Gin Up

Scofflaw (3201 W. Armitage Ave.; 773- 252-9700) is a gin-leaning cocktail bar owned by four partners—Andy Gould (Boiler Room, Bonny’s), Mandy Tandy (Boiler Room, Bonny’s), Kris Nagy (Simone’s), and Danny Shapiro (Perennial, The Whistler)—and scheduled to open March 12 with food from Mickey Neely (Longman & Eagle). Like any good bar employees, Shapiro and Neely proved to be good conversationalists.

• Shapiro: “I came [to Chicago] initially to write for The Second City. I had a show that debuted the fall of 2010. But I don’t really feel that my talent lies in writing comedy.”

• Neely: “I’m from Anchorage, Alaska. I moved to Chicago about a year and a half ago. I started immediately at Longman—less than a week after I got off the plane. I worked there for just over a year, and then Paul McGee invited me to come over and work at The Whistler. He knew I wanted to gain some front-of-the-house experience. It was immediately apparent that’s not where my heart was.”

• Shapiro: “[Scofflaw is] split up into two distinct rooms. The first room is warm and muted, and a bit more austere. There’s some salvaged wood, a stone bar top, tractor seat barstools made of cast iron. And then the back room is a little bit more vibrant, lighter colors, some vintage French provincial furniture. We anticipate that most of it will get soiled over time. We’re kind of holding our breath in anticipation of all the furniture getting ruined.”

• Neely: “This is a meat town. People love meat here. Not to say there isn’t an opportunity to pay attention to some of those more marginalized dining populations. Some of my oldest friends are hard-core vegans. I always to try accommodate people with special requests. No reason to tell people to go down the road. I would rather take their money.”

• Shapiro: “I would say gin is an inscrutable spirit, which needs further evaluation and/or manipulation.”

• Shapiro: “[‘Mixology’] is a word that bartenders don’t like to use, but the media loves to use. Like the word ‘hipster.’ People writing about it want to differentiate somewhat between slinging shots at a sports bar and someone mixing cocktails. I think there should be no hierarchy. It’s just a different approach to bartending.”

• Neely: “The food is ingredient-driven cuisine. If you get good stuff, you don’t need to do that much to make it taste good.”

• Shapiro: “I still continue to write daily, but nothing substantial. From short stories to little dialogues to journaling. Those silly writers who don’t want to share their work—I’m one of those guys.”


New Dish Feature: Reviews from Chicago Magazine's Dining Critics

Journalism professors are fond of pointing out that the first three letters in “news” spell “new.” (They less often note that the middle of the word is “ew.”) New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Starting today, we’re going to highlight the some of the latest reviews in Dish. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Both Riccardo Trattoria and Libertad are new listings in the March issue, on newsstands now.

Riccardo Trattoria (2119 N. Clark St.; 773-549-0038). Italian.
   (very good)
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Riccardo Michi sends out the real deal—authentic Tuscan and northern Italian food—in his charming trattoria. Start with something as mellow as fava beans with a crumble of black truffle pecorino cheese or as offalicious as classic honeycomb tripe florentine. Pastas are a must, notably the veal ravioli with creamy porcini meat sauce and spaghetti chitarra carbonara. Veal and ricotta meat loaf with porcini cream sauce and Tuscan fries is pure Italian comfort, while grilled prawns circling bacon-wrapped sea scallops in lobster bisque sauce with green lentils is a tad rich—like most of Michi’s fare. But hang in for panna cotta with passion fruit coulis. Fairly priced Italian wines. 
For the dishes we liked best, click here.

Libertad (7931 Lincoln Ave., Skokie; 847-674-8100). New Latin.
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)

The big surprise at this noisy new spot on a sleepy suburban street is the downtown-hip feel of the food and the vibe. Armando Gonzalez’s small-plate menu merges elements of his Latin roots with international flavors and dishes, from the Middle East (chipotle hummus with queso fresco) to Asia (scallops on black rice with Chinese long beans and a butter sauce with yuzu and habanero). The delicious results are a liberation from the familiar Latin lineup. The apple-oatmeal tart with butter-hazelnut ice cream delivers a delightfully homey finale. Terrific cocktails by cutting-edge mixologist Adam Seger set the mood.
For the dishes we liked best, click here



“You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jellybeans.” —Ronald Reagan (1911–2004)


Cub Foods

A very quick metamorphosis turned Messner’s Bar and Grill, which closed February 6, into Wheel House (3553 N. Southport Ave.; 773-325-0123), soft-opening today. Wheel House’s beer-bourbon-burgers-based menu was created by Jack Stankovic, the executive chef of Bucktown’s Bluebird. “We make everything from scratch,” he says. “We have elk, bison, ostrich burgers. And then specials throughout the season, [such as] antelope burger or doing something cool with rattlesnake.” Special burgers are named after Chicago Cubs. For example:

Ernie Banks: housemade pulled pork, bacon, caramelized apples, pickled red onion relish, and housemade barbecue sauce
José Cardenal: grilled jalapeño queso fresco, avocado, and bacon braised beans
Theo Epstein: a one-pound beef patty, four strips of bacon, two slices of Cheddar cheese, a spoonful of housemade chili

Sides for the Epstein are a whole house-pickled cucumber and a half-pound of french fries. “If you can eat this in under 45 minutes, you get your name on the wall and a T-shirt,” Stankovic says. Odd choice, to name a giant burger after the Cubs’ (rather trim) president of baseball operations. Guess with Carlos Zambrano off the team, there wasn’t another obvious one-pound-burger avatar.


Five Questions for Zoë Schor

Schor runs the kitchen at the imminently opening wine bar Ada Street (1664 N. Ada St.; 773-697-7069), the latest project from David Morton and Michael Kornick, the pair behind DMK Burger Bar and Fish Bar.

Dish: Did you go to culinary school?
Zoë Schor: I did go to culinary school. Vegan culinary school, in Manhattan. I was vegan, and I was sure that I always would be. Then I moved to L.A. I started working at Craft and tasting [everything]. I went from being vegan to eating not just dairy, but everything.

D: What did you make at your audition for Ada Street?
ZS: I did a small scallop plate, a few salads. I did a little prototype of a dish we have on the menu, a fried chicken dish for Chef Kornick. I know he loves fried chicken. But instead of fried chicken, we are doing chicken-fried quail, served on white bacon gravy with a side of braised escarole.

D: What else will be on Ada Street’s menu?
ZS: Some small bites, some bar bites. Crispy fried black-eyed peas. Almost what you would expect to get—like a spiced nut at a bar—but it’s peas instead. And we will be doing some marinated olives and house-pickled vegetables. We will move into small salads, a beet salad with fresh ricotta or whipped feta. Salmon tartare, [which] will be done with a little bit of salmon roe and some bacon and some salmon bacon as well.

D: What about desserts?
ZS: I think we will do a panna cotta that will be seasonally inspired. Some sort of doughnut or beignet on the menu, most of the time. And maybe a chocolate ganache with olive oil, sea salt, and ciabatta.

D: How would you describe the menu overall?
ZS: We want to keep the menu small. Maybe 10 or 15 things before the dessert. We also want to be able to cook sort of spontaneously, to go to market and find something great.


Exhaust Manifold

In a family of ten kids, Marybeth Flynn and her seven brothers and two sisters all learned to cook, but she was the one who really took up the toque. “My mom went to work,” Flynn says. “[I’d ask my brothers,] ‘You want a birthday cake?’ I would make it. lt has always been my passion.” When she got tired of brokering disposables such as packaging and toilet paper for hotels and restaurants, she took over an art-gallery space to open Loretta’s Bake Shop and Café (939 W. Randolph St.; 312-243-3959), named in memory of her always-busy mother. Flynn shows up early in the morning to start creating the baked doughnuts, fruit hand pies, crumb cakes, salted caramel apple pies, little bundt cakes, coffee cakes, and other baked goods, and she sells them, along with La Colombe coffee, until they run out, usually around 3 p.m. She plans to add breakfast and lunch first, and then takeout dinner to the repertoire. The shop just opened last week, but we would already be exhausted on that schedule. Or maybe we got exhausted after hearing “ten kids.”


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Things to Do

1. Test your luck tonight at Mercadito (108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9555). In honor of the Leap Day pseudo-holiday, one out of every ten diners gets their portion of the dinner tab (up to $50) comped. Up your chances by tweeting “@MercaditoChi #luckyleap” during your meal.

2. Augment both your beer knowledge and your waist circumference at the five-course, $35, reservations-required Tacos y Cerveza dinner at Barrio Urban Taqueria (714 W. Diversey Pkwy.; 773-360-8316) held tomorrow at 6:30 p.m. Each of five specialty tacos, including roasted skate wing with Oaxacan mole and spiced Marcona almonds, will be paired with a different beer from the California-based Firestone Walker Brewing Co.

3. Squeeze in a few more Restaurant Week meals. The event officially ended Sunday, but The Stew has assembled a list of more than 50 restaurants where the deals keep rolling. Our top picks include Saigon Sisters (567 W. Lake St.; 312-496-0090), where the offer has been extended through March 11, and there’s not one, but five gluten-free options available on the prix fixe menu; Branch 27 (1371 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-850-2700), where the party lasts through Sunday, and you can add three drinks (two ten-ounce draft beers and a glass of Moscato, to be exact) to your meal for $12; and the city location of Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse (25 E. Ohio St.; 312-329-9463), where they’re prolonging the $44 dinner bargain—which includes the petite filet, regularly priced at $40 alone—through Sunday.

4. Read a review of the BYO that Chicago’s chief dining critic, Jeff Ruby, calls the future of dining. Also, a sign of the times: Witness the hissy fit of a diner who didn't want to wear a jacket.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

Tortas Frontera is no longer airport-only fare: Rick Bayless tweeted that he’s launched another location of his sandwich shop inside the Chase Tower at 10 South Dearborn Street. . . . As we first heard from Gapers Block, the Lettuce Entertain You crew has thrown their rings into the ring with Do-Rite Donuts, a takeout operation adjacent to Petterino’s. . . . Speaking of Lettuce Entertain You, the company’s newest joint, RPM Italian—run by the industrious Melman kids and Bill and Giuliana Rancic—is now open. . . . The Ravenswood branch of Chilapan will begin service tomorrow at 5 p.m. . . . Two spots foodies have been clamoring for for months are set to debut this week—Nellcôte on March 2, and Balena (tentatively) March 6. . . . Jackie Shen and a steakhouse never seemed like a perfect fit, and sure enough, there has been an amicable agreement to disagree. The chef and Chicago Cut Steakhouse have parted ways. . . . In last week’s Dish, we neglected to credit Eater with the lead for an item about a possible Chicago location of Eataly. We regret the omission. . . . On that note, Eater also broke the news that Duchamp has called it quits, and that James Gottwald left his post at Rockit Ranch Productions to focus with his wife on a bar they’re calling Monti’s, where they also hope to become wizzes at Philly cheese steaks. . . . Per The Stew, fans of the shuttered Taiwanese snow ice storefront Cloud 9 can buy the frozen treat from the space’s next occupant, Nhu Lan Saigon Subs. The bánh mì shop is scheduled to open in mid-March. . . . FYI: Next week’s Dish will be delivered on Thursday, March 8.