Setting Down Steaks

A branch of the New York–based BLT restaurant family is slated to open September 9th at 151 West Adams Street, along with the JW Marriott it will be housed in, says Alison Brockwell, a spokeswoman for JW Marriott Chicago. . Since the 2004 opening of the flagship BLT Steak in New York City, the chain has collected several constellations’ worth of stars from top reviewers and has sprouted new branches as rapidly as bamboo. There are now eleven BLT Steaks around the world, five other BLT offshoots in New York, and a couple more places tossed in for good measure. The Loop location will be the chain’s first in the Midwest.


“Alcohol is a misunderstood vitamin.” –P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), English writer

Cut to the Chaise

Like bread miraculously turning to toast when out of sight, Chaise Lounge (1840 W. North Ave.; 773-342-1840) disappeared suddenly this past Monday but will reopen in less than two weeks, on February 5th, as The Southern, with a redesigned interior by Kevin Heisner (The Publican, Lula) that will be more Georgia woods than Chaise’s glam Miami look. Cary Taylor, the chef for both places, walked us through a sample meal with the new menu:

“The first thing I would do: Start you off with cheese straws [$4]. It’s my mom’s recipe. Next I would probably go to the johnnycake [$8]. We go to Green City Market and get corn meal from Three Sisters Garden. Then I get really nice pork shoulder from Gunthorp Farms and Berkridge, brine it, and smoke it over pecan shells and applewood. We serve it with cabbage and green-tomato relish with apple-cider vinegar. It’s called chow chow. Then I would go—if you were really hungry—to duck Orleans [$16]. It’s our duck cassoulet, but instead of white beans, it’s made with black-eyed peas. We get the duck legs from Gunthorp Farms and confit them and bake with house-made garlic sausage and some country ham. The fun thing about it is that in the little handle of the dish, we put some rosemary and torch it, so when we serve it, the whole dining room fills with the rosemary aroma.”

Shades of Grant Achatz, but it sounds yummy.

French Twist

At the end of December, Paris in Chicago (3310 N. Halsted St.; 773-883-7288) opened its 23-seat table-service and takeout business where Wally and Agador’s Gourmet Café briefly set up shop last spring. The owner and chef, Jean-Claude Baldassari, relocated to Chicago from Paris five months ago to join his wife and now serves French classics to Boystown: quiche, pastries, charcuterie, and a dish that French 101 suggested should be pluralized as croques-messieurs. And how do you like Chicago, Jean-Claude? “I am a little bit lost in the beginning, but I love Chicago,” he says. Guess the grid system doesn’t work for everyone.

First Tastes

With some big openings recently, we collected three first impressions, from three different foodies, to give you a rapid-fire rundown of new menu hits (and misses) by three well-seasoned Chicago chefs.

Penny Pollack on Sprout (1417 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-348-0706), the chef Dale Levitski (La Tache, Blackbird, Top Chef runner-up/third season), opened November 13th

We entered an inviting room—dark, atmospheric, intimate—but the loud, jazzy, jarring music spoiled the mood. I opted for the Full Monty, a $60 prix fixe (with choices), but Dale Levitski’s cloudlike foie gras mousse almost made the rest of the meal immaterial. Rack of lamb looked and tasted properly elegant, but, like the soundtrack blaring from the speakers, the white anchovies on top didn’t work for me. Pineapple dessert, however, despite its many oddball sidekicks—chocolate whipped goat cheese for one—was a poster child for creativity.

A trusted FOD on Ceres’ Table (4882 N. Clark St.; 773-878-4882), the chef Giuseppe Scurato (Boka, Topaz Cafe), opened December 8th

The waitstaff could be a little more knowledgeable and friendly. Our waitperson was also the bartender. He said he had never made a blood orange Cosmo before, even though it was on the menu. The food was delicious. We shared a caesar salad that had a few roasted tomatoes [in it]. It was lightly dressed and very good. We also shared the pork chop with a version of scalloped potatoes with Roquefort cheese. The pork chop was juicy and flavorful, and of course the potatoes were decadent. The other dish was whitefish in a delicious clam chowder sauce. We finished the meal with a very crusty pistachio crème brûlée. Even the coffee was memorable. All in all, the meal was a winner.

Denise Peñacerrada, the dining assistant at Chicago, on Longman & Eagle (2657 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-276-7110), the chef Jared Wentworth (Tizi Melloul), opened January 20th

Our server earned her gold star for the evening. She made recommendations, we took them, and we were happy. Although it lasted fewer than two fleeting hours, it was a perfect relationship. The wild boar sloppy Joe was killer. Very good and not at all gamey. The Kobe burger was reportedly tasty as well—so good, in fact, that my cousin’s husband refused to share. Both sandwiches were served on brioche. For us, bread is a big deal. In this case—two sloppy thumbs up. Eight thumbs, counting all of us. We also had the duck rillettes appetizer with cornichons and mustard and the scallops-oxtail-gnocchi-Fontina plate. The menu said “seared scallops,” plural, which was a little misleading because only one large scallop arrived. But I wasn’t disgruntled for long—it was the size of my fist and perfectly seared. And the oxtail: We Filipinos know our oxtail, and this was tasty stuff.

Whole ’Nother Story

Izakaya Hapa (58 E. Ontario St.; 312-440-1717) is slated to open February 1st, upstairs from Sushi Taiyo, sister restaurant toRise and Shine. “Izakaya” translates as “lounge” or “bar”—the kind of place a Japanese city-dweller might go after work, the publicity people tell us. “Hapa” means “mixed Caucasian and Asian,” apparently in reference to items from Min San’s menu like the Japanese-style burger, a teriyaki-glazed beef and pork patty with shiso and pickled daikon. An insider’s tip: The upstairs menu won’t list the raw-fish dishes from downstairs, but you can order them if you want.

Things to Do

  1. Gather your Lincolns and go $5 burger–hopping. Possible stops: Custom House (500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200) at lunch for the rest of January, Cortland’s Garage (1645 W. Cortland St.; 773-862-7877) on Mondays, Bin Wine Cafe (1559 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-486-2233) on Tuesdays, The Fifth (600 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-644-1500) from 5 to 10 p.m. on Thursdays, and Park Grill (11 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-521-7275) for an order of miniburgers, also on Thursdays (from 5 p.m. to close).
  2. Buy a cookie in February at Milk & Honey Cafe (1920 W. Division St.; 773-395-9434) or Cipollina (1543 N. Damen Ave.; 773-227-6300) for $1.25, and $1 will go to Franciscan Outreach, a charity providing food, shelter, and services for the homeless.
  3. Reconceptualize corned beef hash.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Matthew Troost announced via Twitter that Fianco (3440 N. Southport Ave.; 773-327-6400), where he was the chef, shut its doors Monday. One of the owners, Kim Winston, told us in June, “The food speaks for itself. My sister and I ate there and we kept saying, ‘Mmm, mmm, mmm.’” We did, too. Sorry to see it go. . . . HaShalom Restaurant (2905 W. Devon Ave.; 773-465-5675) announced on Facebook that it will close in March. . . . The Bloomingdale’s at 900 North Michigan Avenue is remodeling the low-profile and strangely punctuated b’café and opening Forty Carrots, which will parallel the Forty Carrotses that Bloomie’s operates in New York and Boston. . . . Labriola Pasticerria, selling Italian pastries, has opened inside Labriola Bakery Café (3021 Butterfield Rd., Oak Brook; 630-574-2008). . . . A blind chef received a job offer from Charlie Trotter. . . . Congrats to Hoosier Mama Pie Company (1618 1/2 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-243-4846) for being mentioned in a USA Today article on Pie Day, which they tell us was January 23rd. Funny, we thought it was March 14th.