Starting Over

The star-crossed space at 444 North Wabash Avenue has another chapter. You may recall it as the former Jazz Record Mart or the place that Jason Paskewitz and Phil Lotsoff had rebuilt a few years back to house Jackson Park Bar and Grill, which never opened. Now it has been leased to Benny Siddu (Volare, 201 E. Grand Ave.; 312-410-9900), who plans to open Benny’s Prime Chop House, a 220-seat steak house specializing in both wet- and dry-aged beef. First, though, he’s got to undo all the work done on the 9,600-square-foot restaurant—we recall talk of “expansive columns,” “custom mosaic tiles,” and ‘cloud-like’ lighting.” “The restaurant was built for a trendy spot,” says Siddu. “But I want a very traditional look of a steak house.” ETA: January 2010.

The Break-up

Freddy Sanchez, the long-time exec chef at Adobo Grill, is out. “I took a couple of weeks off and when I got back, I guess Paul [LoDuca, the owner] had a surprise for me,” says Sanchez. “It was more financial than anything. I had already cut three chefs, but I guess that wasn’t good enough.” LoDuca corroborates that it was an economic decision; he now has Gabriel Arriaga and Othon Angel—sous-chefs at his Old Town and Wicker Park locations, respectively—running the kitchens. As for Sanchez, LoDuca says: “We had a good time together and it was time to separate.”


“I believe that if life gives you lemons, you should make lemonade, and try to find somebody whose life has given them vodka, and have a party.” –Ron White (b.1956), American comedian

Wings over Halsted

“I lived in St. Thomas for the last seven years. l opened up a wing restaurant out there, and when my wife and I got back here we were always going out looking for great wing places, and we never seemed to find one with the same flair that we made at home. So I decided to open one up. We do Caribbean jerk, lemon pepper, Chicago-style honey barbecue, Louisiana Cajun, Texas chipotle, Thai sweet chili, and Buffalo, of course. And we make our own sauces.” –Errol Batts, owner of Wings O’ Flavor (3109 N. Halsted St.; 773-697-7032), a made-to-order chicken wing spot that opened as a BYO this week in Lake View and is already going through 100 pounds of chicken a day


Green Dolphin Street (2200 N. Ashland Ave.; 773-395-0066), which quietly closed its restaurant operations last year and plans in the fall to open Orvieto, a modest 100-seat trattoria, redid its entire kitchen and dining room. “It will have more of a family-style look,” says Jessica Bergman, the events manager. “Earth tones. Forest green, chocolate brown. Cherry finish on wood floors. And there will be an open kitchen with a flat stone pizza oven brought over from Italy.” And, surprise: You can expect a much lower price point than at the old GDS.

Sen at Work

What is it with all the Thais opening sushi restaurants? The latest are Varanya and Chaidanai Chaiprasert (of Oak Park’s Mama Thai), who recently launched SEN Sushi Bar (814 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 708-848-4400), a modern 30-seat BYO (for now, with $3 corkage) spot. “I have been wanting to open a Japanese restaurant for years because one of my closest friends was a chef at [the recently closed] Tsunami,” says Chaidanai Chaiprasert. The menu includes the usual raw options, plus contemporary creations such as the Ghost Ship maki, which is spicy tuna, sweet potato, cream cheese, spicy mayo, green onions, and panko coating—and a chicken teriyaki that sounds yummy. “We grill from fresh chickens,” says Chaiprasert. “That’s why it’s so soft and moist. We are a small restaurant and don’t have much storage, so everything is fresh daily.”

It’s Ciao Time

“The neighborhood residents who have been here all their lives were very excited waiting for the restaurant to open,” says Gus Drugas, a partner at Ciao Amore (1134 W. 18th St.; 312-432-9090), a 100-seat Italian BYO that opened last week in Pilsen. The exposed-brick décor and crowd-pleasing menu sound pretty straightforward—calamari fritti, osso buco, gnocchi, tiramisù—but the chef/partner, Cesar Pineda (formerly of Caro Mio) should bring some flair to the proceedings.

Give the People What They Want

In May, Winston’s Market revamped and reopened as Fianco (3440 N. Southport Ave.; 773-327-6400), a 100-seat rustic Italian spot featuring locally sourced products. “We asked old neighbors, friends, and customers what they would like,” says Kim Winston, a partner. “People wanted somewhere to go and have a nice dinner.” Matthew Troost, the former sous-chef at The Peninsula and Little Nell (Aspen, Colorado), was recruited, and the space given an overhaul—exposed brick, large black-and-white photos of Italy, granite bar—and boom, Southport got another pleasant neighborhood spot. Troost’s menu leans to crowd pleasers such as a smoky milk-braised grilled pork, plenty of handmade pastas, and a brick chicken with seasonal vegetables ($15). “When you cook the chicken, you put a weight on it so all of the skin touches the pan,” says Troost. “And the whole thing crisps up.”

Things to Do

  1. Go to Mity Nice Grill (835 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-335-4745) on a Monday and get one of any ten entrées (baby back ribs, chicken pot pie, rigatoni with smoked chicken) for $10.
  2. Sign up for the three-step class at Erwin (2925 N. Halsted St.; 773-528-7200): Erwin Drechsler leads you on a tour of the Lincoln Park Farmers’ Market on Saturday morning (August 1st), teaches a cooking class on Monday night (August 3rd), and then follows it with a three-course wine dinner ($50) the same night.
  3. Check out this resource list of restaurants where kids can eat free on any given day.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Sloppy Jo’s Lunchroom (733 St. Johns Ave., Highland Park; 847-266-8687) will close at the end of July, but Debi Gordon, the owner, intends to reopen elsewhere on the North Shore in the spring . . . Smashburger is coming. . . José Victorio is the new chef at Between Boutique Café & Lounge (1324 N. Milwaukee Ave.). Radhika Desai, its former chef and Top Chef participant, has left to pursue a home cooking business. . . . Jilly’s Piano Bar (1007 N. Rush St.; 312-664-1001), that old Rush Street staple, has a new menu that includes burgers, pizzas, and sandwiches.