Tricky Rick

The decision leading to Rick Tramonto’s and Gale Gand’s split from Mid-America Development and its restaurant arm, Cenitare Restaurants, seems pretty straightforward. “We wanted to take the brand [Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto Steak & Seafood, both at 601 N. Milwaukee Ave., Wheeling] national, and I don’t think they were able to,” Tramonto says. “I’m looking at some opportunities to take the steak house on the road. We want to be in city centers. Looking at Chicago and New York. Any hotels or anyone else who’s interested, give me a call. I still own the names and the concepts.” In the meantime, Tramonto’s team plans to remain at the restaurants in Wheeling until year’s end, and if Mid-America Development doesn’t buy the licensing agreement, it will have to close the restaurants and re-concept. “It’s an amicable divorce,” Tramonto adds. “I’m good at that.” Mid-America’s representatives could not be reached for comment.


“There are things you just can’t do in life. You can’t beat the phone company, you can’t make a waiter see you until he’s ready to see you, and you can’t go home again.” –Bill Bryson (b. 1951), American writer

A Conversation with Rodelio Aglibot

Aglibot, the Filipino-born original chef of Koi in Los Angeles, will be exec chef of Sunda (110 W. Illinois St.), a planned 200-seat Asian spot from Rockit Ranch (Billy Dec, Brad Young, and Arturo Gomez). ETA: January 2009

D: What did you do after Koi?
RA: Left to open my own place in 2004: Yi Cuisine. Opened to great reception for two years. Food & Wine named it one of the best new in the country. But I stopped being in the kitchen, and I learned that the food is what I do the best, so the partners bought me out.  

D: What does “Sunda” mean?
RA: The Sunda Shelf region is a landmass that’s beneath the western Pacific Ocean and the China Sea. The shelf connects Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand. And as far north as Japan, Korea, and China.

D: And that’s where your menu will go?
RA: Those are the flavors and sensibilities that have inspired the menu. But the menu will not be the greatest hits. Not pho, not pad Thai. I do New Asian. Asia has gone through an amazing amount of growth in the last seven years. The chefs now use ingredients that were not accessible to them in the past.

D: What will be on the menu?
RA: Indonesian corn fritters. We shave the corn off the cob and add coriander, chiles, some garlic. We make a fritter batter using rice flour. Those are fried and served with sambal. Another dish is called crispy pata. It is pork shank that has been braised in its own oils so it has been confited. Then it’s deep-fried.

D: Will Sunda be more formal or casual?
RA: Fun, approachable place. Unpretentious, unexpected. Bold and memorable. The flavors may be unfamiliar, but you will have an experience.

D: We hear you’ve been a cook since you were a boy.
RA: I had a tree house when I was nine, and took our family hibachi up there and grilled slices of spam using newspaper for my fuel. Grew up in a family that really cooked. Dad made hearty American fare and mom cooked Filipino stuff. . . . I had an Asian R.A. at UCLA who said, “You aren’t supposed to cook here but since you are cooking rice, you just have to feed me once in a while.”

Quick Take

Province (161 N. Jefferson St.; 312-669-9900), Randy Zweiban’s spicy new restaurant in the West Loop, takes the environment seriously. Petrified trees hang from the ceiling; recycled cork tops the tables; simple recycled paper menus cling to colorful clipboards. Well, maybe the menus aren’t that simple. “Bites,” “raw,” “soups/salads,” “small, ” “big” and “bigger” . . . half portions, full portions. It’s like the emperor of Austria said, after hearing Mozart’s opera in Amadeus: “Too many notes.” That said, Pollack loved the freebies: Tasmanian salmon amuse and spicy corn bread with white bean dip. She got almost too full for the superfresh oysters and the shrimp and grits (lighten up on the salt there, please). Beef cheeks were tender and farm-raised striped bass with lobster mushrooms made some people at the table jealous. All in all, a promising newcomer.

He Said It

“I do the duck breast, a roasted duck with fried panisse, caramelized plantain, quince purée, and a duck jus. But I cook the whole duck on the bones to give the meat more flavor. Then I just slice the breast.” –Jerome Bacle, the new chef of Courtright’s (8989 Archer Ave., Willow Springs; 708-839-8000), describing one his new dishes at the south suburban standout. Bacle, a native of Charente, has been at Philadelphia’s legendary Le Bec Fin for the past seven years. Elegance and Grace

We sent our smart intern Justine Gregory to the Meals on Wheels “Indulge Your Heart” Celebrity Chef Ball on October 17th at the State Street Macy’s, where, she reports, everything was coming up roses. “From the rosé Champagne that greeted guests as they arrived to the pink lights and flowers that adorned the dining room, the evening was an elegant affair,” Gregory says. “Dinner included pork-belly-topped corn pudding by Paul Kahan intermingled with live auctions for dinners by the likes of Art Smith. And the following ball included so many big names that you couldn’t toss a mini Kobe burger without hitting Stephanie Izard, Elizabeth Dahl, or Jimmy Sneed. From shrimp shooters with ponzu sauce to thimbles of mocha panna cotta to customized frozen yogurt, Gregory tried it all. She even posed for a photo with Valerie Bolon from Top Chef. “She’s Lilliputian in person, so I was stooping over so as not to look Amazonian in my heels,” says Gregory. “Valerie said she liked my dress, at which point I spilled frozen yogurt down it. Yes, a very elegant night in all.”

Things to Do

  1. Speaking of Jimmy Sneed, watch the chef of SugarToad (Hotel Arista, 2139 City Gate Ln., Naperville; 630-778-8723) make pan-crusted scallops with lobster coral butter sauce as’s latest “Front Burner” video subject.
  2. Warm yourself with a wonderful beef udon soup at Sea Ranch (518 E. Dempster St., Evanston; 847-492-8340). The storefront is better known for its sushi and market, but that udon is worth the trip.
  3. Wish you were right here, right now, eating this.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Shochu (3313 N. Clark St.; 773-348-3313), as you may have read, closed this week, after only six months of business, and will reopen by the end of this month as Deleece Grill Pub, dedicated to “steaks, burgers, and beer.” Ugh, ugh, and ugh. . . . Violet (3819 N. Southport Ave.), a colorful brunch spot in Lake View, also has closed. . . . Hyde Park’s Calypso Cafe (5211 S. Harper Ave.; 773-955-0229) is in negotiations to remain open beyond the end of the year, when several businesses in the Harper Court complex will close. . . . Steve’s Deli (354 W. Hubbard St.; 312-467-6868), a suburban Detroit standout, has finally opened in River North. . . . Hito’s Cafe, a Japanese restaurant, is coming in the old Koryo space (2936 N. Broadway). . . . Lou Malnati’s plans to open its 29th area store next month, a 75-seat spot at 805 South State Street. When we asked Marc Malnati, the owner, how he liked Chicago’s current thin-crust pizza revolution, he quipped, “When is it starting?”