Final Exam

Sikia (pronounced “seh-KEE-ya,” 740 W. 63rd St.; 773-602-5200), a 75-seat African restaurant run by advanced students at Washburne Culinary Institute, opens on August 1st at the institute’s new Englewood facility. “This project has been in the making for eight years,” says Bill Reynolds, provost at Washburne. “It will be a requirement of last-semester students to work all the kitchen and dining room positions at Sikia to get their degree.” Dishes include berbere braised short ribs and Moroccan salmon charmoula; the modern space features a Shona sculpture from Zimbabwe that was formerly on display at the South Shore Cultural Center. Sikia, by the way, is a Swahili word that means . . . uh, what does it mean, Bill? “It’s a hard word to translate into English,” Reynolds says. “It describes the experience that you have when you hear music. Internalizing. Feeling it. Understanding it.”


“Centuries ago, sailors on long voyages used to leave a pair of pigs on every deserted island. Or they’d leave a pair of goats. Either way, on any future visit, the island would be a source of meat . . . Does this remind you of anything? Maybe the ol’ Adam and Eve story? . . . You ever wonder when God’s coming back with a lot of barbecue sauce?” –Chuck Palahniuk (b. 1962), American writer

Triple Whammy

In a rare hat trick, Robert LaPata, the owner of Evanston’s Omaggio (1639 Orrington Ave.), La Petite Amelia (618 Church St.), and Überbürger (618½ Church St.), closed all three restaurants on July 23rd. “The three restaurants were a package deal so we couldn’t continue to operate,” he said. “Basically we were underfunded. It’s the old restaurant story of not having enough capital.” Reportedly, a sign outside the restaurants indicates that they will reopen, but LaPata doesn’t see it happening.

More Proof That Gale Gand Is a Genius

Through the portals of public television, Emmy award-winning chef Ming Tsai enters the homes of Chicagoans every Saturday, but this week, he also entered the homes of Chicago’s top chefs—literally. From July 28th through 30th, “Simply Ming” taped in the home kitchens of chefs Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto, and Shawn McClain (and in Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill kitchen.) Our crafty intern, Becca, attended the taping at Gand’s north suburban home, glimpsing her wall of antique cheese shredders, miniature stove collection, and two madeleine tins Julia Child gave her. One of Gand’s challenges on the show (combining lychee with Champagne) led to a zippy moscato sorbetto with lychee, lime, black pepper, and cilantro. (See recipe, below.) “If you use simple yet flavorful ingredients, a dish is easy to make and satisfying,” Gand said. Apparently, it was. “It was a totally odd pairing of components that was delicious enough to be served in a restaurant,” Becca said. “After eating this, I had faith that Gale Gand could have whipped something up using the Little Tikes children’s kitchen in the corner of her dining nook.”

5 Questions for the Robot Who Runs Jewel-Osco’s Public Affairs Department, a.k.a. Miguel Alba

[For maximum effect, cut and paste his responses into this and hit “SPEAK.”]  

D: We hear Jewel is opening something called Urban Fresh at 1910 North Clybourn. What is it?
MA: A specialty grocery store with a variety of ready-to-go meal solutions ranging from gourmet sandwiches to dinner entrées. The store will also carry a selection of premium wines and spirits.

D: Will it look like a grocery store?
MA: I will let you decide when you come by for the grand opening. The layout will pay particular attention for you to get what you need and get out.  

D: What’s the difference between this and a regular grocery store?
MA: The goal is to offer a convenient and high-end shopping experience to our customers, offering a premium selection of products that targets this specific market.  It’s in response to the lifestyle needs of busy working professionals and commuters.

D: When is this planned?
MA: Construction is under way. Hope to open in early fall.

D: If this goes well, are there future plans for the concept?
MA: Don’t have any plans for future stores at this time but we are always assessing opportunities in the market.

Andersonville Do-Over

Il Fiasco (5101 N. Clark St.; 773-769-9700), which closed on July 26th, will reopen in August as Tapas Las Ramblas. “There are too many Italian restaurants in the neighborhood,” says Michael Moore, the owner (not the documentary filmmaker). “It was hard to distinguish yourself at our price point. You can’t do anything too creative. If I strayed too far from Italy, I was criticized for it.” Moore’s chef, Roberto Duran—not the guy who said “No más” to Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980—promises traditional tapas like a four-ounce prime beef tenderloin with blue cheese sauce and grilled vegetables. And Moore, who is remodeling the space in a Gaudí theme, sounds like he wishes Il Fiasco had never happened. “I was talked out of tapas here a year ago,” he said. “I should have followed my gut instinct.”

Things to Do

  1. Cubs or Sox: Take your pick next week. Both good pitchers, both good causes.
  2. Grab a Thai picnic basket for two ($23) from Vong’s Thai Kitchen (6 W. Hubbard St.; 312-644-8664).
  3. Learn to peel a hard-boiled egg the fun way.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Marcus Samuelsson (C-House) opened Marc Burger, a burger bar with offbeat artisan creations, at Macy’s on State Street (111 N. State St., 7th floor) on June 29th. . . . Uncle Joe’s Jerk, a Jamaican restaurant, now has four outlets on the South Side; the latest opened in Hyde Park (1461 E. Hyde Park Blvd.; 773-241-5550). . . . Bionda To Go (400 S. Financial Pl.; 312-435-0400), a sandwich-centric lunch spot from the owners of Café Bionda), opened July 1st in the Financial District. . . . Our vote for worst new restaurant name: Rollapalooza (3344 N. Halsted St.; 773-281-6400), a BYO sushi spot that opened last month in Boys Town. . . . Happy anniversary to the Swedish Bakery (5348 N. Clark St.; 773-561-8919), which turns 80 (!) in August. Celebrate with a frog-shaped marzipan. . . . Smokin’ Woody’s (4160 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-880-1100), an old Lincoln Square barbecue standby that had been shuttered, has reopened.

Gale Gand’s Recipe for Simply Ming Moscato Sorbetto with Lychees and Lime
Serves 4

1 bottle Moscato d’Asti, chilled
24 lychees
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons organic honey (local to you)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
Grinds of fresh black pepper (optional)

To make the sorbetto, pop open the bottle of chilled (so it doesn’t explode) Moscato d’Asti and pour it into your ice cream maker and turn according to your manufacturer’s instructions. Meanwhile, place a storage container for it in the freezer. Keep the frozen sorbetto in the frozen container till ready to serve.

For the lychees, peel them and remove the June bug-like pit trying to only break the fruit in half. Place the lychee in a bowl and toss with the lime juice, honey, cilantro and pepper to macerate. Chill until ready to serve.

In chilled dessert glasses or bowls, place a scoop of the Moscato d’Asti sorbetto and spoon the macerated lychees over it.

Copyright 2008 Gale Gand

Photograph by Becca Milfeld