The Truth Is Out There
By now, news of the trouble at Le Français (269 S. Milwaukee Rd., Wheeling; 847-541-7470) has appeared everywhere-but does the closing, due to a small electrical fire, really spell the end for the restaurant? The owner, Mike Moran, claims Le Français will reopen. When? “That’s up to the contractors,” he says. “But I imagine it will be a relatively short period of time.” We want to believe him, but other signs are slightly more ominous. When we asked chef Roland Liccioni what happened, he said, “[Moran] told me he was closing because he wasn’t making it.” Liccioni has already had offers for other jobs in Chicago, but plans to wait. “I need to see what it is before I make any decision,” he says. “This is the first time [in my 30-year experience] anyone closed the doors just like that.” 

A Conversation with Chris Jones, 26, exec chef of Moto’s upcoming mirror-image comfort-food restaurant, Otom (pronounced “autumn”; 951 W. Fulton Mkt.; 312-491-5804), opening July 11th two doors down from Moto

D: Where are you from?
CJ: Fort Lauderdale. Been in Chicago since high school. Grayslake. I’ve been at Moto a little bit over a year and a half.

D: What is your background?
CJ: I never went to a culinary school. I started as a dishwasher at Max & Erma’s in Gurnee in high school, and I was lucky enough to meet a gentleman who introduced me to a chef at Le Français, Don Yamauchi. I worked at Le Français almost two years, then followed Yamauchi and Eric Aubriot to Fuse as a sous-chef.

D: How did Otom come about?
CJ: I was finishing my front-of-house stint at Moto, about six months ago, and Homaro [Cantu, Moto’s chef] says he has this project for me. “I would like you to be the exec chef of this [new] restaurant.” I was stunned.

D: Is Cantu going to oversee Otom?
CJ: This is my menu, my kitchen. Homaro is always there to help me out.

D: What dish are you most excited about?
CJ: I like to have fun with food. For example, if you were to have macaroni and cheese, I like to take that and combine it with lasagne to create a macaroni and cheese lasagne.

D: Sounds heavy.
CJ: You are definitely going to leave full. When people go out to eat, they want to leave stuffed. Definitely not a tasting menu. We will have lighter things on the menu, too, like olive oil–poached salmon in an orange citrus broth.

D: Will the prices be similar to Moto’s?
CJ: No. Appetizers will range from $6 to $12; $14 to $25 for entrées.

All Aboard the Gastropub Bandwagon
English (444 N. LaSalle St.; 773-832-4000), opening later this month in a stand-alone building in River North, is the latest to join the likes of Paramount Room, The Gage, and Hopleaf. This one is a major undertaking by Eat Well Drink Better Inc. (Bar Celona) that includes three levels of terra cotta, cast-iron bars, giant chandeliers, and walnut flooring. French doors open onto LaSalle, and giant windows boast a view of the skyline. And the food? The chefs, described by publicist David Mitria as “Andrew and Mick” (he didn’t know their last names), plan to offer a fish and chips bar. “Everything is topnotch and high-end,” says Mitria. “Service, food, and atmosphere are what is going to set us apart.” Obviously-we wouldn’t expect anything else from Andrew and Mick.

“Serve the dinner backward, do anything-but for goodness’ sake, do something weird.” –Elsa Maxwell (1883-1963), American writer, TV personality, and supposed inventor of the scavenger hunt

Total Lombardment
In addition to the quartet of openings at Lombard’s Yorktown Center that we reported on a few weeks back (Adobo Grill, Harry Caray’s, Holy Mackerel!, Brio Tuscan Grille), a 100-seat offshoot of D.O.C. Wine Bar (2602 N. Clark St.; 773-883-5101) is scheduled to open at the end of summer, too. How did the Lincoln Park lounge get in on the action? D.O.C. partner Doug Dunlay (Frasca, Smoke Daddy, Dunlay’s) says that the developer, Bob Long, was specifically searching for a wine bar and handpicked D.O.C. for the space. “It’s a fantastic location with a density of traffic, office space, and convention space,” says Dunlay. Expect outdoor seating, more than 30 wines by the glass, small plates, entrées, and panini.

Small, Smaller, Smallest Dishes
V.I.C.E. (840 W. Randolph St.; 312-733-3379), an “amuse-bouche boutique,” has its soft opening on June 6th. The name stands for “Vivo Ice Cream Emporium” (it’s next door to the West Loop Italian stalwart Vivo), but chef Christopher Laramie (Everest, MK) serves dishes like pancetta-wrapped quail and Kobe steak and eggs. Dan Krasny, the owner (and a founder of Marché and Red Light), plans to open V.I.C.E. in the afternoon and keep it open late. “We want to serve the after-lunch/pre-dinner and after-dinner crowd,” he says. “We’ll compete with hotel lobby bars and offer a very delicate bite-size menu.” Funny, Krasny never mentioned ice cream once.

Things to Do
1. Go on June 11th for the inaugural Monday-night “Dinner and a Movie” on the patio at Chicago Firehouse (1401 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-786-1401). It’s a three-course, $60 meal, and the first film is Casablanca. Sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
2. Check out New York Slices (1843 Second St., Highland Park; 847-432-6979), claims to be the only authentic NYC-style pizzeria in the Chicago area. And, boasts the Web site, “Every employee is handsomely modest, charismatic, and full of wit!” So you know they’re not prone to exaggeration.
3. Watch Paul Virant of Vie (4471 Lawn Ave., Western Springs; 708-246-2082) on NBC’s Today Show on June 7th, when he will participate in a live cooking face-off against past Food & Wine best new chef winners, including Rick Bayless (Topolobampo).

Dot Dot Dot . . .
Graze (35 W. Ontario St.), a small-plates spot with only six months of business under its belt in River North, has closed. “I thought we were doing a good job and that things would get better,” says chef Bob Zrenner, who was shocked. “But I don’t know everything. I’m just in the back cooking the food.” . . . Sarah’s Pastries & Candies (11 E. Oak St.; 312-664-6223) is moving down the street to 70 East Oak Street in July. . . . Whiskey Bar & Grill (1015 N. Rush St.; 312-475-0300) has hooked up with chef Richard Sandoval, a pioneer of modern Mexican cuisine, and will open a redesigned Gold Coast space with a Latino tone. . . . Cool Mirchi (814 E. Nerge Rd., Roselle; 630-529-0999), a self-proclaimed “trendy” Indian restaurant in the west suburbs, has opened. . . Coming soon: Exposure Tapas Supper Club (1313 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-662-1060), a 15,000-square-foot Spanish spot from chef David Wennerlyn (O’Donovan’s, Café Med), in late June.