“About a year ago I made the decision that we had outgrown what we were doing,” says Eric Larson, the owner of Marion Street Cheese Market (100 S. Marion St., Oak Park; 708-848-2088). So Larson moved the market across the street into a 4,200-square-foot space, which houses a retail gourmet shop, a “cheese-centric” 60-seat Euro-style deli and restaurant, a 30-seat wine bar, and ten cheesemongers on staff. The countertops come from recycled glass, and the chairs from reclaimed car-seat belts. “It’ll be a lot of tapas-style dishes, charcuterie, house-made pâtés, and cured meats,” says Larson, whose chef, Michael Pivoney, is the former corporate chef of The Signature Room. And in the old space across the train tracks (101 N. Marion St.): a butcher shop focusing on organic local products. Target opening for everything is the first week of July.
7 Questions for Stephanie Izard
A hometown hero, Izard last week became the first female “Top Chef.”
D: We know your best moment from the experience. What was the worst?
SI: So many. When you are on the chopping block, when judges say negative things. There was a time when I thought I was going home. The children’s challenge [for Art Smith’s Common Threads].
D: Everyone wants to know: When you closed Scylla, did you know about “Top Chef”?
SI: I wouldn’t sell a restaurant to go on a TV show. The timing just worked and made it feel as though it was meant to be.
D: You said you thought it was crazy to be judged on a dessert as well as on the savory courses. But don’t you think a “Top Chef” should be able to do it all?
SI: I shouldn’t have second-guessed myself about dessert. [If I could do it again] I would have made the ricotta pound cake, but would’ve tried to keep it simpler and more elegant. My brain started going crazy.
D: How did you feel hearing the judges dis your dishes?
SI: I love [“Top Chef” judge] Gail [Simmons] to death, but that was a little rough. I’m a perfectionist and would have loved to win with a perfect meal. I hear her say that time and time again in my head.
D: Had you ever used braised pistachios before, like you did in the lamb dish?
SI: I had them on the menu at Scylla often. I didn’t realize that was such an exciting thing. Everyone seemed so blown away.
D: How far ahead of the airing of the final show did you know you had won?
SI: About three weeks. It was hard [to keep the secret]. Some [contestants] called their families right away. I made it a game, tried to convince people that it didn’t go very well. I said things like, “I did the best I could.”
D: We hear you’re scouting the downtown area for a new restaurant. How much of Scylla will show up in your new spot?
SI: You will definitely recognize my style of cooking. That won’t change. It will be a little different. I will adapt to the space. Still want a cozy space but I probably won’t buy a 120-year-old house again.
“The alimentary canal is 32 feet long. You control only the first three inches of it. Control it well.” –Kin Hubbard (1868-1930), American cartoonist and journalist
L’Eiffel Bistrot & Crêperie (100 W. Higgins Rd.; South Barrington) will anchor a massive “lifestyle center” opening in the northwest suburbs this October. The 270-seat spot comes from Frank Ferru, the Nice-born owner of La Petite Crêperie & Bistrot (115 N. Johnson St., Woodstock; 815-337-0765). “Everywhere I go [for lunch], there are sandwiches,” says Ferru, a former waiter, bartender, and golf pro. “I think it is heavy for lunchtime. Crêpes are filling but they are light.” L’Eiffel’s made-from-scratch gourmet fillings will include beef bourguignon, chicken ratatouille with goat cheese, and cream of pesto with tiger shrimp, salmon, and bay scallops. And, being French and all, Ferru promises a great wine list.
He Said It
“Our ribs are a little different. After you smoke a baby back rib, it might be a little fragile and you would have to cook it as a whole slab. But our St. Louis ribs are so substantial that you can cut them into individual bones and they hold their shape instead of falling off the bone. So we char-grill them on all four sides. You don’t run into that too often.” –Slavko Grod, GM/owner of Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ (6523 W. 127th St., Palos Heights; 708-489-1800), a four-month-old mostly takeout barbecue spot
A trusted FOD recently went to Chocolate Grape (2113 W. Division St.; 773-772-3990), a new wine/cheese/chocolate café, and had none too kind things to say about the experience: “The meat-and-cheese plate was super-flawed. The ‘meats’ were fatty and chewy; the cheeses embarrassingly basic. The specialty, ‘homemade bread’ with assorted toppings—ours had feta and olives—was practically tasteless. And the servers were clueless. . . . People are suckers for this stretch of Division. You could open a Pabst Blue Ribbon–and-white-bread shack and, if it had a patio, they would come.” Ouch.
The offerings at HUB 51 (51 W. Hubbard St.; 312-828-0051), opening by the end of June, include sushi, tacos, burgers, homemade turkey jerky, organic tea, and fresh-dipped ice-cream bars. You know, all the major food groups.
Four Big Openings This Week
• June 16th: Ajasteak (Dana Hotel and Spa, 660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050), an extravagant spot dedicated to Kobe beef
• June 16th: Soul (1 Walker Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-920-1999), the long-awaited regional American spot from Bill Kim (Le Lan)
• June 20th: Perennial (1800 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-981-7070), the latest creation from Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz (Boka, Landmark)
• June 20th: C-House (Affinia Hotel, 166 E. Superior St.; 312-523-0923), Marcus Samuelsson’s ode to the sea
Kid-Friendly Things to Do
- Take advantage of Kids’ Restaurant Week (June 21st–28th), sponsored by Cookie and Gourmet magazines. Various restaurants, including Frontera Grill, Zealous, Vie, Prairie Grass Cafe, and Lula Cafe, will offer discount menus before 6:30 p.m.; kids 11 and under pay their age and adults pay $20.08. A dollar from each meal goes to Green City Market.
- Go to Harry Caray’s Tavern (3551 N. Sheffield Ave.; 773-327-7800) on a Sunday, when children ten and under eat free all day long.
- Tell your children the true story of the three bears—in Romania.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Get thee to chicagomag.com and check out our newest feature, Front Burner. It’s the first video in a series of great local chefs in their kitchens, showing you how to make easy dishes. This month, Graham Elliot Bowles (Graham Elliot, 217 W. Huron St.; 312-624-9975) demos his halibut BLT. . . . Tree Top Room (1141 W. Armitage Ave.), the new white-tablecloth restaurant upstairs from P.J. Clarke’s in Lincoln Park, has already closed for restructuring. (So, incidentally, has P.J. Clarke’s.) We are told both will reopen. . . . Jerseys Pizza & Grill (2360 Lakewood Blvd., Hoffman Estates; 847-765-0085) plans to draw a line down the middle of its restaurant during the upcoming Cubs/Sox interleague series (June 20th to 22nd and June 27th to 29th). “People who choose to cross that line do so at their own risk,” says the owner, Gregg Majewski.