Welcome to the Rustic Belt

The chef Jason Paskewitz and his business partner, Ryan O’Donnell, already the owners of Gemini Bistro, are opening another venture in Lincoln Park in the late spring or early summer. “[O’Donnell] just went out to buy a Vespa because that’s what we are going to use to zip back and forth,” Paskewitz says. And it won’t be Gemini’s twin: Rustic House (1967 N. Halsted St.; no phone yet), in the former La Trattoria del Merlo space, will have a quieter ambiance and will be “more of a dining experience,” Paskewitz says. The menu will include rotisserie and wood-grilled meats; appetizers such as wood-grilled baby octopus with picholine olives, tomato confit, and charred greens; and pastas such as pappardelle with veal cheek ragù, pear tomatoes, and shaved pecorino. “It’s going to be whatever rustic American is,” Paskewitz says. He estimates prices of about $7 to $14 for appetizers and $18 to $26 for entrées, with the exception of the prime steaks. Whatever rustic American is, it sounds delicious.


Unexpected Treat

When we heard that Treat (1616 N. Kedzie Ave.; 773-772-1201) was closing on April 3rd, to be replaced by a sushi place called Roku, we thought, Bummer. However, Treat’s chef/owner, Tamiz Haiderali, cheered us up. “After Check, Please!, our business has grown so much that we can’t stay in this small place,” he says. “So we are looking for a bigger spot.” After a few months off, including a trip to Peru, Haiderali will start scoping out Logan Square, Bucktown, and Ukrainian Village for a new location, optimistically looking to reopen before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, 1616’s new tenant, Roku, will be a BYO and a sister restaurant to Noble Square’s Kyu Sushi. Kyu’s manager, Jake Cee, says the owner hopes Roku will open in mid-May after brief renovations. As for the menu, what works at Kyu will come along to Roku. Cee says, “It’s going to be a really, really tight menu. It’s going to be very . . . I can’t say anything else.” So instead of one crowded Indian restaurant, we’ll have one larger Indian restaurant and one sushi place. If only every closing we heard about turned out so well.


Keeping It Real

Real Kitchen (1433 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-281-2888) has some great resumés behind it. The chef, Nick Schmuck, was a saucier at Charlie Trotter’s. The sous chef, Shannon Dudas, was at North Pond. The pastry chef, Andrea C. Correa, has had stints at Trotter’s and El Bulli. So, of course, Real Kitchen’s specialty is . . . takeout. “It is going to be more of a café style,” Schmuck says. “The focus of the business during the day is going to be soups, salads, handmade sandwiches. At night, carryout food where everything is cold for you to heat up at home, like, say, Trotter’s To Go.” They plan to keep a dish on the menu only two or three days so that customers have fresh choices every time they visit. Now that fine-dining chefs have made it to takeout, we’d love to see what one could do at a 7-Eleven. We’re dying for a cherimoya-anise Big Gulp.



“It is no less difficult to write sentences in a recipe than sentences in Moby-Dick.”
—Annie Dillard
(1945–), American author


Five Questions for Paul Virant

Paul Virant announced four weeks ago that he would take over the kitchen at Perennial, which would be renamed Perennial Virant. He will continue to serve as the chef at Vie in Western Springs.

Dish: How did you wind up partnering with Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz of the Boka Group, which owns Perennial?

Paul Virant: It all happened really fast. We never stopped looking for a second spot. I did a charity event with Kevin a couple of years ago, and that’s how we met. I guess we’ve become friends over the last couple of years. After Ryan [Poli, the ex-Perennial chef] gave notice, Kevin called me within a day or two. So here we are. It’s a great fit for me.

D: When will the renovations be done?

PV: The goal is end of April, first of May, at the latest.

D: Do you have any other projects we should know about?

PV: I’m just about finished writing a book about preserving, with a coauthor [and friend of Chicago magazine], Kate Leahy. We have a contract with Ten Speed Press. Expected for spring of 2012.

D: What will the Perennial Virant menu look like?

PV: A frequently changing prix fixe menu. Small farmers have limited amounts of things. You can consistently get certain things weekly if you have a good relationship and give them plenty of warning. But with this prix fixe menu, [there might be] two appetizers, maybe a soup or salad, and a choice of two entrées and a dessert. A cheese course, maybe. I was thinking [about] the best way to say to a farmer: We want to work with you, and you need to let us know what you have or what you can supply us with. It’s going to work well for the farmer, and then obviously it will work well for our customers. The rest of the menu is kind of anything goes. Seven to 11 items. I do like the idea of signature items, and I have a few ideas that could kind of become that.

D: Can you give us a specific dish?

PV: The à la carte menu will contain dishes that are uniquely prepared and presented, but as far as a specific dish, I’d rather take a pass on that.


(McHenry) County Cork

After running The Wine Peddler in Algonquin with his father for 15 years, Bob De Palma is grafting his knowledge to the forthcoming wine bar and store Exclusively Napa (35 N. Williams St., Crystal Lake; 815-479-0770). Wines by the glass will range from about $5 to $20 and in three- or four-glass flights from $12 and up. The food menu will include charcuterie, flatbreads, and cheeses selected by Coleen Graham, a master fromagière with a degree from the University of Vermont. “I guess it’s called a degree in cheese,” De Palma says. The target opening for Exclusively Napa is May 1st. Until then, there’s always the real Napa, in California, which also happens to be exclusively Napa.


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(Charitable) Things to Do

1. Sit down for a pint at Bangers & Lace (1670 W. Division St.; 773-252-6499) any time through March 26th and order any draft marked with a red cross on the menu to donate a portion of the sale to the Red Cross’s disaster relief efforts in Japan.

2. Ask for the all-veggie Titanic BLT burger or soy-based Lucky Leprechaun shake before April 15th at Chicago Diner (3411 N. Halsted St.; 773-935-6696), and the restaurant will contribute $1 to aid for Japan. (Chicago Diner also will donate a buck from any sale of The Chicago Diner Cookbook.)

3. Help stock the pantries of the Greater Chicago Food Depository this Saturday, March 26th, from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at The Publican (837 W. Fulton Market; 312-733-9555), which repays each act of kindness with free snacks and beer, compliments of The Publican, Hannah’s Bretzel, and Three Floyds Brewing Co.


Dot Dot Dot . . .

Arrivederci to two Italian spots: Adesso, in Lake View, and Castel Gandolfo, which had a Margherita pie that made Chicago’s 2010 list of top pizzas. . . . Tour the Americas through the lens of encased meats at Hotdogeria (711 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-639-2976), now serving dogs topped with fixings inspired by a smattering of North and Latin American countries (and, of course, Chicago). . . . The Simple Sandwich truck will roll no more. As reported in Time Out Chicago, owner David Wojtonik sold it to 5411 Empanadas (a mobile source for Argentine empanadas) and is searching for a stationary space to focus on takeout. . . . The Bedford (1612 W. Division St.; no phone yet) will join Wicker Park’s bar-slash-restaurant club when it opens later this spring, with Mark Steuer (an alum of HotChocolate and The Gage) in the kitchen. . . . The Original Five BBQ (1030 W. Taylor St.; 312-929-2084), a barbecue joint in Little Italy, starts smothering its slabs and sandwiches with five different region-specific sauces (such as St. Louis style) on March 28th. . . . The James Beard Foundation announced the final nominees for its 2011 awards, and nine of Chicago’s restaurants, chefs, and restaurant owners are one step closer to a medallion, including Girl & the Goat (809 W. Randolph St.; 312-492-6262) for best new restaurant, Paul Kahan of Blackbird (619 W. Randolph St.; 312-715-0708) for outstanding chef, and Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises for outstanding restaurateur. . . . Michael Jordan returns to Chicago.