Six Questions for Grant Achatz
Grant Achatz heads the inimitable Alinea, the reinventionist Next, and the sciencey cocktail bar The Aviary. Although it’s impossible to fully catch up with the constantly-in-motion Achatz, Dish checked in with him this week.
Dish: What do you see happening for you in the next few years?
Grant Achatz: Nick [Kokonas, Achatz’s business partner] and I sat down a week ago and went over 2011 and looked at the year ahead. One thing we came up with was opening another Aviary.
D: Why another Aviary?
GA: We don’t want to open another Alinea or another Next. They are hard to replicate. You can put an Aviary anywhere in the world and produce the same products, essentially because it’s spirits. We could put it in Shanghai and still get Beefeater gin. But if we try to build an Alinea in Shanghai, where are we going to get pawpaws? It’s just a very Midwestern, rare fruit.
D: Anything going in publishing?
GA: We have several offers from mainstream print publishers to take the iBooks [of Next’s Paris, Thailand, and Childhood menus] and bind them into a traditional format, for those people who don’t like iPads or Kindles or whatever.
D: How about in TV?
GA: Last week, we met with a multidisciplinary media company. We’ve been offered so many TV show options [over the years], but [one] company, they think outside the box when it comes to TV-related media. They are very heavily involved with graphics and computer component installations. Almost like art installation, like if you went to MCA. They would project things on the ceilings or the walls. I think Nick and I pitched them on 20 episodes that we thought would be compelling to produce with them. Talks are ongoing.
D: Why didn’t you like any of the other TV offers?
GA: Everybody that’s come to us thus far wants scripted reality. They want Gordon Ramsay yelling at somebody. That’s not who we are or what we do. It has to have integrity and be educational and entertaining. That’s me.
D: Is the movie version of your autobiography still in the works?
GA: Finally, after two and a half years, we signed a movie contract. That will require a good amount of our time, dealing with the screenwriters, getting the story down, feeling comfortable. They haven’t cast it yet. If it does get made, whoever is playing me [will have] to fly to Chicago and basically work in the kitchen for a week or so, so that onscreen [he talks] the language that a chef would. They want him to actually be able to cook a little bit.
The “eno-“ in “enoteca” means “wine.” Despite the seeming contradiction, 2nd Street Enoteca (1825 2nd St., Highland Park; 847-432-6550) is scheduled to begin serving dinner without a liquor license under the same roof as 2nd Street Bistro in early February. It’s BYO, however, with no corkage fee—a formula that’s proved successful so far at the bistro. The enoteca’s farm-to-table organic Italian cuisine will include appetizers such as grilled octopus, mussels with white wine and garlic, crostini, and brick-oven Neapolitan pizzas with double-zero flour and San Marzano tomatoes. Risotto and homemade pastas and gnocchi number among the primi, and whitefish and sous-vide chicken Vesuvio are among the secondi. The enoteca will operate by night in the same space that’s the hamburger and hot-dog spot Stashs by day. “My thoughts were, since we have this extra space that is Stashs all day, we are going to convert it at night,” says Bobby Dubin, the owner of all these businesses. Heck, there’s still some time in the wee hours of the morning—how about a pancake house too?
The big innovation in wine service lately has been kegs, bubbling up at several spots in the last year, but the new North Shore restaurant Trifecta Grill (501 Chestnut St., Winnetka; 847-441-1700), scheduled to open next month, will offer a novel wine-dispensing system. Twenty-eight bottles, some higher end than most by-the-glass pours, will be preserved in seven four-bottle units. Customers will put money on a card and then insert the card in a unit to dispense a taste, a half glass, or a full glass. The wine accompanies small- and large-plate contemporary American cuisine. Gourmet pizzas and skewers (“We call them lollipops,” says Stephanie Strauss, the general manager) round out the menu. Trifecta is the third Winnetka restaurant (hence the name) for the owner, Patrick O’Neil, after O’Neil’s and Little Ricky’s. Cool idea on the wine system, but when will someone bring back the carafe?
“[I tell people,] ‘You acquire some smoked mackerel fillets and you put them in the food processor.’ Actually, I add a shot of lemon juice, just as a binder, but I read somewhere that all the big-time chefs leave out one ingredient when they share a recipe.” —Calvin Trillin (1935–), in The New Yorker, on giving out his recipe for smoked-mackerel pâté
2011 trend: Owners of upscale restaurants announce diners (Stephanie Izard, Little Goat; Brendan Sodikoff, Au Cheval; Peter Drohomyrecky and Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky, Eggy’s). 2012 trend: They actually open. Zach Millican, who moves from chef de cuisine at the Drohomyreckys’ Custom House Tavern to chef/general manager at Eggy’s, says the launch is set for late March. Millican says Eggy’s will serve breakfast and lunch all day, and dinner service will be family-style, where each customer pays a flat price for three shared courses, which will change for each day of the week. “So on Monday, it will be roasted beet-salad, pork schnitzel with spaeztle, and then for dessert you get rum-raisin bread pudding,” he says. Sunday might bring roasted leg of lamb with corona beans and salsa verde and a dessert of Greek yogurt mousse with pine nut baklava. Meanwhile, Sodikoff puts Au Cheval’s opening in early February, but Izard says Little Goat is now scheduled for July. About time this trend kicked off.
He Said It
“It’s mostly me and Marco with the charming accents trying to charm our customers one by one.” —Massimiliano Agostini, describing the customer service at Osteria de Pizza Metro (2863 N. Clark St.; 773-472-6411), a pizza place he co-owns with Marco Schiavoni. The restaurant, which opened just after Christmas, sells Roman-style square pizza, to eat in or to take and bake.
Be Careful Attending Birthday Parties
Relocating from the far western edges of Chicago, Fiorenza Ristorante Autentico Italiano (7404 W. Madison St., Forest Park; 708-366-1400) plans a April reopening in a larger suburban space with an expanded menu of Italian classics, such as black risotto with cuttlefish and squid ink. Bill Pierson, co-owner with the chef, Fiorenza Tasinato, described to Dish how they got into business together. (His account is condensed and edited.)
“I was in the funeral business for 30-some years. I was a loyal customer at the restaurant that [Tastinato] had been working at prior to ours. I loved her food, and we became friends. She’d been working in America for 18 years but was always told what to make. One day I said, ‘If you ever want to open your own restaurant, let me know, and maybe I can help you.’ A few months later, she invited me out to celebrate her 50th birthday at this little Mexican place. It was closing. The whole birthday dinner thing was a setup. She sat me down and said, ‘What do you think of this place?’ I thought she was asking about the Mexican place. But she meant the space. ‘Remember when you said if I ever wanted my own restaurant, you would help?’ And the rest is history.”
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- The French toast at Balsan is a slice of the good life.
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Things to Do
1. Spend NFL conference championship Sunday eating the quintessential football food—chili—at Healy’s Westside (7321 W. Madison St., Forest Park; 708-366-4277), where a chili cook-off running from noon to 4 p.m. will benefit Opportunity Knocks, a charity for adults with developmental disabilities. A $20 ticket buys chili tastings, appetizers, and dessert. The judges—Jeff Mauro of Food Network, Paul Virant (Vie, Perennial Virant), and Erik Freeberg (Bar Toma)—will crown the top pot from the entries of 25 amateur chili makers.
2. Start saving room in your stomach for Chicago Originals Restaurant Week (January 23 to February 4), an annual fete spotlighting independent eateries in the Chicago area with two- to four-course degustation menus priced at $29.12. This year’s lineup includes Bella Bacinos, Mexique, and Oceanique.
3. Snag a reservation for the six-course Mexican Pop-Up Tribute Dinner on January 24 at Lillie’s Q (1856 W. North Ave.; 773-772-5500). The restaurant’s owner and barbecue guru Charlie McKenna will hand over the kitchen to his sous chef, Jose Landa, who plans to whip up green pork pozole, duck breast tamales, and other south-of-the-border family recipes. Seatings run from 6 to 9:30 p.m., and tickets cost $45 (with optional 5 Rabbit Brewery beer pairings for another $20).
4. Settle in for A Kentucky Tavern Winter’s Evening, ca. 1840, a bourboncentric dinner on January 25 at 7 p.m. at Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.; 773-275-5725). Pearl onion soup with mutton dumplings, barbecued shoat with black beans, hominy, and pumpkin, and other dishes inspired by the inns and taverns of 19th-century Louisville will pair with pours from Jim Beam small-batch collections. Seats can be reserved for $48 by calling the restaurant.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Following its holiday hiatus, Green City Market returns at 8 a.m. Saturday at its indoor location (Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, 2430 N. Cannon Dr.). . . . All three of Intelligentsia’s Chicago cafés now offer grab-and-go sandwiches, salads, artisanal cheese, and charcuterie plates from Pastoral. . . . The Stew reports that Real Urban Barbecue will follow up the success of its Highland Park shop with a Vernon Hills spinoff this spring. . . . In chef news, Andrew Brochu (Kith & Kin, EL) will take over as executive chef at Graham Elliot on February 1 (as reported by both The Stew and Eater), Frank Mnuk (Bistro Bordeaux) is now executive chef at Bistro Voltaire, and Thomas Donnelly (Le Bouchon, Bistrot Margot) now heads up the Park Grill kitchen. . . . Pending final inspections, the Old Town wine bar Flight 1551 is ready for takeoff Monday.