Seven Questions for Ian Schrager
Schrager bought the Ambassador East Hotel and its legendary restaurant, the Pump Room (1301 N. State Pkwy.; 312-787-3700), in April 2010. Yesterday, he announced his plans to reinvent the hotel as Public Chicago, with the Pump Room under the able leadership of the star chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Schrager filled in a few more details for us.
Dish: How will the Pump Room look?
Ian Schrager: The architecture is going to be maintained. Over the past 20 to 25 years, people have done things that made it different, and we are restoring it to the original. We’re always looking to the future, but we’re maintaining its dignity and its essence. We are very astute at balancing heritage and innovation.
D: Do you expect it to attract the celebrity wattage that made it famous?
IS: This whole hotel is really different from what I’ve done in the past. In the past, people might have labeled what I had done as being exclusive. Everything we are trying to do here is meant to be inclusive. We are trying to attract everybody and anybody who likes what we’ve done. Whether celebrities or young people or older people, we want everybody to enjoy it.
D: What does it mean that the new Pump Room will be like a Chicago version of Vongerichten’s ABC Kitchen?
IS: We are not coming to Chicago as a lot of New York people have come and fallen on their faces. We are coming to Chicago to try to do something that the people of Chicago will love and embrace. [It’s a] farm-to-table idea. ABC Kitchen in New York—which I really loved when I went there—it’s kind of simple food. Very basic. Straightforward. Creative. Original. What you would expect from Jean-Georges.
D: Given that Chicago didn’t really take to Jean-Georges when he collaborated with Lettuce Entertain You on Vong, why did you choose him as the chef?
IS: Completely different concept. Completely different time. Completely different point of view. We thought that Jean-Georges, given all the things we considered, was the best person. ABC Kitchen won [the James Beard award for] best new restaurant in the country. It’s a pleasure to bring that to Chicago. . . . It’s not comfort food, but it’s simple, straightforward, fundamental, no tricks. It’s very tasteful, and the same goes for the hotel, by the way. Which is why I wanted to do this with Jean-Georges—the same kind of thing we are trying to do in the hotel. Straightforward. No tricks.
D: Will there be live music at night?
IS: No. No dance floor. Nothing like that. It’s just a restaurant. That’s the focus of it. The idea with music . . . I think everything that is offered there has been thought out through and through. [We’re making] an effort to be original. Not taking things off the shelf. Nothing out of the catalog. Everything has been rethought because it’s launching a brand.
D: So there will be more Publics?
IS: Yes. The brand is being launched in Chicago. This is the first of what we hope will be several.
D: When do you expect it to open?
IS: We are opening on September 12 with everything ready.
I Now Pronounce You Man and Restaurant
Zak Dich—he pronounces it “deesh”—spent a year acquiring the former DeLaCosta space for a big restaurant and bar. Quay (465 E. Illinois St.; no phone yet)—he pronounces it “kway”—will seat 125 in the main dining room, where steaks, chops, pot roast, tuna, salmon, tilefish, and other American fare will run from $12 to $30 per entrée. Two bars, in front and in back, will hold more than 300 and serve sandwiches and appetizers. Befitting the name, dock space at the back of the building will allow boaters to tie up. Dich hopes to open June 15. He hasn’t named his chef yet, but as soon as he does, your ever-vigilant Dish reporters will tell you how to pronounce his or her name.
“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.”
—Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), English author
The Curious Case of Benjamin Brittsan
After breaking into the food business at Brasserie T with Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand, then working in country clubs, Benjamin Brittsan now strikes out on his own with his namesake restaurant Benjamin (1849 2nd St., Highland Park; no phone yet), a North Shore fine-dining spot scheduled to open the week of July 1. The summer menu includes baked local goat cheese and piquillo peppers with honey, oranges, and crostini; whitefish with hazelnuts, fig mostarda, and brown butter; and handmade gnocchi with wild mushrooms, summer truffles, and pea shoots. Diners can also order Kobe-style beef to be seared at the table on a hot brick of Himalayan rock salt. There will be live jazz on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. “Another part of our ambiance is that we decided to define the cooking by also putting it into our décor,” Brittsan says. Huh? “Old World rustic with a little bit of contemporary flair.” Oh. That’s more normal than what we pictured.
Courting New Food
As its expected mid-July opening approaches, the restaurant replacing the food court at Old Orchard Mall in Skokie is coming into focus. Wilde & Greene Restaurant + Natural Market (Westfield Old Orchard, 4999 Old Orchard Center, Skokie; 847-674-7070) will comprise 18 open-kitchen food stations, including stir-fry, Indonesian bami, and seafood (lobster on weekends!), as well as a 6,000-square-foot 8,000-item grocery store. “There is nothing more fun than watching blueberries being put in a piece of European equipment and seeing blueberry gelato coming out the other end,” says Matt Williams, the CEO and president of Wilde & Greene, which owns several restaurants in Canada. “We are well known in Ontario for very good handmade muffins,” Williams says. “We will be looking to sell 600 to 1,000 muffins a day.” It’s a lot more ambitious than Panda Express and Sbarro. “We are trying to make this an exciting place to dine as well as shop,” says Deborah Mattes, the mall’s senior general manager. She hopes Wilde & Greene will be open for the post-theatre crowd, which we guess would make this the story of a mall and the night visitors.
Still on track to open June 21, Tribute (Essex Inn, 800 S. Michigan Ave.; no phone yet) has a new chef: Lawrence Letrero, previously the executive sous-chef under Brandon Baltzley. (Baltzley tweeted earlier this week that he was headed to rehab. Best wishes, Brandon.) Letrero had been collaborating with Baltzley, so the menu will retain a two-pronged structure, with approachable items, such as a patty melt, targeted to tourists, across the street in Grant Park, as well as dishes designed to appeal to foodies. Letrero cites a duck roulade with kale, apricots, and plums as an example. Although he’s excited about the promotion, Letrero can’t be happy about his friend’s troubles landing him there. “It’s bittersweet,” he says. “For me, the focus always [should be] the food. We will let the food speak for itself.”
Two Chickpeas in a Pod
The expansion of Falafill promised early last year has begun. The owners, Maher Chebaro and Nemer Ziyad, signed a lease yesterday for the build-your-own-pita spot’s second location, in downtown Oak Park (1053 Lake St., Oak Park; no phone yet). They hope to open in three months. Chebaro also announced a monthly special for the Chicago location (3202 N. Broadway Ave.; 773-525-0052), where $1 from each sale of a chef-designed falafel wrap will go to charity. For June, Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat) contributed a Brussels sprouts salad with a yuzu aïoli to benefit Share Our Strength. July’s wrap will come from Mark Steuer (The Bedford) for Green City Market, and August’s from Chuy Valencia (Chilam Balam) for Latino Scholarship Fund.
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On the Blog
• Ian Schrager’s plans for the Ambassador East and The Pump Room go into high def.
Things to Do
1. Fill your cupboard and your recipe collection with luxe finds from the foodcentric new website Gilt Taste, where you’ll discover foods and cooking tools for sale, as well as personal stories and recipes from culinary powerhouses like former L2O chef Laurent Gras.
2. Be the first to try new seasonal treats from Katherine Anne Confections, at a preview party on June 2 from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. held in the sweets-maker’s private production space (2745 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-727-3248). For $20, you’ll sample soon-to-be-released morsels like orange fleur de sel caramels and strawberry rhubarb crisp truffles, and wash them down with paired wine selections from Lush Wine & Spirits. RSVP via e-mail.
3. Feed your carnivorous tendencies at Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush (437 N. Rush St.; 312-222-0101) with a three-course prix fixe dinner offered every night in June. The $45 (not including tax and gratuity) meal includes a calamari and baby octopus appetizer, an eight-ounce filet mignon, and a thin-sliced pineapple with ginger-grapefruit scent and mango gelato for dessert.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Protein Bar is bulking up its presence by launching a second location (352 N. Clark St.; 312-527-0450) on June 1 at 7 a.m. . . . After a stint in Atlanta, Erin Mooney (Green Zebra, HotChocolate) brought her culinary skills back to Chicago, where she joined the Leopold crew as sous-chef. . . . Lincoln Park (the park) has a new dining choice: The Patio at Café Brauer (2021 N. Stockton Dr.; 312-742-2000) will open Friday at 11 a.m., luring parkgoers with cocktails, casual American eats, and sighworthy views. . . . And on the subject of open-air noshing, the revamped Italian spot Bice (Talbott Hotel, 10 E. Delaware Pl.; 312-951-8900) debuts today with a sprawling 125-seat outdoor piazza. . . . The Burger Philosophy (1545 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.; 773-944-0373), a new counter-service joint in Andersonville, is set to open on May 30.
Dish is running away with the spoon for Memorial Day next week. The next newsletter will hit your inbox on June 8.