Will You Still Need It When It’s 63?
The 80-year-old Loyola hangout Hamilton’s closed in October, and shortly afterward, the university bought the building. Matt Fisher, a partner in Bistronomic and the Boarding House on the Near North Side, says that Loyola, already his landlord at Bistronomic, asked if he was interested in the Hamilton’s space. Fisher accepted, hoping to turn the 150- to 200-seat space into 63 Bar and Grill (6341 N. Broadway, no phone yet). “But I could just call it 63,” he says. “I plan on making it an upscale bar and grill, catering to the neighborhood, the students, and the university. The food concept will come later. I’m going to try and make it feel more upscale, more downtown.” In other words, something like the cross-product of Nine Steakhouse and Seven Bar & Restaurant.
The Soldi’s Tale
After Coco Pazzo and Coco Pazzo Café, the restaurateur Jack Weiss chose not to go cuckoo with Cocos and named his upcoming trattoria-pizzeria Tre Soldi (212 E. Ohio St., no phone yet), or “three coins,” for the song and the movie Three Coins in the Fountain. The fountain, of course, is the Trevi in Rome, and Tre Soldi’s food will reflect Rome’s region, Lazio. Overseen by Federico Comacchio, also the executive chef of Coco Pazzo, the menu will include dishes like chitarra carbonara; gnocchi ricotta with smoked tomato sauce, romanesco, and anchovy; and the fried artichokes called carciofi alla guidea. Roman-style pizza, with a crust somewhere between Neapolitan and cracker-thin, will bake in a stone deck oven, a program put together by Pamela Fitzpatrick, the former Fox & Obel baker last seen with Lettuce Entertain You. Weiss hopes for a May opening, and we know a custom he could try for good luck.
Opening this Friday at the former site of Ashkenaz Deli, the counter-service spot Da Lobsta (12 E. Cedar St., 312-929-2423) rolls out a menu of lobster, shrimp, and crab rolls, along with lobster mac and cheese, lobster grilled cheese, lobster bisque, and clam chowder. Input came from a big-name source. “Michael Taus [Zealous] is my consulting chef on this project,” says J Wolf, the owner. “He’s taking it from serving regular lobster rolls like everyone is doing [and] expanding it to Greek rolls, Asian rolls, Southwest rolls, Indian rolls.” Once those catch on, then really everyone will be doing lobster rolls.
“Strange to see how a good dinner and feasting reconciles everybody.” —Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), English naval administrator, Parliament member, and diarist
Who the Mahin?
The news about the Lettuce Entertain You chef Jeff Mahin (Do-Rite Donuts) appearing on The Taste and opening two restaurants in Lincoln Park broke on Friday. In a follow-up call, he told us his backstory. Here it is, condensed and edited, but otherwise in his own words:
"I left high school freshman year and got my GED. I started cooking at age 16. Every other part of my life was hectic and not understood, but in the kitchen I found calm and peace. . . . I finished [culinary school], and I was offered an internship at Nobu [in New York]. I was 18 years old. [They would say,] ‘Here’s Kobe beef. It’s $19 an ounce. Don’t screw it up.’ I would wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares. . . . I left New York and moved back in with Dad and applied to a junior college. [After a year,] I walked into UC–Berkeley. I said, ‘Here’s my story. I like to be challenged.’ I was lucky enough to get in. . . . I started reading more cookbooks than schoolbooks. I started dropping classes I wasn’t interested in and took a sous chef position in a ritzy restaurant. Meanwhile, I jokingly applied to the Fat Duck in England. A day later, I got a phone call from Chris Young, the head chef of the research lab at Fat Duck. I packed up and went to England. . . . I didn’t know who Lettuce was, but I was reading [L2O opening chef] Laurent [Gras]’s blog. I applied. Francis [Brennan] hired me to help open L2O. . . . I made biscuits for family meal [at L2O]. Buttermilk biscuits—a recipe I figured out when I was a kid. [Lettuce’s president Richard] Melman comes out, with crumbs around his mouth, and says, ‘Who made this biscuit? This is the best biscuit I’ve ever had.’ . . . Melman is the first person who ever employed me who asked me, ‘What do you want to do in five years?’ [I said,] ‘I want to learn how to open up and run successful restaurants.’ ”
Forget the Tea Party; We Need the Q Party
In what everyone surely hopes is a bellwether for the economy, a former state unemployment office in the north suburbs is being gutted and transformed into Smylie Brothers Restaurant and Brewery (1615 Oak Ave., Evanston, no phone yet), aiming for a summer opening. “I always wanted to do a fun type of barbecue restaurant, a traditional smokehouse,” says Michael Smylie, the oldest of five Smylie boys and the majority partner. “My father is from San Antonio. We have been smoking meats together our whole lives.” Smylie foresees brisket, chicken, pulled pork, and ribs from the Southern Pride smoker, plus five or six beers brewed in a ten-barrel brew house. Steaks, chops, fresh fish, in-house charcuterie, and bread made with the spent grain left over from the brewing process also feature in the vision. Bipartisanship isn’t out of reach, President Obama. Everyone can support barbecue.
Updated Review: Sepia
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. Sepia increased its rating from three to three and a half stars in the February issue, on newsstands now.
Sepia (123 N. Jefferson St., 312-441-1920). Contemporary American.
½ (very good to excellent)
$$$$ ($50-plus per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Unlike celebrity chefs who want to get in your face, Andrew Zimmerman just quietly amazes your palate with his evolving menu. Sumptuous housemade charcuterie includes not only brilliant duck mousse but the best bologna you’ve ever tasted. The French-Indian spice mixture vadouvan elevates lamb loin with a disk of crispy lamb neck meat and chickpea panisse; black pepper gnocchi and turnips enhance spice-glazed duck breast. Cindy Schuman’s desserts, such as almond blancmange and apricot gelée with honey syrup and blackberries, maintain the standard, as do the stellar wines and cocktails. The modern detailing on a 19th-century print shop framework beguiles; the fine waitstaff impresses.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
Hope You Like Jamun, Too
After three years in catering, Rubina Haseez opened the umlauted bakery Gür Sweets (162 N. York St., Elmhurst, 630-833-0008) in November, specializing in ethnic treats such as the chickpea-flour fudge called besan burfi, the waffle-ball dessert cream jamun, and baklava. The bakery also serves coffee and chai, including the Punjabi lahori chai and Kashmiri chai, which takes on a dusty rose color. Haseez hopes to introduce high tea in the spring. Modern American staples, including the ever-present red velvet cupcakes, bring the sugary West to meet the sugary East. The word “gür” means “sugar” in Hindi—not everyone’s first guess, “the sound of a growl when protecting one’s cupcake.”
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Things to Do
- Sweeten your week at D.O.C. Wine Bar’s (2602 N. Clark St., 773-883-5101) Cupcakes & Wine Night, tonight at 6 p.m. For $30, savor four gourmet treats from Molly’s Cupcakes—such as honey cake with pomegranate filling and grapefruit meringue—paired with four worthy wines.
- Chill at a charity chili cook-off at Red Door (2118 N. Damen Ave., 773-697-7221). Nine chefs, including Mark Steuer (Carriage House), John Manion (La Sirena Clandestina), and Art and Chelsea Jackson (Pleasant House Bakery), will compete at 6 p.m. on January 28 to raise funds to convert a central Illinois chicken and egg farm to sustainable, cage-free methods. Tickets are $25 and include a cocktail.
- Call ahead for three-course $29.13 prix fixe menus at Mexique (1529 W. Chicago Ave., 312-850-0288) and Restaurant Michael (64 Green Bay Rd., Winnetka, 847-441-3100), among others. From January 24 to February 3, the Chicago Originals group is having its own Restaurant Week, with lower prices than the big event. See the website for more participating restaurants and menus.
- The Korean-Japanese joint En Hakkore (1840 N. Damen Ave., 773-772-9880) has filled the old Melt Sandwich Shoppe space with bibimbap and sushi, while the old Bagel on Damen has become The Haute & the Dog (1252 N. Damen Ave., 312-720-8185), now slinging sausages for dine-in and takeout.
- Hofbräuhaus (5500 Park Pl., Rosemont, 847-671-2739) is now serving traditional Bavarian cuisine alongside a German microbrewery and beer garden.
- Red Square Café Lounge (1914 W. Division St., 773-227-2284) turned up the heat in the old Division Street Bath House with steam rooms and a full-service spa—oh yeah, and Russian-American small plates.
- Kosher? Vegan? Allergic to nuts? Milt’s Barbecue for the Perplexed (3411 N. Broadway, 773-661-6384), open as of yesterday, offers porkless, milkless, nutless, and in most cases glutenless barbecue, with sides and desserts to boot.
- The Cottage on Dixie (18849 Dixie Hwy., Homewood, 708-798-8263) will bring monthly regional specials from around the world to the burbs, beginning this Saturday with the cuisine of Brittany, France.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Coast Sushi & Sashimi, with a menu based on the one at Bucktown’s Coast (plus one robata grill and minus the BYO policy), is set to open in Evanston this winter. . . . C-House closed its doors on January 19, to be replaced by a casual eatery once MileNorth Hotel renovates the entire space. . . . Chris Teixeira (Sixteen) is now the executive pastry chef at West Town Bakery & Diner. . . . The new project from the Rockiteers in the old Martini Ranch space is a Mexican dive bar with the orthographically stretchy name Ay Chiwowa. . . . The crew behind Senza, already notable for serving an all-gluten-free menu, now offers only a four-course prix fixe ($50) or a nine-course tasting menu ($100). . . . The many-laureled pizzeria Great Lake has closed, set to reopen wherever the wind takes it.