Touch of Gray
Edward Gray McNally—who goes by Gray—a Chicago native with experience at Boka, Spiaggia, and the Elysian Hotel (now the Waldorf Astoria Chicago), will serve as the chef of The Tortoise Club (350 N. State St.; no phone yet) when it opens this summer. “It’s going to be a classic American city club,” McNally says, with menu items such as roasted pheasant pie and Dover sole with seasonal accouterments, like roasted baby heirloom tomatoes with warm leek vinaigrette in the summer. “In general, our recipes will feature farm-to-table produce as much as possible—wild and free-range game, sustainable seafood, and prime beef,” he says. “Every time I see an impressive product or someone whose philosophy I like, we put that in our back pocket.” At a tasting for the owner, Keene Addington, who opened Flat Top Grill in 1995, McNally created a dinner salad with local vegetables including multicolored heirloom carrots, beets, and radishes shaved paper-thin and dressed in tarragon vinaigrette. “I’m not sure that Keene even likes tarragon, but it’s a beautiful presentation,” McNally says. “Bleeding heart radishes have those fun centers.” Vibrant root-vegetable colors and flavors—sounds to us like the polar opposite of gray food.
Just a few blocks away in River North, Doug Psaltis (New York’s Bouley Bakery, Napa Valley’s The French Laundry, several Alain Ducasse restaurants), runs the kitchen at RPM Italian (52 W. Illinois St.; 312-222-1888), the 225-seat place from Bill and Giuliana Rancic and RJ, Jerrod, and Molly Melman opening late this month. “We aren’t going to find a different way to cook risotto, [but we’re] keeping things lighter and using great ingredients,” he says. Despite Psaltis’s haute-cuisine background, the management wants the restaurant to feel approachable. “Four or five things to start and a great pasta and an entrée for everybody to share—it’s in that kind of spirit,” he says. He commented on a few menu items:
• Brussels sprouts with spicy peppers. “Shredded Brussels sprouts lightly tossed with lemon and black pepper dressing.”
• Roman-style artichoke. “A whole fried artichoke with fresh lemon squeezed over it and Italian parsley. We cook it slowly [in olive oil] so it opens like a flower. It gets really crispy. The heart and stem will be nice and steamed with great fragrance from the olive oil.”
• Duck–Mission fig ravioli. “All of our pastas are made in-house, using special flours.”
• Wood-grilled whole branzino with Ligurian olive oil, capers, and oregano. “It’s cooked in little baskets suspended over the grill.”
There will also be a list of eight or ten original cocktails, extending the spirit to spirits.
“Everything I eat has been proved by some doctor or other to be a deadly poison, and everything I don’t eat has been proved to be indispensible to life. . . . But I go marching on.” —George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950), Irish playwright
Mother of Invention
A lot of restaurateurs cite their mothers as inspiration. A Toda Madre (416 W. State St., Geneva; 630-845-3015), a Mexican spot next door to and from the owners of Bien Trucha, even mentions Mom in the name, which also means “totally awesome” in Mexican slang. “We want to showcase things that we cook at home with our own flair and twists as restaurateurs and chefs,” says Rodrigo Cano, one of the owners. Like Bien Trucha, A Toda Madre will have about 40 seats, but, unlike the, uh, mothership, the new place will take reservations when it opens—in March, they hope. A Toda Madre’s menu will have categories for oysters, hot and cold small plates, and large dishes such as whole fish, a half chicken, or steak. Fittingly, Cano’s mom, Dolores García-Rubio, oversees the kitchen, along with his stepfather, Ricardo García-Rubio. Convenient arrangement. The only thing that would make it more perfect is if Bien Trucha had a mother-in-law apartment attached to it.
Half Italian, All Quotations
Highlights from an interview with Nancy Kamp, the owner of the soon-to-open Half Italian Grocer (2643 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-227-5600) in Logan Square.
• On what Half Italian is: “It’s an old-school Italian-style grocery store. In Italy it’s called an alimentare, a place where you can come and get your daily staples, your bread, your olives, your cheeses, your fresh meat. I’ll [also] have fresh pasta in the store.”
• On why she is opening it: “I was getting so angry with saving in this little nest egg, and the [stock] market could go in one direction and I could lose everything under someone else’s jurisdiction. And that really pisses me off. I‘m taking all my retirement money and doing this. If I lose it, I’ll lose it my way. Not to sound like Frank Sinatra.”
• On funding: “I am the recipient of TIF [tax increment financing] money. The only way I could have done this, because I am not rich or smart enough, is by the grace of God and the help of the TIF money.”
• On sandwiches: “We have deli sandwiches and tramezzini. When you go to Venice, you are jumping on the canal boats, and you stop at these little stores that have all these triangle sandwiches [tramezzini] stacked up. It’s a little half a sandwich with the crust cut off. They have shrimp salad and ham salad and tuna and egg salad. You take two or three in waxed paper and gobble them down.”
• On cheese: “When we open, we are going to have raclette. You put a wheel of cheese on the grill. You roast potatoes and pearl onions and you have cornichons, and then you scrape the warm cheese. When we open, if it’s still winter, [we’ll serve it]. It’s something different that no one else has.”
• On determination: “I just retired from 25 years in nursing to pursue this dream. I was getting tired. Boy oh boy, everyone says if you want to do something, you can do it. I told my husband, and he said, ‘You aren’t going to get rich.’ And I said, ‘OK. I don’t have to be rich. I’m still going to do it.’”
Just Like Nu
After trying his first crêpe in Dublin while studying abroad, Niall Martin came home, graduated, and started selling classic buckwheat crêpes at the Downers Grove farmers’ market. Now, with the help of his family for marketing and menu development, Martin plans to open Nu Crepes (115 W. Schiller Ct., Elmhurst; no phone yet) in a terrace-level space around May. The fast-casual, 40-seat spot will sell breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert crêpes, including egg-bacon-cheese, barbecue chicken, and banger toastie, a flavor paying homage to his Dublin discovery. “Some will be rolled. Some folded. Some in a triangle. It just depends on what is inside of it and whether it’s plated or to go,” Martin says. “You can fold them any way you want, but they will still taste the same.”
- Pollack spies an eight-armed food trend.
- Wednesdays are for duck lovers at Rustic House.
- The ribs from Urban Union don’t go down without a fight.
- It looks as though there’s a new Rockit Ranch project on the horizon.
- In Pollack’s estimation, the mac and cheese at Fat Willy’s reigns oozily supreme.
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Things to Do
1. Sneak a pre-opening taste of what’s to come at Nellcôte (833 W. Randolph St.; no phone yet), Jared Van Camp’s (Old Town Social) highly anticipated West Loop spot that’s tentatively set for a March 2 opening. On February 21 at 6:30 p.m., blogger Kiki Luthringshausen will interview Van Camp at the restaurant as part of her Spotlight Chef series, as guests dig into dishes—such as braised squid with Bomba paella rice, piquillo peppers, and ink sauce—from Nellcôte’s yet-to-be-unveiled menu. The event costs $65, and tickets can be reserved via e-mail.
2. Visit CityGrounds (507 W. Dickens Ave.; 773-857-1576) between 4 and 6 p.m. tomorrow for a free afternoon caffeine fix. The Lincoln Park café has just begun serving coffee from Passion House Coffee Roasters, and reps from the West Side company will be on hand, pouring samples of their latest offering, the violet- and jasmine-tinged Rwanda Buf Café Red Bourbon, using the fancy Chemex and Siphon brewing mechanisms.
4. Make that Restaurant Week reservation already. Don’t feel like sifting through the list of participants? Try one of our picks: Ceres’ Table (4882 N. Clark St.; 773-878-4882), which will give you the freedom to build your own prix fixe from the entire dinner menu; Prasino (1846 W. Division St.; 312-878-1212), which will serve up craveable veggie options at both lunch and dinner; and Province (161 N. Jefferson St.; 312-669-9900), which has our mouths watering at the thought of brioche bread pudding with white chocolate, Bosc pears, and cherries.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The quick-service, condiment-crazy falafel spot Falafill begins its long-promised expansion when its second location opens in the Loop at 72 East Adams Street, the former Patty Burger space, in mid-March. . . . Allium, the Four Seasons Hotel Chicago’s successor to Seasons, opens today. . . . The police-and-fire-department-themed restaurant Mo Dailey’s Pub & Grille makes its debut tomorrow in Norwood Park. . . . Geno Bahena confirmed that the building housing Los Moles has sold and the restaurant will shutter on Friday. . . . Artizone, a grocery delivery service stocked with artisan wares from local spots such as Pasta Puttana, Gepperth’s Market, and Green Grocer, has launched.