Southern Exposure

From the town of Whitesburg in the coalfields of eastern Kentucky and with an accent to match, Missy Crovetti brings a Southern influence to her new American restaurant, M (675 Central Ave., Highland Park; no phone yet), which is scheduled to open mid-July in the former Lincolnshire Gourmet space. Diners will select a meat, such as bone-in rib eye or Southern-fried chicken, and two sides, such as mashed potatoes, truffled Tater Tots, or seasonal vegetables. Filling out the menu, Crovetti and the chef, Brian Greene (Abigail’s, The Purple Pig), are developing appetizers such as crispy fried pimiento grits (“like little french fries,” Crovetti says) and desserts such as pound cake and cobbler with seasonal fruits. We’ll classify this restaurant under the confusing-sounding heading “North Shore Southern.” 


Our Cupcake Runneth Over

In other Highland Park news, the second of two across-the-street cupcake shops, Marla’s Sweet Bites (478 Central Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-4440) opened June 4. (The first was the two-month-old Turtle’s Cupcakes.) Marla Levitt, the eponymous owner, points out a couple of differences at her shop. For one, every cupcake has two fillings. Pucker Power, for example, is a lemon cake with fillings of both lemon curd and lemon buttercream. Another difference is that Levitt’s butter cream is made with Italian butter and cooked sugar, unlike most shops’ American butter- and confectioner’s-sugar-laced butter cream. Levitt also sells whoopie pies and cake pops, and she hopes to introduce confections such as English toffee from her onetime candy business, The Candy Lady Ltd. You know that fact about New Zealand having more sheep than people? It may be that way soon with Highland Park and cupcakes.


Eight Questions for Chris Pandel

Pandel, the chef/partner at The Bristol, joined with the Boka Restaurant Group this week to announce a partnership to remake Landmark as Balena (1633 N. Halsted St.; 312-587-1600), an Italian restaurant. They hope to open in the fall.
Dish: How did this partnership come about?
Chris Pandel: We started talking [to Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz] about three weeks to a month ago. Kind of slowly and then all of a sudden. We talked about a concept, and they loved it. It’s very much The Bristol’s second restaurant. They wanted good operators to go into the Landmark space.
D: When did you reach the agreement?
CP: Oh, a few days ago.
D: And that was it? Boom—the Boka Group closed Landmark?
CP: Yeah, the whole thing was very sudden.
D: So how will Balena differ from The Bristol? It’s significantly bigger, right?
CP: Yes. It will be a big, bustling restaurant. First and foremost, we will take reservations. [The Bristol doesn’t.] The philosophy behind the food is similar. [Balena’s is] definitely a back-to-scratch Italian menu.
D: Similar philosophy, different preparations?
CP: At The Bristol, we use a lot of French technique to cook our meat and what have you. At Balena, we will be using a lot of wood-fired implements. We have a wood-burning oven. We are purchasing a large wood-burning grill.
D: What will Balena’s menu look like?
CP: We will have a small section of antipasti and bruschette. Then we will have house-made pastas. We will do pizzas. More New York style than Neapolitan. We’re not going to do the pizzas out of a wood-burning oven; we’re going to do them out of a deck oven and then deliver pizzas after we get set up. A limited number each night. And then entrées will be very, very simply prepared meats and fish. Ninety-nine percent of them will come off that wood-burning grill. Of course, we will have nice vegetables—contorni—and side dishes to accompany said entrées.
D: Will your pastry chef be coming with you?
CP: Yes. Miss Amanda Rockman for desserts.
D: Will she come up with all new desserts for Balena?
CP: You better believe it.



“One laughs when joyous, sulks when angry, is at peace with the world when the stomach is satisfied.” —Hawaiian proverb


El Capitán

As we learned from The Stew, Andrew Brochu, who ran the Kith & Kin kitchen until its May closing, popped up at El (2419 W. 14th St.; 312-226-8144), the unconventional six-seat restaurant in the space where Phillip Foss preps his Meatyballs for their namesake food truck. Brochu had been planning to head the project formerly known as Table in Andersonville, but he was told by the would-be owner that the project is stalled out. “He said, ‘I would start looking for something [else] if I were you,’” Brochu says. So Foss, who had already approached Brochu about a guest stint at El, brought him on full-time. The two will prepare 11-course $111 tasting menus and bring out the food themselves (with the aid of former Lockwood front-of-house director Bill Talbott), Schwa-style, serving dinner Thursday through Saturday only. Although just a handful of people have eaten at the place—not to mention that the July 7 opening menu hasn’t been fully determined yet—he says El is booked through August. If we did our arithmetic right, that’s a total of 144 diners, also known as a slow night at Gibsons.


Explication de Texte

Although it hasn’t opened yet, Bistro Voltaire (226 W. Chicago Ave.; no phone yet) hired a new chef, Colin Beaumier. (The original chef, Claudine Hubert, returned to France to deal with a personal emergency and decided to remain there.) In the intellectual spirit of Voltaire, here are some quotations from Beaumier, with exegesis:
• “[Bistro Voltaire] is the bread and butter of really true, traditional, classic, awesome French food.” The food at Bistro Voltaire will hew to French tradition. Beaumier analogizes it to a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, which in its classic preparation is comfort food, evoking childhood. With unusual cheeses and different ingredients, it’s not.
• “My favorite ingredient is sincerity.” Food made with passion, Beaumier asserts, is superior to food made mechanically. A Burger King burger, he says, can’t compare with a burger made by your grandmother, who loves you.
• “We are doing a dessert with saffron ice cream. Someone raved about it and said, ‘That’s so innovative.’ But it came from an 1880s French cookbook.” Authenticity doesn’t mean predictability, Beaumier suggests.


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Things to Do

1. Grab a free chocolate chip cookie from the Cookie CAREavan on June 27. It rolls through town as part of a 10,000-mile tour sponsored by DoubleTree by Hilton (the hotel chain known for greeting guests with warm cookies). The sweetsmobile will be parked outside the Wrigley Building (410 N. Michigan Ave.) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

2. Learn to grill dishes—like scallops and watermelon—that’ll wow your Fourth of July guests, courtesy of the Mercadito chef Patricio Sandoval. Sandoval is hosting a Mexican barbecue cooking demonstration on June 27 from 6 to 9 p.m. in Mercadito’s subterranean lounge, Double A (108 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9555). For $55 (excluding tax and tip), you’ll watch the chef in action, chow down on five courses, and toss back four cocktails. Call 312-329-9555 to reserve your spot.

3. Kick back on the newly opened patio at Maria’s Packaged Goods & Community Bar (960 W. 31st St.; 773-890-0588), where every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m. they grill up Polish sausages, top them with kimchi, hand them out for free, and call it Korean Polish BBQ Monday.

4. Check out the Dish-approved foodie flick The Trip. The witty British comedy is currently showing at Landmark’s Century Centre Cinema.         


Dot Dot Dot . . .

On June 26, City Provisions adds Sunday brunch to its repertoire; June 28 kicks off full-service nighttime noshing (with booze). . . . Two Brothers Roundhouse will suds up Aurora’s dining scene when it opens Sunday. . . . As of Friday, brunch is served when contemporary a.m. emporium Brunch opens. . . . Forest Park wine shop HouseRed now bills itself a “vinoteca”; the owners have added a bar and lounge where they serve nibbles like croquettes and flatbreads and pour wines by the glass. . . . Monica Riley (Marigold, Hopleaf) is the new executive chef at LOKal, and she’s launched a summer menu that’s stocked with local goodness like Gunthorp Farms chicken wings. . . . Purveyor of healthful frozen kefir Starfruit Café joined the street cavalcade today with a mobile shop dubbed the Flat Belly Food Truck. Track the truck on Facebook or Twitter to get your frosty fix. . . . Scott Harris changed his mind about Francesca’s Forno (1676 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-770-0184): Previously marked to become a bruschetteria and wine bar called Panza, the restaurant will be remodeled under its original name, to reopen July 15. “Opening up all the windows on that corner,” Harris says. “Bring the bar up front to get a little more action. Revamp the menu. All new stuff.” He’s scouting other locations for Panza.