A Measured Approach
“The logo is a carafe pouring wine into a goblet; then the sign in the window says it’s BYO,” says a sharp-eyed FOD who noticed Uptown’s new Fontana Grill (1329 W. Wilson Ave.; 773-561-0400). OK, to be fair, the Italian wine bar/restaurant doesn’t have its liquor license yet. But when it arrives, expect a unique concept: 24 bottles, changing monthly, each priced at either $22 or $44, and you will be charged by how much of the bottle you drink (either $1 per ounce or $2 per ounce). “This concept exists in Italy and a couple of other places with house wines,” says Nino Divanovic, the Bosnian-born owner. Fontana’s homemade, organic-focused dishes include a baked chicken parmigiano topped with a mushroom-Brie sauce—and until that liquor license comes in, Divanovic says, the corner liquor store (Rayan’s, 4553 N. Clark St.) will deliver wine to your table if you arrange it with them.
“Love is like swallowing hot chocolate before it has cooled off. It takes you by surprise at first, but keeps you warm for a long time.” –Unknown
Last Call: Never
The best place to be in Chicago on Tuesday night? Goose Island Brewpub (1800 N. Clybourn Ave.; 312-915-0071). People have been crying in their microbrews since April, when news came that the original location of Chicago’s legendary 20-year-old brewpub would fold at year’s end due to the expiration of its lease. But John Hall, Goose Island’s founder and president, has renegotiated the lease with his landlord, and was so thrilled that he bought a round for the entire bar, which included roughly 80 people at the time. “Every Tuesday we make a toast to introduce a new beer,” says Hall. “That’s when I announced it.” Way to go, John; finally, a feel-good story. Says Hall: “I couldn’t feel better.”
Drama on the Farm
All is not well at Farmerie 58 (58 E. Ontario St.; 312-440-1818), the ambitious American new restaurant spin from the former owners of Republic Pan-Asian. The spot’s been open for only five weeks, and already its chef, William Alexander, is gone. “Honestly, he just threw up his hands one day and walked out the door,” says Brian Newman, the general manager. “On the plus side, he left his outstanding sous-chef, Nathan Kosakowski. Really talented. He’ll be changing the menu next month.” We couldn’t wait to hear Alexander’s side of the story, but he did not return phone calls for this item.
Soul (1 Walker Ave., Clarendon Hills; 630-920-1999), a promising west suburban restaurant that has been getting all kinds of positive strokes since it opened in June, is undergoing its own metamorphosis. Karen Nicholas, the talented opening chef, has departed; her replacement, Jared Case (Marché, Red Light), is charged with streamlining the regional American menu (Texas ribs, Cobb salad, shrimp ’n’ grits). As for Nicholas, the veteran of New York’s Gramercy Tavern and Aureole in Las Vegas plans to lay low for a while. “I’m going to take the next two months with the holidays and spend it with friends and family,” says Nicholas, who has opened two restaurants in the past two and a half years. “Then I’ll make my way back into the Chicago culinary scene. It will definitely be downtown. I don’t really think that the suburbs was for me.”
Boo Hoo of the Week
As reported elsewhere, reps forTerrance Brennan’s planned Artisanal Brasserie & Wine Bar announced that, because of “uncertain economic conditions,” his deal to open an outpost of his NYC spot next spring in the 900 North Michigan Building have been shelved for now. “We are also very disappointed,” says Wendy Knight, Artisanal’s publicist. “But Terrance remains determined to open an Artisanal in Chicago. He looked at some alternative spaces on his last visit to Chicago at the end of September but nothing concrete, nor do I have a time frame. He has also been approached by developers in Las Vegas, D.C., and Seattle, so is quite busy.”
Free(ish)Things to Do
- Get a free steak sandwich at the Westchester branch of Morton’s (1 Westbrook Corporate Ctr; 708-562-7000) any weekday from 5 to 7 p.m.
- Order an entrée at Café Selmarie (4729 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-989-5595) on Sunday night and get your kid a free meal.
- Watch Homer ponder the pros and cons of evil frogurt.
5 Questions for Jerry Suqi
Suqi (Sugar, La Pomme Rouge) has always dreamed big, and now he’s hoping to save Arab culture at Chickpea (2018 W. Chicago Ave.; 773-384-9930), an ambitious fast-casual café that he just opened with his mom, Amni Suqi, 62, as the executive chef.
D: You get to boss your mother around?
JS: My mom is definitely the boss. No, she’s very sweet. At this point in my life, I’ve had plenty of glory, and now I care more for my relationships. She’s always wanted to do this and I wanted to make it happen for her.
D: What’s her food like?
JS: Fifty percent of the stuff we serve, you could not get at other places in town. Unless you’re buddies with an Arab guy and you go to his house. Arab food uses simple, clean ingredients, but is lavish in preparation and presentation—like eggplants that you core and stuff with minced lamb. It’s incredibly labor intensive.
D: How did this come about?
JS: We moved from Palestine in 1970 when I was two. I was raised on Elvis and Speed Racer and Little League baseball. Then I went back and it was shocking. Everything was different. The smells are different; the houses are laid out differently. Then we went to the grocery store and I saw all the logos I had seen all my life, but with Arabic text. Arabs are not hostile to Western culture.
D: So you wanted to replicate that here?
JS: I’ve tried to create a streetscape. Huge billboards with Arab advertisements and movie posters. Soothing geometric patterns create a rhythm to the space. I wanted to have a serious design element, but also the pop culture, reflective of how things really are there. Beautiful things next to billboards for Coca-Cola.
D: What’s your goal with Chickpea?
JS: I want to serve healthy, clean food, and keep the price points below $12. And I want to show people the depth of Arab food. The beauty of Arab culture has been lost due to Western notions of that culture. Arabs have done a horrible job representing their culture. They are gentle and warm and loving people. They’re pushovers.