A First Look at Gilt Bar

Some trusted FODs checked out Gilt Bar (230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-464-9544), the new American restaurant in the good-food–short-tenure space across from the Merchandise Mart (Aigre Doux, Pili Pili, Havana Club), when it opened Tuesday night. Here’s their report:

  • Gioia burrata with olive oil, Werp Farms mizuna, and black pepper (“The dish was served with bread that, while tasty, was a bit too toasty. This is a theme that continued with many dishes.”)
  • Croque-madame with salt pork, Emmenthaler, and fried egg (“Other than the overcooked bread, this was a winner: a great, rich, filling winter dish.”)
  • Bouchot mussels with dry vermouth, preserved lemon, celery, and bay (“The dish was filled with thyme, and if you weren’t careful, you’d end up with a mouthful.”)
  • Maple bourbon pecan bars (“They are still working out their dessert menu, so for the time being are serving house-made brownies, truffles, caramel corn, and pecan bars. They really, really need a pastry chef.”)

Final verdict: “Simply put, Gilt Bar, despite the fancy name, is a gastropub with a great cocktail list. We’ll definitely be back.”


“Life is a combination of magic and pasta.” –Federico Fellini (1920-1993), Italian film director

Dream Logic

Have you ever had one of those dreams where you’re running toward something, but it keeps getting farther away? It’s been like that with the space at 444 North Wabash Avenue. We first heard in November 2005 that it was going to be Cathedral, which would supposedly open in early 2007. Then, in February 2007, instead of opening, the name changed to Jackson Park Bar and Grill. Next, the chef, Jason Paskewitz (J.P. Chicago, Wave), left the project. Last July, Benny Siddu (Volare) took over as owner and rechanged the concept to Benny’s Prime Chop House, requiring a total overhaul of the never-seen décor. Now, the latest news is that Benny’s is staffing up: The new chef is Jonathan Lane (The Four Seasons, Chicago). The sommelier is Justin Leone (Alinea). The beverage manager and assistant general manager is Josh Kaplan (MK). The opening date, however, is still slippery. “We don’t have an exact date, but we are looking for late March,” Kaplan says. We’ll believe it when the doors open. Until then, we’re filing it in the same drawer with forgetting to wear pants and showing up to take the final exam in a course we’ve never attended.

Gaining a Lap

Ba Le Sandwich & Bakery (5018 N. Broadway; 773-561-4424), the Uptown banh mi mecca, plans to expand into the space next door at 5014 in the spring. The expansion will also bring outdoor seating to Argyle Street and a few new menu items, such as vermicelli noodle salad and more pastries. “I am so happy for the customers,” says Tim Nguyen, the owner. What? “We always get crowded here. Seating-wise, it’s kind of limited. Customers have to stand and eat their sandwiches. Sometimes we find chairs in the back for them so they can sit. We are really happy for them.” Oh. That makes more sense. In that case, we’re happy for, um, us.

Che Cosa?

A little unfamiliarity can be butter for a foodie’s bread. Cookies Fresco (580 N. Michigan St., Elmhurst; 630-359-4500), a new Old World Italian bakery in the western suburbs that opened January 10th, sells a few things that require some explanation (and spelling)—for example, a sponge cake pastry called sfogliatelle barese, and cuccidate cookies, which are dough cookies filled with figs, dates, and nuts—in addition to standbys like cannoli (with wine and cinnamon in the shell), tiramisù, and focaccia. Janet Schwab, the owner, says she’s spending a lot of money and effort on authentic, high-quality ingredients. “Grandma has a home in Bari, Italy, and she brings home kilos of almond paste,” Schwab says. Don’t forget to bag it separately from your clothes, Grandma.

Aw, Shucks

Two upcoming oyster deals crossed our desk this week: First, Shaw’s Crab House (21 E. Hubbard St.; 312-527-2722) celebrates its 25th anniversary with a series of specials from March 1st to 5th: Monday’s special is 25-cent oysters between 3 and 6 p.m. Then, less cheaply but more flexibly, Hugo’s Frog Bar (1024 N. Rush St.; 312-640-0999) offers 13 oysters for $13 anytime during the month of March, in honor of their 13th anniversary. The selection includes Wiannos from Cape Cod and Lady Chatterleys from Nova Scotia. Can some oyster place please celebrate their first anniversary?

Things to Do

  1. Mitigate wine markups on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Marigold (4832 N. Broadway; 773-293-4653), when any of a select group of bottles runs you $15. Restaurants generally charge at least twice the retail price for a bottle of wine, and often more. In the current group of wines at Marigold, the Fairview Pinotage retails for $12 to $14.
  2. Sip at the new location of Casteel Coffee, opened Monday, February 22nd in the Aqua building at 225 North Columbus Drive. This Thursday, anyone who buys a coffee drink gets a free stainless steel thermal mug, from 8 to 11 a.m. or until they run out.
  3. Check out the line cooks at a restaurant in Japan.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St.; 312-943-3000) will be open for lunch starting March 1st. . . . Analogously, Time Out Chicago reports that Jam (937 N. Damen Ave.; 773-489-0302) will begin serving dinner in the next month. . . . Ameer Kabob (1050 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-489-8888), a BYO Mediterranean and Middle Eastern counter-service spot in Noble Square, opened two weeks ago. Good to see the word “ameer” (sometimes spelled “emir” and “emeer”) getting some use in the United States outside crossword puzzles. . . . “An auspicious beginning,” they tell us, is the meaning of the name of Shagun Restaurant (646 S. Frontenac Rd., Aurora; 630-585-7690), a small Indian place that opened in January. The restaurant’s spokesman, Irving Paul, recommends the chicken 65. . . . Primebar (155 N. Wacker Dr.; 312-884-0000), the new Loop spot from Roger Greenfield (Bar Louie), is open for lunch, albeit without a liquor license. . . . Your Kitchen, the takeout spot in Albany Park, closed a couple of weeks ago. “We tried,” says Rodger Campbell, the owner. . . . Opened just six days ago, Tao Ran Ju Restaurant (2002 S. Wentworth; 312-808-1111) pulls no punches on its menu of hot-pot possibilities. They include goose intestine, pig blood, duck gizzard, and hairtail, which Google tells us is a fish, thank goodness.