Movin’ On Up (Ashland Avenue)
Ruxbin (851 N. Ashland Ave., 312-624-8509), the little restaurant that could, has earned recognition from Bon Appétit, GQ, Details, and a host of local publications in less than three years in existence. Now the owners are working to spread their crafty food and instant-friends atmosphere up North Ashland Avenue, into the space at number 1401 that until recently housed MC Bistro, aiming for a fall opening. The food at the as-yet-unnamed spot will be along the same lines as the menu from an event Ruxbin cohosted with Time Out Chicago, which included everything chicken wings (like an everything bagel), michelada seviche, and versions of aguas frescas and the egg-rollish Filipino dish lumpia. “It’s something that you roll up your sleeves for,” says Vicki Kim, a Ruxbin partner. “Guttural food. You just kind of get in there.” Still playful, but simpler and more casual, she says. Maybe that makes it the miniature golf of restaurants.
Dawn of a New Dish
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New Review: Ruxbin
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Ruxbin previously was not listed. The new review appears in the March issue, on newsstands tomorrow.
Ruxbin (851 N. Ashland Ave., 312-624-8509). American Contemporary.
½ (very good to excellent)
$$$ ($40–$49 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Yes, weekend wait times are maddening. But once you’ve settled into this candlelit 28-seater, with its whimsical decor (recycled church pews for booths, old cookbooks perched along tangerine walls) and refreshingly down-to-earth staff, it’s tough to stay irked. On the compact menu, clever combos and impeccable details make for memorable dishes. Try the octopus appetizer, braised in red wine for three hours and plated with black soybean paste, roasted grapes, and lightly fried chickpeas. Familiar-sounding entrées surprise, too: Shrimp and grits is actually a steaming medley of seafood bathed in tomato-tarragon shrimp bisque, all atop a tender polenta cake.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
“Who moved my cheese?” —Spencer Johnson (b. 1940), American author and management consultant
After the Top Chef contestant Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark’s Korean fine-dining reboot of Bonsoirée unraveled just a few months later, Kim has popped up here and there while working toward a new restaurant. “I think it just will happen when it happens,” she says. “In the meantime, I feel sort of like a culinary nomad.” Her wanderings have now brought her to her alma mater, Kendall College, where she signed on as a guest instructor for the winter quarter and designed the dinner menu for the Dining Room (900 N. North Branch St., 312-752-2328), where her students prepare dishes such as pork belly–mung bean pancake with kimchi and pan-seared striped bass with lemongrass coconut broth. “I had never really taught before,” she says. “When you are running a restaurant, you have to teach every day. So this is preparing me for my own business.” For that business, she and Clark are still working on a location. Till then, they’ll wander, or as the culinary-wordplay-inclined might say, they’ll go Roma.
Five Questions for Michael McDonald
McDonald, the former chef/parking-lot farmer at One Sixtyblue, took over the kitchen at Luxbar (18 E. Bellevue Pl., 312-642-3400) in July, but the formal announcement of his tenure there came only this past week, after the Dining Diva outed him. He told us about moving to an established, high-volume restaurant.
Dish: How did you link up with Luxbar?
Michael McDonald: I was looking. They were always excited about the farm-to-table movement. [The] GM is very excited about farm-to-table. He has a garden on his own rooftop.
D: What’s something you changed on the menu?
MM: The chicken sandwich. [The old version] was piled high, in fried strips and on a long six-inch sourdough baguette. The bread was crunchy and maybe didn’t look like a friendly sandwich to eat. [The new version has] a whole breast of chicken that we dip in buttermilk and seasoned flour. We fry that and top it with cheddar cheese, crispy bacon, [homemade] apple cider barbecue sauce, and an apple-mint coleslaw.
D: What’s something you’re particularly proud of introducing?
MM: Our pork program. We get one whole hog every week from Slagel Farms. We use everything. We are making our own Canadian bacon, our own ham, our own chili fennel sausage, our own breakfast sausage patty. The rest of the hog we use for a roasted barbecue sandwich.
D: Is there anything that differentiates your hogs from other in-house butchers’?
MM: I ran into a guy making his own artisanal single-batch soy sauce in Louisville, Kentucky. Aged in bourbon barrels. In this process, when they strain the barrels and press out the juice, they are left over with this mash—wheat, soy, salt, and water. “What are you doing with this?” I asked the guy. “Nothing.” So I bought his byproduct and shipped it to Slagel Farms. We are feeding them this kind of mash from soy-sauce production in addition to their regular diet.
D: Does that change the taste of the pork?
MM: We think it does. We are the only ones in the country doing this that I know of.
Beyond the Palos
Now open about three weeks, the 170-seat Harvest Room (7164 W. 127th St., Palos Heights, 708-671-8905) plants a flag for local-ingredients, nonindustrial-meats food in the southwest suburbs, an area less saturated with Michael Pollan buzzwords than the city. “We wanted to use local farmers,” says Carri Sirigas, a co-owner. “By which we mean within about 250 miles of our restaurant”—when seasonally possible. Grass-fed beef, free-range chickens, and cage-free eggs contribute to a scratch-food menu by chef David Johnson II, also including pickling, preserves, and five types of homemade sausage. Of the more than 20 different teas on offer, ten were hand-blended by Sirigas and her sister under the banner Two Sisters Brews, with ingredients such as licorice root, dandelion root, and marshmallow lemon balm. Even the red in Harvest Room’s red velvet pancakes comes from beet juice rather than red dye. Interesting phenomenon, that—a natural substitute for an ingredient that’s artificial in the original. Next up, the artisanal Twinkie.
- Brrr is tempered by beurre.
- Gluten getting you down? Roll with it.
- It may be Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed, but it has the combo platter all straightened out.
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Things to Do
- Ignore that thing about fasting and eat as much fish as you want every Friday during Lent at Markethouse (611 N. Fairbanks Ct., 312-224-2200). Starting this week, unlimited Bell’s-battered fish and chips costs $20, with $4 Goose Island Green Line pints alongside.
- Honor Abe Lincoln’s birthday with historical dinner theatre and discussion at Courtright’s (8989 S. Archer Ave., Willow Springs, 708-839-8000). This Sunday, Maria Boundas Bakalis will perform in Mary Todd Lincoln: Reflections on a Life of Shattered Dreams, and chef Jerome Bacle will recreate Honest Abe’s last meal (mock turtle soup, roasted guinea fowl with chestnut dressing, and apple-blackberry pie). A Q&A with Bakalis follows. Pre-theatre reception starts at 1:30 p.m., the performance at 2:30. Tickets, $100, are all-inclusive.
- Reap the benefits of a culinary competition Tuesday at Café Ba-Ba-Reeba! (2024 N. Halsted St., 773-935-5000). Chef Andrew Shedden will take on Mon Ami Gabi chef Ben Goodnick for a Spain vs. France wine tasting, where guests can sample 25 wines and passed apps such as Spanish tuna tartare with sweet sherry soy sauce and French Dijon-glazed pork shoulder. Tickets are $30 for as many samples as you can snag.
- Ahjoomah’s Apron (218 W. Cermak Rd., 312-326-2800) is now serving Korean food in Chinatown.
- Starting today, more metalheads can get their meat fix at Kuma’s Too (666 W. Diversey Pkwy., 773-472-2666), a second location that’s larger than the original, Kuma’s Corner.
- Siena Tavern (51 W. Kinzie St., 312-595-1322), an Italian restaurant from Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani, opens Saturday.
- The new Rockit Ranch Productions project, Ay Chiwowa (311 W. Chicago Ave., 312-643-3200), will come to life this weekend—and with a 90-ounce margarita on the menu, it could probably raise the dead.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Amanda Rockman has stepped down from her post as executive pastry chef at the Bristol and Balena to go corporate at Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. . . . Beckett’s Public House in Lake View closed earlier this month. Patrick Eberle (who previously managed Sheffield’s and Fountainhead) says small plates with global influence will be the focus when the bar reopens in March under a new name. . . . Pie Hole Pizza Joint is opening a second location in Uptown, at 5001 North Clark Street, in April. . . . Kudos to Dat Donut, the Doughnut Vault, and Old Fashioned Donuts for making Saveur’s list of 50 favorite doughnut shops in its March issue.