A Pretty Kettle of Fish

The always-effusive Bill Dugan, a.k.a. the Fish Guy, announced his chef for Wellfleet (4423 N. Elston Ave.; 773-283-7400), the restaurant that will share space with his fish market beginning in January. “The most daunting task for me was finding a chef who understood ‘simple,’” Dugan says. This past Thursday, Cody Butler took the reins for a private event, and Dugan plans to have things in full swing for lunch Monday through Saturday after the first week of January and for dinner in the spring. Butler most recently worked at Logan Square’s The Boiler Room, and he was in fine dining before that, at Lacroix at The Rittenhouse in Philadelphia and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York’s northern suburbs. On Thursday’s maiden voyage, Butler’s eight-course menu included three types of caviar paired with their respective fishes on blini and a cypress-grilled New Zealand blue abalone with roasted sunchokes and yuzu-marinated grilled bok choy. “Cody did all I could ask and more. The guests were thrilled, and I’m very happy with my decision,” Dugan says. Dugan is very free with his praise—no fishing for compliments needed.


Fish Story

More news on the fish front. Named for the meaty, robust flavor that joins with bitter, salty, sweet, and sour to make up the five basic tastes, the 35-seat BYO Umami (1311 W. Taylor St.; 312-226-8117) opened about two months ago in still-hot Little Italy. The menu surveys Asia, with Thai, Chinese, and Japanese sections all overseen by the chef/owner, Jack Chen. Unsurprisingly for those who remember Chen’s previous place, the solid Lake View spot Matsuyama, Umami’s manager, Yong Chen, touts Chen’s sushi, especially the Crunchy Two-in-One, with tempura salmon, avocado, spicy crabmeat, and more tempura crunches. With all the openings in the past couple of years, it seems like Taylor Street would be glutted, but apparently, as with our stomachs, there’s always room for sushi.



“Christmas is come, hang on the pot,
Let spits turn round and ovens be hot;
Beef, pork, and poultry now provide,
To feast thy neighbours at this tide;
Then wash all down with good wine and beer,
And so with Mirth conclude the Year.”

—excerpt from the Virginia Almanack, 1765


Maternal Recurrence

Carol Simmons retired after 22 years in management at the McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook in January, but she was back in business by October. That’s when she opened My Mother’s Kitchen (6818 W. North Ave.; 773-887-4368), a comfort-food restaurant in the Chicago neighborhood of Galewood, which borders the suburb of Elmwood Park. A native of Natchez, Mississippi, Simmons changes the menu daily—sometimes during the day—but always hews to Southern home-cooked specialties such as fried chicken and gumbo. “Like [Tuesday] we were supposed to have short ribs, but I was kind of in a smothered-pork-chop mode,” Simmons says. And she’s flexible. “I have some customers who call ahead and say, ‘I am getting off work in two hours. I know peach cobbler isn’t on the menu today, but could you make one?’ And I do that,” she says. Carol’s daughter, Kimberly, currently runs the front of the house, so if Carol ever gets back to retirement, the place might become My Grandmother’s Kitchen.


Matto Fornaio’s Inventory

About a month ago, Paul Carrara, a former director of operations for Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, opened Matto Fornaio (613 W. Briar Pl.; 773-883-4411), a few doors west of Broadway in Lake View. Matto Fornaio, meaning “insane baker” in Italian, is Carrara’s first Chicago venture, although he operated cafés in the East Bay when he lived in the San Francisco area. Here’s a selection of what the café stocks:
• Scones, such as a cinnamon-cherry version that Pollack recommends
• Savories, such as focaccia and strombolini
• Biscotti, including Parmesan-date
• Sweets, such as pine nut brittle with chili flakes
• Metropolis coffee
• Almond torte. “If I could buy only one thing at Matto Fornaio, that would be it,” Pollack says.


Olla Podrida

Cultures come together in unique ways in the big city. Nini’s Deli (543 N. Noble St.; 312-666-7767), a grocery store and deli that opened in Noble Square in November, sells organic groceries, Cuban steak sandwiches, and Lebanese specialties. The owners, Julie and José Riesco, previously owned Candy’s Groceries and Julie’s Organics, and their neighbors were clamoring for the return of the Cuban steak sandwiches from Candy’s. So the couple opened Nini’s, taking its handle from the nickname of their daughter (also named Julie), in a building owned by José’s father (also named José). The Middle Eastern foods, including falafel, hummus, and tabouleh, come through José the younger, whose heritage is Cuban-Lebanese. All the deli’s meats are halal, and no pork is available, so turkey pastrami, turkey ham, and beef bacon stand in for the porcine deli staples. “We also feature a honey from a beekeeper that we know personally,” Julie Riesco the elder says. “He lives in Wisconsin. He brings his honey every seven weeks when he comes to Chicago. [It’s called] Gentle Breeze.” Of course.


Soxy Feast

Anthony Joseph Rudis III established Chef AJ’s Carry Out (748 W. 35th St.; 773-523-4000) in early November a few blocks west of U.S. Cellular Field. It’s a convenient location for Rudis, who, in addition to the takeout business, caters for the White Sox, providing the players with the pregame spread and part of the postgame spread. Some menu items at Chef AJ’s overlap with the players’ buffet, including a portobello sandwich topped with tomatoes marinated in basil and olive oil, and a grouper sandwich with red cabbage–chipotle slaw. It’s nice to know ballplayers aren’t eating Skittles all day, as we imagined they did when we were ten years old. 


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Things to Do

1. Bid your final farewells to Seasons (Four Seasons Hotel Chicago, 120 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-649-2349) and Carlos’ (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-0770) as we know them. Both will close following New Year’s Eve service. But take heart; they will each return with a face-lift. Carlos’ will morph into the more casual Nieto next month, and a yet-to-be-named successor restaurant, helmed by Seasons chef Kevin Hickey, is slated to debut in what’s currently the Four Seasons’ lounge bar and bistro area in February.

2. Take a break from the season’s eatings on Friday and join the hourlong Taco Time fiesta at Tokio Pub (1900 E. Higgins Rd., Schaumburg; 847-278-5181). From 6 to 7 p.m. at the izakaya-inspired Lettuce Entertain You spot, all tacos—including the Sriracha-laced Crying Tiger Shrimp taco and the crispy fish taco topped with chipotle rémoulade—will cost $1. If you can’t break free from the merriment this week, the same special runs December 29 from 7 to 8 p.m.

3. Forget the lavish spread on Christmas night and head to the craft-beer haven Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division St.; 773-252-6499), where they’re not bothering to cook either (the kitchen will be closed). Instead, they’re hosting a BYOF (the F stands for “food”) gathering from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Revelers can bring Christmas Eve leftovers or have a meal delivered to the bar. As an added bonus, resident beer expert Ria Neri will be on hand to suggest a pairing for your sesame chicken or pepperoni pizza.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

Acadia, Ryan McCaskey’s (Tuttaposto, Vivere, etc.) classic-American restaurant named in honor of the region where he spent summers growing up, opens today. . . . The defunct Life’s Too Short space (the colorful joint at the corner of Division Street and Elston Avenue) will be reincarnated as Estate Ultra Bar in early 2012, according to Eater Chicago. . . . In its January issue, Condé Nast Traveler rounds up Chicago’s most notable recent restaurant openings (or upcoming openings, in the case of Trenchermen and Balena). Peruse the list—and hunger-inducing photos—here. . . . As first reported in The Stew, Prairie Fire closed its doors for good today at the completion of lunch service. (It’s business as usual at the restaurant’s Northbrook sibling, Prairie Grass Cafe.) . . . Crain’s Chicago Business reports that the company that owns Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. has bought the Morton’s steak-house chain. . . . Dish will be on holiday hiatus next week. Happy feasting to you and yours!