Pollack’s Quick Hit

Jason Paskewitz’s latest home, Gemini Bistro (2075 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-525-2522), is a comfortably sleek corner spot with lots of dark wood to make it feel intimate and Edison bulbs so you know it’s hip. And Paskewitz (621 Diner, Wave, JP Chicago) is right in style with different-sized plates for maximum dining confusion. The baby beet salad ($8) was tasty but more skimpy than small. The more generous Gemini Bistro salad (also $8, oddly) almost hit the mark—too bad the egg Milanese was too overcooked to mix it up with the lettuces. The duck nachos with crispy duck confit, soothing queso fresco, and jazzy mango salsa fared better and were even shareable. But best of all was the roasted salmon with smoked bacon, an entrée Pollack didn’t want to share. Hey, Jason: Work out the kinks and go easy on the salt in the mussels, the spinach, and the mushrooms, and you’ll be golden. Oh, and please stay put.


“Many people claim coffee inspires them, but, as everybody knows, coffee only makes boring people even more boring.” –Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850), French writer

A Conversation with Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz

Cutforth and Lipsitz, the executive producers of Top Chef, will have a production team at Wells on Wells (1617 N. Wells St.; 312-944-1617) on October 26th to scout for local talent for the seventh season of the show.

D: Where did the inspiration for Top Chef come from?  
DC: It’s not a dramatic story. It was a phone call from Bravo. They said, ‘We think that we could to do a culinary competition.’ Not really romantic. I didn’t run in and say, I have our next big hit show!
JL: We got together with chefs and asked them about their lives. What do they do? What are their lives like? It was clear that there was not a show being done that celebrated the skills and all-around craziness of the world of chefs.   

D: It’s a pretty melodramatic show.
DC: That’s what people come to the show for: the high-stakes drama. But it is high-stakes drama for the people who participate. They don’t want to be eliminated. People who have been on Top Chef have had their lives transformed.
JL: Harold [Dieterle], who won the first season—his restaurant [Perilla in New York] is amazing, and the place is packed. We have to get him on the phone to get in.

D: How do you select the contestants?
JL: In Season Six, there is a significant jump in the level of talent. The show is extremely popular, so we don’t have to work that hard to reach out. We do reach out to chefs for recommendations of rising stars.
DC: At Wells on Wells, they will fill out an application, and they meet with our casting panel for face-to-face interviews. The finalists are distributed to the powers-that-be, and we draw up a short list people that we bring to L.A. We choose the cast from that group.

D: What are you looking for?
DC: Anyone can get in line [at Wells on Wells] but we have people going down the line finding out their background. Not all of them will be put through the whole process. We don’t get a lot of people who just come over because they want to give it a shot.
JL: We’re looking for a combination of someone who has culinary talent and who will be good on television. Passionate and well-spoken about their food. It’s obviously great if they have a great back story. At the end of the day, it’s entertainment.

Endearing Restaurateur of the Week

Aek Hoarae, the owner of the month-old Bonsai Café ( (2916 Central St., Evanston; 847-866-7498) in north Evanston, was the Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises veteran who made Wow Bao run so smoothly in Water Tower Place. Now he’s almost pathologically dedicated to the happiness of his new customers at Bonsai. “I just don’t want to disappoint them,” Hoarae says of his BYO. Bonsai’s 40 seats are usually filled with people sipping homemade ginger ale and digging into Pan-Asian dishes that bop from Thailand to China and Japan to Vietnam—with periodic stops in Indonesia. “We take the original dishes and try to make them our own but maintain the Asian flavor and influence,” says Hoarae. “It’s a tiny place, but we try to make it mighty.”  

Bold Words

“I’m a little late to the game, but I still think my pizza is going to be the best in town. No one does the New York style that I like and that people will take to. Living in Chicago for the last ten years I got really frustrated about ‘Where can I get pizza that’s even close to that.’ So I spent three years learning to make pizza and perfecting my recipes. I think everyone is going to love my pizza.” –Scott Toth, partner at the New York–Neapolitan hybrid Pizzeria Serio (1708 W. Belmont Ave.), projected to open in mid-December with craft beers and a brick oven in a loftlike Lake View space

Things to Do

  1. Get half-price pizzas and $5 martinis at Bruno and Melissa Abate’s stylish Tocco (1266 N. Milwaukee Ave. 773-687-8895) on Thursdays from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m.
  2. Download the latest LTHForum.com Great Neighborhood Restaurants pocket guide , fold it into your wallet, and start eating. After you’ve crossed off every restaurant on the list, go brag about it on LTHforum.
  3. Buy a $25 ticket to Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn St.; 312-422-0150) event on October 22nd, which involves a bunch of hors d’oeuvres and 20 budget wines chosen by a familiar face.
  4. Pick up a copy of the November issue of Chicago magazine, which features all the details about 30 great restaurant deals that come in under $30.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Openings of note: Belly Shack (1912 N. Western Ave.; 773-252-1414, the “Chino-Latino” joint from Bill Kim (Urban Belly) . . . Fame da Lupo (1463-65 W. Leland Ave.; 773-334-9800), an Uptown pizzeria . . . Sabor Saveur (2013 W. Division St.; 773-235-7310), a French-Mexican hybrid in Wicker Park . . . Per the sign at 1720 North Marcey Street (a.k.a. Sam’s Wine & Spirits; 312-664-4394), the space officially becomes Binny’s Beverage Depot on October 22nd. . . . Another outpost of the goofy breakfast spot Orange is slated to open this winter at 738 North Clark Street.