Chicago’s city council repealed the infamous two-year-old foie gras ban on Wednesday by a vote of 37 to 6, thus ending one of the stranger episodes in local politics. Alderman Tom Tunney (44th ward), along with cosponsors Emma Mitts (37th) and Bernard Stone (50th), introduced the repeal with no debate, reportedly over the strenuous objections of Joe Moore (49th), who, according to the Sun-Times, said it would be “the first time in my 17 years on the city council that a matter was discharged from committee without a hearing. . . . Repealing an ordinance passed by a 48-to-1 vote just two years ago deserves at least a hearing.”
Local chefs rejoiced at the prospect of serving fattened duck or goose liver again. “I can’t wait to get it back on my menu,” said Rick Tramonto (Tru, Osteria di Tramonto, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood), who became a poster child for foie gras. “I’ve had so many people making pilgrimages up to our places [in Wheeling] to eat it. Now everyone’s going to eat it—some just for the novelty factor. And since people are more educated about the farms, it’s great. . . . I’m thrilled that everyone kept fighting to get the ban overturned.” Sweets & Savories (1534 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-6778) near DePaul has already announced a six-course, $75 foie gras dinner on May 22nd, and Pastoral is doing free foie gras tastings all day Saturday (May 17th) at both its locations (2945 N. Broadway St., 773-472-4781; 53 E. Lake St.; 312-658-1250).
Sheila O’Grady, the president of the Illinois Restaurant Association, immediately released a defiant statement commending Tunney for his role, and reiterated her organization’s stance that menu decisions are best left to restaurant operators “rather than being dictated by government.” The original ban, which Tramonto called “a mark on Chicago” and Mayor Daley referred to as the “silliest ordinance that was ever passed,” certainly made a statement worldwide. “Didn’t Chicago make its reputation by slaughtering livestock, gangsters, and innocent bystanders?” asked Alan Richman, the always-outspoken food writer for GQ and Bon Appétit, who found the ban ridiculous. “I always thought it odd that the only living creatures the city cared about were ducks.”
“A cucumber should be well-sliced, dressed with pepper and vinegar, and then thrown out.” –Samuel Johnson (1709-84), English writer
It’s safe to say a lot of cash is being poured into Ajasteak (pronounced “Asia Steak”), the Kobe-minded steak house opening June 8th in the new Dana Hotel and Spa (660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050). “We modeled it after what Nobu (the modern Japanese standout in 14 cities worldwide) would be if they opened a steak house,” says Lynn Saathoff, chef/partner of the Greenwich, Connecticut–based cb5 Restaurant Group. Ajasteak will get its beef directly from Japan’s Kobe region (courtesy of local beef suppliers Allen Brothers) and will serve it in filets ($18 per ounce), strips ($12 per ounce), and yakitoris ($14 per ounce). “But Kobe is not everybody’s choice, because it’s so rich,” says Saathoff. “It’s like eating foie gras.” So the menu—masterminded by a team that has put in time at Morimoto, Union Square Cafe, Buddakan, and dozens of other high-profile spots—will also include prime beef and wagyu. (Not to mention sushi and sake.) Other bonuses: an outdoor patio, massive two-story windows, and some kind of cantilevered “floating” sushi bar.
We’re salivating over Epic Burger (517 S. State St.; 312-913-1373), a 75-seat fast casual spot from David Friedman (Blackhawk Lodge) opening May 16th. The menu consists of two burgers, three sandwiches, fresh-cut fries seasoned with sea salt, and little else. Epic burgers ($6), which are fresh ground, hand-packed, and cooked fresh to order, come with handcrafted Wisconsin Cheddar, horseradish Havarti, or buttermilk blue cheese. “The emphasis is on all-natural meat and no artificial preservatives or artificial ingredients,” says Friedman, who gave Epic the tagline “A more mindful burger.” “This is my take on a classic hamburger place, but an updated version,” he says. “It’s a burger place for the new millennium.”
Mana from Heaven?
Coming this summer is MANA Food Bar (1742 W. Division St.; 773-342-1742), a 32-seat globally inspired vegetarian spot from Jill Barron and Susan Thompson (Sushi Wabi and De Cero). “Jill and I felt we were starting to eat this way, so we developed the menu from that,” says Thompson. “It’ll be roughly 12 hot dishes and 12 cold, in tapas and regular size. Some pastas. A French-inspired onion tart. A Moroccan tagine. A Japanese dengaku. It’s not going to seem like fake meat—it’s just going to be dishes that are meatless. Like at Green Zebra.” The name MANA, Thompson says, refers to a Polynesian term for the life force of nature. Sounds promising.
A Conversation with Jerrod and R. J. Melman
The brothers are owners of the soon-to-open HUB 51 (51 W. Hubbard St.; 312-828-0051) and sons of the legendary restaurateur Rich Melman.
D: How would you describe the food at HUB 51?
JM: It’s food that we like to go out to eat. There’s going to be burgers, a sushi component, and a big Mexican component.
D: That’s a lot of components.
JM: It is, but there’s a common style that runs through all the food. It’s kind of West Coast leaning; it’s got that rusticness. A little Napa Valley. Not very fussy. No foams, no emulsions.
D: Who is your exec chef?
RJM: Michael Bellovich. He was with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises off and on for ten years. We also have Brendan Sodikoff, who worked for Alain Ducasse right out of culinary school, then worked with Thomas Keller for four years.
D: What’s this dessert concept we heard about?
RJM: When we go out, we’re never in the mood to sit around for a big dessert. So we are doing desserts that you can take with you. The whole point of Hub is a social experience. You can take your dessert and kind of walk around with it.
D: Did you guys always know that you would go into the restaurant business?
RJM: I thought I would go into legal or political work until I was 17 and I started cooking. I fell into the business and it’s turned into a career. But when I wanted to buy a camera when I was seven, my parents told me that I needed to get a job to pay for the camera, so I hosted at Ed Debevic’s two days a week.
JM: I’d worked in the restaurants since I was 10. Toward the end of college, I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer, a doctor. I went to my dad: “This is what I think I want to do.” Seems silly to pass up an opportunity to learn from him.
Things to Do
- Fly first class or business class from Chicago to Delhi on American Airlines and eat dishes developed by Maneet Chauhan, the executive chef of Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060). (As of June 1st)
- Reserve your spot at the 16th annual Great Chefs Tasting Party May 30th at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers (301 E. North Water St.). Your $100 includes dinner from more than two dozen local standouts, cocktails, and a chance to participate in a silent auction benefiting the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Greater Chicago.
- Watch the nauseous waiters, who might look familiar.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Dudley Nieto, (Adobo Grill, Xel-Ha, Zapatista), who may be forced to have the word “peripatetic” permanently affixed to his name, is masterminding Eivissa, a two-story tapas/pintxos restaurant opening next month in Old Town (1531 N. Wells St.; 312-929-2951). . . . Pepitone’s (5437 N. Broadway) phone is disconnected and its Edgewater space boarded up. . . . Viaggio Ristorante & Lounge (1330 W. Madison St.; 312-829-3333), a casual Italian spot, has opened in the West Loop. . . . Sunda, an ambitious Asian restaurant from the owners of Rockit and designed by Tony Chi, plans to bow this fall at 110 West Illinois Street. . . . Great hidden treasure of a coffee bar: the vintage-Italian-meets-rockabilly Ventrella’s Caffé (4947 N. Damen Ave.; 773-506-0708), which took a real hit when the Damen Brown Line construction began.