Next Gig

Giuseppe Scurato (formerly of Boka and MK), who recently parted ways with Fox & Obel, has joined forces with Branco Palikuca (owner of Amber Cafe, 13 N. Cass Ave., Westmont; 630-515-8080) to open Topaz (780 Village Center Driveway, Burr Ridge; 630-654-1616), a 150-seat contemporary American place in a new shopping center. “It should be ready to open by the beginning of April,” says Scurato, whose plans to open his own place are still on hold. “Most of our ingredients will be organic. We’re not going to try and reinvent the wheel; we don’t want to scare people off with crazy ideas.” So what happened at Fox & Obel? “It was mutual,” he says. “I was ready to move on, and honestly, I love the restaurant business. That’s what I do. It’s strange. Chefs might complain about hours, work too hard, spend too much time with our line cooks and not enough with our families—but in the end, we always go back.”


“I want some American food, dammit! I want french fries!” –Paul Dooley, American actor (b. 1928), from the film Breaking Away (1979)

Early Returns

Mike Nagrant, of, one of our top FODs, dined at Mercat a La Planxa (638 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-765-0524)—the promising Spanish restaurant in the Blackstone Hotel—on its opening night, and loved it. “Service was great, and the rabbit agnolotti was one of the best dishes I had this year,” he says. (FYI: He’s eaten a lot of dishes this year.) “And the valet actually knew about the entire menu from pre-opening meals they had. Definitely exciting.


Shinobu (1131 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.; 773-334-9062), a 30-seat Edgewater BYO near the Bryn Mawr el stop, opened quietly at the end of 2007. Korn Karnsakul, the Thai-born sushi maker who worked previously at Wakamono (3317 N. Broadway; 773-296-6800), talks big about the salmon skin salad. “It’s avocado and crispy deep-fried skin with daikon sprouts, masago, and spicy sauce all mixed up together,” Karnsakul says. “And we have plenty of good tuna: albacore, super white tuna, fatty tuna. [If I were a customer] I would order simple white tuna sashimi. I love tuna. I eat it every day.”

Worst Press Release Lead of the Week

“Are you preparing any stories about green beverages as a welcomed alternative to typical green beer for St. Patrick’s Day?” –from a rep for Plymouth Gin, pushing something called a “Plymouth Express”

A Word About Pie

“It’s a trend right now in New York and L.A., sort of like that cupcake craze. The movie Waitress came out. Ellen DeGeneres gave everyone on her show some pie. Brides are doing mini pies at weddings. But we decided there were really no great pies in Chicago, so we flipped the store in November and brought the pies to the front. We do four-inch-diameter mini pies. Blueberries and sour cherries from Michigan in season, peaches in August. Added Parisian macaroons. Muffins. Mini quiches.” –Mikel Laughlin, a partner of PIE (615 N. State St.; 312-642-4192), which opened in Epoch, a high-end River North floral design firm, last summer. Friday (March 14th) will be “free coffee day” at PIE from 7 a.m. until noon.

Real Simple

“I want to work in an atmosphere where people love coming to work,” says Debbie Karhanek, who has managed restaurants (Blue Mesa, Harry Caray’s, Brasserie T) for much of her adult life. So, last month she opened SimpleGourmet (1459 Elmwood Ave., Evanston; 847-332-2100), a small specialty goods store where everything is made from scratch. “The ‘everyday’ menu remains the same: nine sandwiches, four wraps, and seven salads,” Karhanek says. “We have a panini and two homemade soups every day, made from homemade stocks. And the best peanut butter cookie in the world, plus my potato chip cookie, basically a pecan shortbread with crushed potato chips. . . . I believe food should be simple and clean and good. And made with heart.”  

Things to Do

  1. Make an edible book for Columbia College Chicago’s 9th Annual Edible Books Show & Tea by March 28th, and get in free to the event on April 1st. Per the release, “It can look like a book, it can act like a book, it can be a pun on a book, but the only rule is that it must be edible!” Once voting is over for best in show and other winners, all books are eaten. (Admission $10 without edible book; Columbia College Library, 3rd Floor, 624 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-344-6630)
  2. Tune in, with the rest of us, to the Chicago-based season premiere of “Top Chef,” tonight at 9:00 on Bravo. Wonder, with the rest of us, if Tom Colicchio has a personality.
  3. Watch the greatest beef jerky commercial of all time.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Restaurant Charlie, Charlie Trotter’s long-awaited seafood spot in The Palazzo (3325 S. Las Vegas Blvd., casino level; Las Vegas, Nevada), has opened. Trotter shares the marquee with Batali, Lagasse, and Puck, all of whom also have restaurants in Vegas’s newest luxury hotel/casino. . . . Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.), a Southern spot in Andersonville, has set April 9th as its opening day. . . . Billy Berk’s, after less than two years in business in Skokie’s Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center, has closed. . . . The White Chocolate Grill, a contemporary American restaurant with spots in Arizona and Nevada, has opened in Naperville (1803 Freedom Dr.; 630-505-8300). . . . Berry Chill (635 N. State St.; 312-266-2445), an all-natural “yogurt couture” shop from a trader named Michael Farah, is opening on March 14th. Barhoppers, note: It’s open till 4 a.m on weekends. . . . Sweet Occasions, the Andersonville sweet shop that has expanded to Lincoln Square and Edgewater, has an outpost in the works in Roscoe Village.