Clearing Customs

Big shakeup at Custom House (500 S. Dearborn St.; 312-523-0200): Shawn McClain, the original exec chef/partner/driving force, is on his way out at the South Loop standout. While still a part owner, McClain and his long-time partners at Custom House, Green Zebra, and Spring, Sue and Peter Drohomyrecky, are trying to figure out how to divide the business. “Now, my focus is on Spring and Green Zebra,” says McClain. “Sue and Peter are taking over Custom House. We have had such a hard year with the economy, it just drove us back to try to focus on individual projects.” Meanwhile, per the Drohomyreckys, Custom House’s new exec chef is Aaron Deal, a Johnson & Wales graduate. “We are going to redefine ourselves as a tavern,” says Deal, who was executive chef at Charleston, South Carolina’s Tristan for the past two years. “The menu will be influenced by my experiences at [New York’s] Gramercy Tavern.” The only new dish Deal would tell us about was his foie gras pot de crème with pickled grapes, toasted almonds, and blue cheese—but he’s headed to Ferran Adrià’s endlessly innovative El Bulli in Roses, Spain, so lord only knows what he’ll come back with.

Outre De La Table

Sur La Table (52-54 E. Walton St.; 312-337-0600) is vacating its massive Gold Coast space right after holidays, and one of the new occupants of the space will be Sprinkles, a Beverly Hills–based cupcake place. “We have been looking for a Chicago location nonstop since 2005,” says Charles Nelson, an owner. “We had a really specific criteria of where we wanted to be: South of Oak, north of Chicago and between Michigan and Rush.” Bulls-eye. We are less surprised about SLT’s closing (and, potentially moving to another spot in the neighborhood) than puzzled by the eternal question: Who in God’s name is eating all these cupcakes?


“My friend asked me if I wanted a frozen banana. I said, ‘No, but I want a regular banana later, so . . . yeah.’” –Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005), American comedian

Sounds Like a Good Street

When Benji Rosen was in high school, he created his own business by buying stuff from Highland Park’s Once Upon a Bagel and then delivering it himself. He called it Bagels in Bed. So you’d expect the guy to own a creative restaurant as an adult—and BenjYehuda (212 W. Van Buren St.; 312-408-2365), the new Israeli-influenced spot he runs with his wife Stacey, is just that. “We were inspired by the movie The Matrix,” says Stacey. “It looks very industrial: sheet metal, shades of green, chunky black leather booths. And we blow-torched the edges of the plywood table tops so they look burnt.” Almost everything is homemade—falafel, shawarma, hummus—and the menu features a few surprises: rough-cut, skin-on fries with Merkts Cheddar cheese on the side, and churros. Churros? “We refer to our food as urban street food,” says Stacey. “It’s not just Mediterranean.”

Déjà Vu

A spin-off of the San Antonio–based Brazilian Steakhouse Chama Gaúcha is slated to open in late October in the old Zed451 space in the western suburbs (3008 Finley Rd., Downers Grove). Zed was a Brazilian steak house, and the previous occupant in the space was Sal y Carvão, a Brazilian steak house—so what makes Chama Gaúcha think it will succeed? “A majority of us have worked at another churrascaría, Fogo de Chão,” says Long Phu, the general manager. “We have an excessive amount of experience. And Chama is a more unique experience that’s not tied to a corporate entity. We don’t plan on opening vast chains of churrascarías.” The concept (15 all-you-can-eat meats served by gauchos, plus a massive salad bar) should sound familiar by this point. But the price tag—under $40, promises Phu—is lower than the competitors’.

Popular Demand

On the heels of last week’s Dish Flash, Uptown gets another glimmer of excitement: Ch’ava (4656 N. Clark St.; 773-942-6763), a new 40-seat coffee/sandwich café. “We are all about really good, direct-trade single-origin coffee,” says Richard Park, a partner. “We have a clover machine that brews a single cup at a time, but we can do it in 45 to 50 seconds as opposed to the four minutes it takes in a French press.” The seasonal menu—by Edward Hwang, a NoMI alum who roasts all the meats in house—currently includes a roasted leg of lamb sandwich with mint parsley chimichurri sauce ($9.49) and romano polenta on a toasted French loaf. Perhaps it was the allure of free food, but Park says about 1,000 people showed up for a pre-opening tasting last month. “We had food for 300,” says Park. “We ran out of everything.”


Fireproof maki at Oba

John Park, the sushi chef of Oba Contemporary Japanese Sushi (1285 Elmhurst Rd., Des Plaines; 847-228-8810), a new 40-seat sushi restaurant, spends his spare time dreaming up maki rolls. “I read books a lot,” says Park, a native of Korea. “I read Nobu’s book and tried to follow him. Then I came up with my own ideas, usually spicy.” His 100-plus maki creations include a spicy salmon/spiced tuna/cucumber scallion beast that employs six different sauces and looks like a peacock tail on fire ($11). “My customers say they have never seen this kind of presentation.” The cooked dishes edge into French-Japanese territory, as in a filet mignon with grilled asparagus and beef sauce. But maki is obviously what fires up Park.

Things to Do

  1. Get a dozen oysters for $3.95 at Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen (in Arlington Heights and Westmont) any time in October.
  2. Call Quartino (626 N. State St.; 312-698-5000) and make reservations for October 11th at 1 p.m., when you can watch the chef/partner John Coletta make pasta from his new book. Then eat the pasta, enjoy the wine pairings, and ask every question about pasta that you ever wanted to ($15).
  3. Get Amish-raised fried chicken and a glass of Champagne at the blue bar in One Sixtyblue (1400 W. Randolph St.; 312-850-0303) on any Wednesday night for as little as $16.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Sprout (1417 W. Fullerton Ave, 773-348-0706), an ambitious 50-seat organic café with a French/Italian tilt opens on October 9th. “We are shooting for a four-star rating with four–star service,” says the GM, Tofer Kristopher. “But we are hoping to be approachable.”. . . . Café Pyrenees (1762 N. Milwaukee Ave., Libertyville; 847-362-2233) celebrates its 19th anniversary with a $19 prix fixe menu throughout October. . . . The 57-year-old Club Lago (331 W. Superior St.; 312-337-9444), which was dramatically crushed by its neighbor’s 50-foot chimney in March, reopened on October 7th. . . . From October 12th through October 18th, Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060) celebrates Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, with extended festivities culminating in a traditional six-course prix fixe for $45 every night. . . . Mesón Sabika celebrates Columbus Day from 6 to 8 p.m. October 12th with a 20-plus item Spanish buffet for $14.92. Get it? 1492? Columbus?