster roll, and cocktails in the same vein—Manhattans, Gibsons, Martinis, Rob Roys, and probably even some that we spell in all lowercase. The local-natural movement will extend to the bar, where, for example, the cherries in the Manhattans will come fresh from Michigan. Addington says his core demographic is 35- to 70-year-olds who want a warm, sophisticated atmosphere where you don't have to shout to be heard. “It will be a conversation-friendly place, and you can hold me to it,” he says. The erstwhile Gold Coast restaurant Crickets and New York’s 21 Club serve as inspirations. “If you can picture where the J. Walter [Thompson] ad execs, where did he or she go in 1959—that’s what it will look like. Very focused on Chicago. We bought all the mahogany millwork from the Pump Room for this space,” Addington says. He’s not kidding about that focus on Chicago—he did that whole explanation without saying “Mad Men.”
“Life is too short to stuff mushrooms.” —Shirley Conran (1932–), British novelist and journalist
After closing in 2007, Pasteur (5525 N. Broadway; no phone yet) is on track to reopen by early January. Kim Nguyen, the owner, says they’ve remodeled the 90-seat space, but the rattan chairs will return, along with several beloved menu items, such as duck à l’orange, shrimp satay, bo luc lac (sautéed steak served over watercress), and a whole red snapper. One thing that will be different: “I’m bringing in Eric Aubriot,” Nguyen says. Aubriot will work alongside the original Pasteur chef (and Nguyen’s former husband), Dan Nguyen. Aubriot is a bit of a wanderer, to put it mildly. (Our dining staff listed 14 restaurants he’s been associated with.) Only three weeks ago, we reported about his collaboration with Brian Moulton at Revolver. “Aubriot will add French influences to our existing Vietnamese dishes and will eventually develop French dishes that Chef Dan will add Vietnamese touches to,” Nguyen says. “For instance, [for] our shrimp satay with scallions, he will add a simple vegetable side—whatever is fresh from the market that day. He will create his special sauces for them.” We hope this item is still accurate by the time you read it.
Viva La Revolución
Antonio Estrada, the owner of Tutto Fresco and both El Mariachi restaurants, all of which are on Broadway in Lake View, plans to open a Mexican steak house—on Broadway, naturally—this spring. The 120-seater will serve classic prime steaks such as New York strip, rib eye, and filet mignon with Mexican sides and margaritas as well as guacamole and seviches, and will be called Revolución Steak House (3443 N. Broadway; no phone yet). Somewhat tangentially, Revolution would make a great name for one of those Chinese restaurants with lazy Susans on the table.
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Things to Do
1. Update your holiday dessert repertoire at a free baking event with the sweets maven Sarah Levy (Sarah’s Pastries & Candies), tonight from 6 to 7 p.m. at Lakeshore East’s two-month-old food emporium Mariano’s Fresh Market (333 E. Benton Pl.; 312-228-1349). You’ll get to sample the goods (which include apricot-coconut macaroons, chocolate-almond toffee, and complimentary wine) and score Levy’s advice on your most burning pastry quandaries. Or burning most of your pastries.
2. Expand your recipe file even further at a cooking demonstration by the television personality, Tru pastry chef/partner, and root-beer magnate Gale Gand, held December 12 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Ela Area Public Library (275 Mohawk Trail, Lake Zurich; 847-438-3433). In addition to whipping up choice seasonal recipes, Gand will also sell and sign her books for your holiday shopping convenience. The event is free, but space is limited, so make a reservation.
3. Preview what promises to be a transcendent cocktail list for Trenchermen, the Bucktown spot from the brothers Michael (Blackbird) and Patrick Sheerin (Signature Room at the 95th) slated to open in February. Trenchermen Beverage Salon, a pre-opening pop-up led by the restaurant’s beverage director, Tona Palomino, will showcase what the WD-50 vet has in store booze-wise, such as a concoction of candy-cane-infused gin, clarified pear nectar, and lemon juice. The December 14 soiree takes place in the back room at Bar DeVille (701 N. Damen Ave.; 312-929-2349), beginning at 9 p.m. Admission is free, and all drinks are $7.
4. Claim a free pizza at the Lincoln Park newcomer Pizza Persona (614 W. Diversey Pkwy.; 773-327-8500) between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. on December 11, in honor of the grand opening of the Chipotle-esque counter-service spot. Select any one-topping pizza or a specialty “Persona” pie (such as the Hipster, which is topped with allegedly hipstery things like pesto, low-fat mozzarella, and mushrooms), and wash it down with a free fountain drink.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
BLT American Brasserie, the River North spot from Laurent Tourondel (previously affiliated with New York’s BLT Steak, BLT Fish, and BLT Burger), and Yusho, a yakitori-heavy concept from Matthias Merges (Charlie Trotter’s), are now open. . . . Goosefoot, Chris Nugent’s solo venture that prompted him to leave his Les Nomades gig, will open December 11. . . . The British/American sports pub Derby sprints out of the gates December 16 in the former Charlie’s Ale House space in Lincoln Park. . . . Another spot from Derby’s owners, The Big Onion Tavern Group (404 Wine Bar, The Irish Oak, Brunch, Jack's Bar & Grill), is scheduled to take over the former Adobo Grill space in Wicker Park: Fat Pour, ETA summer 2012. . . . Epic Burger expands this month, with the launch of the fifth and sixth locations of the local chain. A 227 East Ontario Street offshoot opens December 12, and a 40 East Pearson Street branch—which will open every day at 7 a.m. and serve breakfast items and Intelligentsia coffee—debuts December 19.
In the original version of this week’s Dish, we incorrectly listed Derby’s opening date. The opening is scheduled for December 16.