Truck Stop Gourmet
Jason Paskewitz (J.P. Chicago, Wave), who has been planning River North’s Jackson Park Bar and Grill for ages—now slated for mid-January—is also launching The 621 Diner (621 E. Roosevelt Rd.; Lombard), an old-fashioned Route 66 diner, on December 10th. “Just for fun, we are opening before Jackson Park,” he says. “It’ll be breakfast all day, like truck-stop blue-plate specials: burgers and milk shakes and patty melts and cakes that are like 18 inches high in a round rotating glass display. Just good roadside food.” Paskewitz won’t do the cooking at the 125-seat spot, but will “check up on it” a couple of times a week.
Homage. . .
Omaggio (1639 Orrington Ave., Evanston; 847-570-0500), the latest Evanston opening from Robert LaPata (La Petite Amelia, Über Burger), sounds like fun. For starters, it’s got an antipasto bar/oven/pizza-making station in the middle of the restaurant. “When you sit down at the bar, there will be antipasti laid out, and Dimitri will interact with you, entertain you,” says LaPata. “Like a sushi bar.” Dimitri? “He’s this artist from Bulgaria,” LaPata says. “We put an ad in the paper for a pizza bar tender—as in a pizza bar—and he walked in off the street one day. He is one of the most passionate people I have ever met about pizza.”
The rest of the menu, by chef Greg Mistak (Petite Amelia), ranges from pumpkin gnocchi with sage brown butter and biscotti and amaretto shaved over it to milk- braised pork shoulder.
. . . And Fromage
“We have the deli connected to Omaggio,” LaPata says. “A traditional salumeria. Meats and cheese by the pound. We will do about eight different kinds of deli sandwiches and antipasto salads. Olives, things like that.”
Demera (4801 N. Broadway; 773-334-8787), an ambitious Ethiopian spot across the street from the Green Mill, opens on November 19th, joining four other Ethiopian restaurants on North Broadway [Ras Dashen, Ethiopian Diamond, Queen of Sheba, and Abyssinia]. “The demand is growing, growing, growing, for Ethiopian restaurants,” says Demera’s owner, Girmai Lemma. “Very soon we are going to [call] this part of Broadway ‘Little Ethiopia.’” This one has classics like doro wat (lemon-marinated chicken stewed in berbere sauce and served with onions, garlic, and ginger; $12), but also sesame firfir. “We roast the sesame and mix with onion, tomato, garlic, and ginger, and put it over injera,” explains Lemma’s wife, chef Tigist Reda. “And we lace it with green pepper.” And, coffee lover’s alert: Demera also roasts its own Ethiopian coffee beans.
“What I love about cooking is that after a hard day, there is something comforting about the fact that if you melt butter and add flour and then hot stock, it will get thick! It’s a sure thing!” –Nora Ephron (b. 1941), American writer
Devil’s Night Out
“We do nine different gourmet pizzas with a brick Earthstone oven,” says Edgar Vazquez, owner of the deliciously named Forno Diablo (“Devil’s Oven,” 433 W. Diversey Pkwy.; 773-525-6400). “The ladies love the butternut squash with Brie and fontinella and a sage reduction sauce. We’ve got a cracker crust, crispy all the way through.” The brick chicken ($16), a big seller, is marinated overnight in herbs and lemon, then served with mashed sweet potatoes. To hear Vazquez (Moonshine) tell it, the place is doing well, but it almost didn’t exist: “I was pushing for Cuban-Mexican fusion, but my partner [Sean McKeough] refused.”
Smoothie on the Move
Sweet Bean (1855 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-857-3100), a West Lake View café that focuses on seasonal local products, has been open for only three months, and it’s already spawning a larger outpost in the South Loop next year. The same sandwiches, coffees, salads, and omelets will be available—as will Sweet Bean’s signature “Yoguccino,” a smoothie with a nonfat yogurt base and fresh fruit. You can add espresso if you like, but Sweet Bean prefers fresh cantaloupe or watermelon.
7 Questions for Mychael Bonner, 37, chef of Lettuce Entertain You’s new 260-seat seafood spot, Reel Club (272 Oakbrook Center, Oak Brook; 630-368-9400)
D: We understand you come from a cooking family . . .
MB: Mom and grandmother were both professional cooks. My mom worked at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee.
D: So she was happy with your career choice?
MB: Not entirely. I’m African American. For my mom it was the only work they could get in the sixties. She thought there were more opportunities for me than being a cook.
D: How did you get involved with Lettuce?
MB: Out of culinary school, I worked at The 95th with my mentor, David DiGregorio [Osteria Via Stato]. He’s my buddy. We joined Lettuce Entertain You together in 1991.
D: Where did you go?
MB: I was at Maggiano’s for about 13 years. I ended my career there as VP of culinary operations. Then I opened Di Pescara [in Northbrook].
D: How is Reel Club different from, say, Shaw’s or Joe’s?
MB: We do all the favorites with a little bit more hipness and new flavor combinations. We serve a crab cocktail on a floating ice vessel with a snap light underneath. Or a caesar salad with truffle Parmesan vinaigrette and anchovy garlic cream.
D: What percentage of the menu is seafood?
MB: About 75 to 80 percent. I’m doing dry-aged Kansas City bone-in prime strip steak, hand cut.
D: Anything else?
MB: I’m working with sustainable fisheries, specifically Chilean sea bass, and I’m proud of the purveyors we are using. I love fish; we are not trying to deplete sources.
Publicist Rule #406: Avoid the Word “Bedsores” in Press Releases
“Now that the cold weather has hit Chicago, you may find yourself going into full hibernation mode. . . . spending every night eating Cheetos on the couch, watching ‘Friends’ reruns and ditching your formerly swinging social life. Before you start developing bedsores, come to Exposure, Chicago’s newest Tapas restaurant, for a Brazilian Beach Party!”
Pollack Goes Off
The new Bella Rosa Ristorante (23 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-2100) keeps late hours, has a menu filled with Italian comfort food, and is close to the office. What could be bad? Almost everything. The dense, generic bread came with three foil-wrapped pats of butter. Call me a food snob—everyone else does—but unless I’m in a deli, I reject foil-wrapped pats of butter. The caesar salad had grocery-store quality romaine, crispy croutons, and aggressively anchovied dressing. The flavorless veal Bella Rosa (scaloppine) was blanketed with flavorless prosciutto and a weird layer of cheese that popped off like a lid. Oh, the pizza at the next table looked pretty darned good. That could be the ticket.
Woodlands at the Promenade (641 E. Boughton Rd., Bolingbrook; 630-739-3000), a new upscale casual restaurant from Dallas-based Food Friends and Company (which runs 13 restaurants in nine states), opened this week in the south suburbs. “We have things like you’d expect in a neighborhood restaurant,” says Marcie Frazier, director of marketing. “Kobe beef slider sandwiches; butternut squash soup; hot artichoke spinach dip—but ours is served with lavash.” Local veteran Marco Aguirre (Harry Caray’s, Solace 601) runs the 245-seat spot’s kitchen.
Things to Do
1. Set your TiVo to record Channel 11 at 7:30 p.m. (or 10 p.m.) on November 27th, when WTTW’s long-awaited The Foods of Chicago: A Delicious History will air. Your faithful Dish scribes appear (in disguise, of course) during the Italian segment.
2. If you missed the November issue of Chicago magazine, click here to read our feature on the 124 best dishes in Chicago. Then tell us what we left out. Everyone else is.
3. Print out New City’s exhaustive list of indie coffee houses and stick it to Starbucks.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Two noteworthy closings to report: Eatzi’s (2828 N. Clark St.), the gourmet takeaway in the Century Shopping Centre, after two years of business; and Half & Half (1560 N. Damen Ave.), Debra Sharpe’s tiny Wicker Park coffeehouse. “We moved the espresso machine and the menu to The Goddess and Grocer [1646 N. Damen Ave.; 773-342-3200],” says Sharpe. So you’ll still be able to get the commuter special—turkey sausage, fried egg, and melted Cheddar on a toasted English muffin with a large coffee ($5)—a block north. . . . Anteprima (5316 N. Clark St.; 773-506-9990), Andersonville’s always-packed trattoria, now takes reservations. Smart move . . . On December 6th, another McCormick & Schmick’s is opening—this one a massive bi-level job in Skokie’s Westfield Old Orchard Shopping Center.
We’re off next week for Thanksgiving, which means no Dish until November 28th. In the meantime: Go easy on the gravy.