Monkey See, Monkey Eat

The Bristol, an “affordable artisanal neighborhood eatery and bar” from John Ross (former GM of One Sixtyblue) and a couple of other partners, is coming to Bucktown on September 9th. (We are sworn to secrecy on the location. Soon, readers, soon.) One of his partners, Chris Pandel, is a former sous-chef at Tru and right-hand man to Rick Tramonto; he says nothing on his regular menu at The Bristol will exceed $18. “It will be simple, honest American food,” says Pandel. “Like a savory monkey bread as a snack. It’s like a biscuit dough, rolled into little balls. Rolled in butter and dill and sea salt and baked. That’s probably [going to be] $3 for a butter-drenched loaf about the size of your hand.” The restaurant will be getting whole animals and serving the whole thing. “Maybe on a Monday, we get in a lamb,” Pandel says. “We will serve roast leg of lamb one day and then lamb chops the next. Then lamb heart. It won’t be for everybody but there must be a part of the population willing to try those certain cuts.”

The Frontera Empire Strikes Back

Why didn’t Rick Bayless think of this sooner? The chef-owner of Frontera Grill and Topolobampo (445 N. Clark St.; 312-661-1434)—and America’s ambassador of All Things Mexican—has plans to open a quick-service, artisanal Mexican sandwich place around the corner from his two showstoppers. Spurred by a tip from The Stew, we got Bayless on the horn for more details about the place, which is slated to open next spring.  

D: Give us the basics. Please.
RB: It’s going to be a tortería with a wood-burning oven. We will be doing classic regional Mexican sandwiches, a la plancha. All artisanal products. All the preparations will be in the front window. We’re grinding our own chocolate from Mexican cacao beans right on the premises. Nobody is doing that.

D: What else?
RB: In Mexico and in Spain, they do hot chocolate with churros. We will be making that from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

D: (drooling on phone)
RB: We will be serving homemade ice creams in all those crazy flavors that we do: lime, fresh corn, strawberry-buttermilk ice cream. And there will always be that Mexican chocolate ice cream available as well.

D: How did you get the idea?
RB: We were dreaming in the kitchen one day. I’ve wanted a wood-burning oven for a long time. We do lambs, pork pibil, and we cook them overnight, but in an oven. I’ve always wanted to do them like they do in Mexico: with a wood fire. Next, we had an idea for a place to make tortas, churros, hot chocolate, all the things we don’t have room for. Why don’t we put them together into a simple place?

D: Where?
RB: We’re taking over a furniture store called Champagne [near the corner of Clark and Illinois]. It will be built entirely LEED certified. You will walk up to a counter, but there will be seats. Communal seating.

D: When?
RB: I have never missed an opening day. I know two things: how to realistically plan, and how to work with the contractors to keep them on schedule. That said: We will be opening in April of 2009.


“Come up to me with a doughnut or a bag of chips. That would be perfect.” –Emma Bunton, aka Baby Spice (b. 1976), British pop star, on the best way to approach her

Rebound Kitchen

Donatella Majore, who recently closed La Cucina di Donatella (2221 W. Howard St.), has taken her knives up to Reverence (1840 Oak Ave., Evanston; 847-491-9080), a three-month-old organic breakfast/lunch spot. “In mid-August I will start dinner there three times a week, and it will be absolutely the same as what I made at La Cucina,” Majore says. “I already have my tables and chairs there.” La Cucina’s June 21st closing, on the restaurant’s fifth anniversary, got the tears flowing. “People were crying like it was a tragedy,” she says. “It’s a shame for Rogers Park. I worked so hard to build this little place. I love it with all my heart but my life was more important.” Meanwhile, she’s looking in Edgewater to open a tavola calda—basically an Italian version of “something like Trotter’s To Go.”

House Call

Pollack’s dinner at Marcus Samuelsson’s new C-House (Affinia Hotel, 166 E. Superior St.; 312-523-0923) got off to a great start. She and Mr. Dining scored a romantic corner booth and made goo-goo eyes at each other when they tasted the ultrafresh, citrus-tinged tuna tartare amuse. The clunky breaded mussels in the mussel soup, however, almost killed the mood, while short rib agnolotti were a mixed bag—nicely seasoned, oddly textured. But the beet salad with kumquats and ricotta was an unadulterated hit. Thin and sugary malted shortbread cookies didn’t resemble shortbreads, but Pollack loved them anyway. Best of all: Stephanie “Top Chef” Izard was holding court at the bar.  

Midwestern Giving

Vrai Amour (953 W. Webster Ave.; 773-549-9740), a newish gourmet shop near DePaul, seems to cover the entire Midwest with its selection of cheeses, sausages, and craft brews: Usinger’s sausages from Milwaukee; Bell’s beer from Kalamazoo; dips and preserves from Robert Rothschild Farms (Urbana, Ohio); all kinds of cherry-related goodies from Cherry Republic (Glen Arbor, Michigan). David Somsky, a retired psychologist, and his son, Matt, are proud Kalamazoo natives who love nothing more than beer and cheese. “You can create your own cold six-pack here of German, Belgian, or American craft beers,” says David. “And our next beer class [July 17th] will teach you how to pair beers with cheese.” Vrai Amour has 30 to 35 domestic and international cheeses, which go equally with beer as with wine, per David. Of course, V.A. also carries wine—from non-mainstream producers—just in case.

Things to Do

  1. Go to Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060) for “cocktails and a candid conversation with Salman Rushdie” July 10th at 8:30 p.m. And it’s free. Amazing: Sir Salman Rushdie at Vermilion. What’s next? Don DeLillo at HotChocolate?  
  2. Check out the Chicago Tribune’s map of Chicago smells.
  3. Witness the edgy meeting of two titans.