Pollack’s Dinner at Prairie Fire in 145 Words

As I pushed through the door and heard the buzz at the bar, I thought, Please don’t let Prairie Fire (215 N. Clinton St.; 312-382-8300) be just another scene designed for noise junkies. Phew. It wasn’t bad at all. The crowd was more happy than hipster and never threatened my audio comfort zone. The one-week-old Prairie Grass sib doesn’t break much new ground but keeps its eye on simple flavors. I loved the pea shoot salad, especially for its crispy shallots and creamy goat cheese, and the pork schnitzel over chopped rapini left me very content, indeed. Ahi tuna, however, was too tightly wrapped in phyllo, losing its character in the shuffle, and the whitefish, despite a pile of yummy portobellos, was flat-out boring. As for dessert, when he couldn’t finish the amazing banana cream pie, Mr. Dining sighed, “No more. I have to save room for breakfast.”


“Cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” –Mark Twain (1835-1910), American writer

The Big Cheese

At midnight on Valentine’s Day, Bin 36 (339 N. Dearborn St.; 312-755-9463) closed for a whirlwind remodel and reconceptualizing. “We’re integrating cheese into every aspect of what we are doing,” says Dan Sachs, the owner. Specifically, where the old Bin 36 had wine flights and wine education, Bin 36 2.0 will add cheese flights and cheese education. The revamped menu will also incorporate artisanal cheeses as ingredients, such as in smoked salmon and burrata with balsamic drizzle or a brown sugar–cured pork chop with Gorgonzola polenta. “Our feeling is that when we are done, we will be the preeminent cheese restaurant in the country,” Sachs says. Gauge for yourself starting tomorrow, February 18th.

What Would John Galt Eat?

Fountainhead (1968-70 W. Montrose Ave.) is most likely not the first entrepreneurial project with the same name as an Ayn Rand book, but it must be the first that is centered on whiskey, Scotch, and bourbon pairings. “We intend to have the most comprehensive and friendly beverage program in the city,” says Aaron Zacharias (The Bar on Buena), a co-owner. “Everything we do in the kitchen, we will pick out the right drink to go with it.” Fountainhead’s chef, Robyn Marfurt (also from The Bar on Buena), will bring her globally inspired American food to the 100-seat place when it opens in late March. And though it’s hard to raise much enthusiasm now, it will have a 2,500-square-foot rooftop garden complete with London street lamps this summer.

Molecular Gastrovision

Future Food, the TV series featuring the kitchen staff at Moto (945 W. Fulton Market; 312-491-0058), premieres on Planet Green on March 30th. The first episode shows the kitchen crew making dishes that look like seafood without using seafood. (They claim the dishes taste like seafood, too, but we’ll have to take their word for it until they invent telegustation.)


For culinary entrepreneurs, two big hurdles are finding a kitchen and finding sales outlets. One way over the first hurdle is the shared kitchen: a professional space available for rental by aspiring chefs. A new shared kitchen that opened February 10th, Splice Kitchen (2826 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-360-8774), has plans to remove the second hurdle. “We are going to turn this into a specialty café,” says Tonya Ojuluwayo, a co-owner. “Every small producer and/or baker that we have in our kitchen, we offer their product.” What’s available at the café will change based on which renters are working in the kitchen that day. Ojuluwayo plans a March opening for the café, with seven to ten tables, a small grocery section, and Metropolis coffee and tea. Sounds intriguing—we hope everyone doesn’t choose the same day to make ketchup.

Italian Unification

Opening this weekend in the near western suburbs is Antico Forno (7308 W. North Ave., Elmwood Park; 708-456-2445), the new project from Sal Sciortino, the owner of the former Trattoria Gemelli in Brookfield, which closed in October after four years. From Trattoria Gemelli, Sciortino is bringing the chef, Eugene Paladino, and popular dishes such as rigatoni with sausage and peas. The “forno” in the name of the new place is a traditional brick oven—the type of oven used for Neapolitan pizzas—fired by oak, cherry, and applewood. Sciortino hired a Neapolitan named Americo Boccia to handle the pizza-making, which patrons can watch from the bar area. Elmwood Park is now officially another outpost in Naples’ slow, pizza-based colonization of the world.

Things to Do

  1. Celebrate George Washington’s birthday on February 22nd with the traditional cuisine for the holiday—Japanese food—at Ai Japanese Restaurant & Lounge (358 W. Ontario St.; 312-335-9888). Twenty items are priced at $1 (’cause Washington’s on the one-dollar bill) all day, including shrimp shumai, gyoza, and all kinds of nigiri and maki.
  2. Inform yourself of what Boka (1729 N. Halsted St.; 312-337-6070) means by “duck ‘fries’” in this dish from this menu. Or we’ll inform you: testicles.
  3. Reserve for a four-course (-plus-one-amuse) prix fixe on February 24th at State and Lake (201 N. State St.; 312-239-9400). For $50, diners get an oyster amuse, a salad, an appetizer, an entrée, and a dessert, each paired with a beer from Warrenville’s Two Brothers Brewing Company.
  4. Check out Chicagomag.com’s page of recommendations for Restaurant Week, which runs from February 19th through the 28th.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

The Money Shot (5695 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-293-7943), a loungey restaurant in West Ridge, opened February 1st. Its spokeswoman, Dawn Belter, says it’s named after one of the recreational basketball teams her brother, Anthony Belter (the owner and chef) plays on. LTHForum readers thought of a different interpretation first. . . . After an about-20-day hiatus, Babylon (2023 N. Damen Ave.; 773-342-7482) reopened January 22nd. . . . Although it was scheduled to close, Rosebud of Highland Park (1850 2nd St., Highland Park; 847-926-4800) will remain open until at least mid- to late summer. “The community really came together and wanted us to stay,” says Alex Dana, Rosebud’s paterfamilias. . . . The expanded space at Spacca Napoli (1769 W. Sunnyside Ave.; 773-878-2420) opened Monday, adding about 50 seats and allowing the restaurant to take reservations on Friday and Saturday nights. . . . Adobo Grill closed its location in Lombard January 23rd. You can still guac out at Adobo in Old Town and Wicker Park.