Gilt by Association
Brendan Sodikoff, who has worked with Alain Ducasse and Thomas Keller—and currently with Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises—plans to open a restaurant called Gilt Bar in the old Aigre Doux space (230 W. Kinzie St.). “It will be like Bay Area casual dining at its best,” says Sodikoff of his 125-seat spot. “Simple, pure cooking with little touches of northern Italian and Asian sensibility, like Chez Panisse and Quince. Food will come out as it’s ready. We want to connect to the people.” The latest promising chef to take a crack at the difficult space across from the Merchandise Mart, Sodikoff promises a renovation that is “more about removal than adding.” He also promises to keep the price point reasonable. (“If you had this great time and get hit with an exorbitant bill, that’s not fun. We are all about fun.”) ETA: “We will open,” he says, “when we feel ready.” So, some time in 2010.
“I lived through the garbage. I might as well dine on the caviar.” –Beverly Sills (1929-2007), American opera singer
Hogging the Spotlight
Despite the ever-growing bacon backlash, this was only a matter of time: “We plan to offer bacon flights and also hope to offer a bacon tasting menu,” says Bob Hartwig, a partner at Bakin’ & Eggs (3120 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-525-7005), a 93-seat “upscale comfort food” spot opening for breakfast and lunch next month in Lake View. Not everything incorporates cured pig (quiche, onion tarts, and banana bread French toast with milk chocolate hazelnut butter), but bacon brings the thunder in dishes such as Gouda mac and cheese with a bacon crumble, and a bunch of bacon-themed seasonal soups. We can only hope bacon will not invade the full-service espresso bar nor the many promising pastries. (Hartwig is a former teacher at the French Pastry School, and his wife/partner is Gina Hartwig of Lovely: A Bake Shop.)
Bread on Arrival
Savely Barkan’s new House of Bread, Inc. (Garden Fresh Plaza, 1762 W. Hintz Rd., Wheeling; 847-253-6300) makes 19 different kinds of bread each day. “Cranberry walnut, farmer’s rye, a multigrain, a sunflower seed bread—everything is baked daily from scratch,” says Barkan, who also won’t stop barking about his cherry coffeecakes and flourless chocolate cookies made with ground walnuts. “We use our own special rye starter for all the breads that nobody can duplicate or put their hands on. Every bread we make is unique. It’s very difficult to duplicate it.” How is House of Bread turning out all this stuff, fresh, every day? “We have two shifts,” says Barkan. “A night shift and a day shift so that allows us to have a fresh product 24 hours a day.”
A Conversation with Tony Hu
Hu, AKA the busiest man in Chinatown, plans in spring of 2010 to add a 120-seat Chinese tapas joint called Lao You Ju (2002 S. Wentworth Ave.) to his burgeoning restaurant portfolio (Lao Shanghai, Lao Beijing, Lao Sze Chuan).
D: Lao You Ju. Can you break down that name for us?
TH: ‘Lao’ means ‘old.’ ‘You’ means ‘friend.’ ‘Ju’ means ‘coming together.’ Old friends coming together. I have been in Chinatown more than 10 years. A lot of customers supported me and became my friends.
D: And it’s Chinese tapas?
TH: It’s Chinese tapas, but also: China has a lot of different cuisines, and every time I go to China I see a lot of new dishes come out, which I want to serve my friends. But for a regular menu, it’s kind of hard. The menus [at my other places] are already huge. So I’m hoping to do fixed menus: $20 per person, $30 per person, up to $100.
D: What new dishes, for example?
TH: There is a dish called shuang jiao ji. ‘Shuang’ means ‘double.’ Jiao is Sichuan peppercorns. Ji is chicken. Peppercorns will make your tongue numb; you will want to eat more and more. That’s chicken you never see in this country. In China, it is new and is getting very popular now.
D: You certainly cover a lot of ground with your restaurants.
TH: That’s my passion. To show you guys, the American people, how wonderful real Chinese food is.
Pollack’s Quick hit
A year and a half ago when Raul Arreola opened Mixteco Grill (1601 W. Montrose Ave.; 773-868-1601), half the charm of the place was the rudimentary room and the other half was the better-than-average Mexican food, which Arreola labored over in plain sight. Now he’s opened a spiffy sister ship in Logan Square, Rustico Grill (2515 N. California Ave.; 773-235-0002), but it seems that with success came mediocrity. As soon as we were seated, a basket of nondescript tortilla chips arrived with a thimbleful of salsa verde. That seemed to set the tone. Sopa Azteca contained all the right stuff—chicken, queso fresco, sour cream, avocado, tortilla chips, pasilla broth—but failed to deliver any serious flavor. Empanadas were similarly lightweight. Cochinita pibil, a savory pile of slow-roasted pork, reminded me that Arreola is a talented fellow but also made me wonder: How little does Rustico have to do to get a ticket to ride on Mixteco’s coattails?
Things to Do
- Try to make sense of this Natalie Zarzour versus Sarah Levy pastry feud on Grubstreet.com. It’s either a bona fide catfight, a calculated PR move, or both. Regardless, it’s a train wreck.
- Learn the caloric truth about the new Coke mini can, per Slate’s ever-divisive William Saletan.
- Take a peek inside Big Star (1531 N. Damen Ave.; 773-235-4039), the Kahan-Madia-Alexander-et al. taquería opening at 4 p.m. on November 9th.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Sweet Station (2101 S. China Pl.; 312-842-2228), a Hong Kong–style restaurant, opened earlier this week in Chinatown Square. . . . Lake Bar & Grill (505 N. Lake Shore Drive; 312-464-9800), a high-end sports/martini bar with ten-ounce burgers and four plasma screens, quietly opened a month ago in the old Copperblue space in Lake Point Tower. Finally, a concept that can draw the we’re-on-our-way-to-Navy-Pier-and-we’re-hungry-now crowds. . . . Candyality, a sweet shop at 3425 North Southport Avenue, has opened another outlet, this one on the third level of the Shops at North Bridge (520 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-527-1010). . . . Bombon Cafe closed its Gold Coast location (1000 N. Clark St.) last month; Bombon’s other two locations remain open. . . .LOKal (1904 W. North Ave.; 773-904-8113), an ambitious contemporary Euro lounge, expects to open in Bucktown on Halloween. . . . CityGate Grille (2020 Calamos Ct., Naperville; 630-718-1010), a regional American/Mediterranean restaurant, has opened in the LEED-certified CityGate Center.