The Market House (Doubletree Hotel, 300 E. Ohio St.; 312-787-6100), a 150-seat modern American restaurant focusing on local suppliers, has designs on a February 15th opening. “I don’t want to get labeled as comfort food,” says the chef, Scott Walton (The Sheraton, Harry Caray’s), a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America. “It’s more a warm big feel to the food, driven by local farmers and what the market yields at that time. If English peas are available that day, we will take them.” Menu items at the three-meal-a-day spot will include butternut squash soup with pistachio brittle and cranberry, Four Story Hill Farm poulet, a “refined” pot pie with winter vegetables, and pulled beef short rib with black-eyed peas. Sounds pretty comforting to us.
Out of (West) Africa
“The most popular dish in Senegal is called ceebu jen. It’s a fish stew and we usually use grouper or red snapper. We stuff it with parsley, onion, garlic, and hot pepper that we ground together. We simmer a tomato paste with some vegetable oil and add water, then we put the fish in it with eggplant, carrot, cassava, white cabbage, and okra. Then we just boil it, and serve it in a bowl with broken jasmine rice.” –Diaw Sow, co-owner of West Rogers Park’s new nine-table spot, Café Senegal (2131 W. Howard St.; 773-465-5643), which also serves homemade ginger juice
Twenty-three chefs will compete at the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s “burger bash” on February 19th, and two unlikely Chicagoans will be among them. The first is Carol Wallack of the Pacific Rim–influenced Sola (3868 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-327-3868), who, it turns out, has been working on a burger for 20 years. “There was always something missing,” she says. “This one is wagyu beef [plus cambazola cheese, house-made bacon, caramelized onions, and arugula on a soft pretzel roll]. 78 percent meat to 22 percent fat. I grind it a little bit looser, which allows the fat to disperse itself.” (You can try Wallack’s burger at Sola on Thursday nights, or at lunch.) And the other chef is . . . Rick Bayless? “I am a fan of really good burgers,” says the man behind Topolobampo and Frontera Grill (445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434). “We are going to make a queso fundido burger with wood-roasted poblano peppers, caramelized onions, homemade chorizo, and this really great artisanal cheese that an Amish farmer makes for us.” We’re not sure whom to root for, but Wallack says she is just looking forward to “throwing down with Bobby Flay.”
Speaking of Bayless . . .
His tortas/churros/hot chocolate shop idea, which made us drool back in July 2008—and was slated to open around the corner from Frontera and Topo in April 2009—has been delayed until summer 2009. “We decided to buy ourselves some time, given the economy,” says Bayless. “We have our money lined up. Plans are all done. Let’s just see what happens.”
“I ordered a chicken sandwich but I think the waitress misunderstood me because she said, ‘How would you like your eggs?’ So I tried to answer her anyhow. I said, ‘Incubated, and then raised, and then beheaded, and then plucked and then cut up then put onto a grill then put onto a bun. @#$%, it’s gonna take a while. I don’t have time, scrambled!’” –Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005), American comedian
Pollack on her visit to the three-week-old Trader Vic’s (1030 N. State St.; 312-642-6500): “The restaurant was not half full but I was told there would be a 15- to 20-minute wait for my 7 p.m. reservation. Was it something I said? Turns out Mr. Dining and I were seated by 7:05, but why at a two-top in the hallway outside the tiki’d-up main dining room? Was it something I wore? But more to the point: What’s up with the food? The “cosmo tidbits” platter seemed the most efficient way to walk down memory lane, but the crispy prawns lacked flavor, the siu pork lacked moisture, and the crab Rangoon lacked crab. The spareribs were pretty good, but our earnest waiter took so long to debone and shred the crispy duck mu shu that it tasted like lukewarm leftovers the first time around. I tried to wash it all down with a signature mai tai but the drink was 90 percent ice.” Vic, this was a lousy trade.
Cheap Things to Do
- Go to Oceanique (505 Main St., Evanston; 847-864-3435) on a Wednesday and get a Maine lobster for $19 with roasted red onion, beets, basil potatoes, and a saffron-basil essence. It’s normally $36.
- Buy a sandwich or salad at Salad Spinners (200 W. Monroe St.; 312-269-5300), and get an eight-ounce cup of soup for whatever the temperature is at the time. Rich Levy, the owner, says if the temperature drops below zero, he will pay customers for soup.
- See if you can score free wings for a year by being one of the first 100 guests to show up at Buffalo Wings & Rings (100 McHenry Rd., Buffalo Grove; 847-215-9464) on January 16th. Doors open at 10 a.m.; Lord only knows how early people will be camping out in the cold.
- Try the three-course, $29 prix fixe dinner on Sunday or Monday nights at Café des Architectes (Sofitel Chicago Water Tower, 20 E. Chestnut St.; 312-324-4074). Chef Martial Noguier has turned the place around in a big way.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
As reported by Crain’s Chicago Business, Blue Water Grill (520 N. Dearborn St.) has closed after four years in River North. Its parent company, the New York–based B.R. Guest, has also announced the closing and restructuring of a few of its Manhattan restaurants as well. . . .The new location of Gaylord India (100 E. Walton St.; 312-664-1700) has opened in Streeterville. . . . Cupcakes (613 W. Briar Pl.), after three and a half years in business, has closed. . . . The smart people at Prairie Grass Cafe (601 Skokie Blvd., Northbrook; 847-205-4433), who love breakfast food but detest getting up early, offer eggs Benedict ($10.50) at dinner on Sunday nights. . . . To mark the opening of its Aztec exhibit, the Field Museum has joined forces with a bunch of local spots (Cuatro, Mexique, and Zocalo, to name three) that are celebrating Aztec food and drink with their own recipes through January 17th.