Epic Proportions

Stephen Wambach, the former corporate chef for Laurent Tourondel’s BLT Restaurant Group in New York, plans to open the locally minded Epic (112 W. Hubbard St.; 312-222-4940) toward the end of November in River North. (His bosses, two Chicago businessmen, wish to remain anonymous—but we know his pastry chef will be Christine McCabe of Sugar.) “It will be very approachable American food in a French technique,” says Wambach, who also helped opened BLTs from Miami to Hong Kong for Tourondel. “Eight steaks from the broiler, red-wine-cured foie gras with a crispy quail and sour cherry, bone-in veal chop with a porcini Parmesan crust, salt-crusted black bass for two.” As if that weren’t enough, the 190-seat industrial-chic spot will feature a raw bar and sausages and breads made in-house—plus some dishes more obscure around these parts. Says Wambach: “Our signature appetizer will be wild boar barbajuan, a fried ravioli typical of Monaco.”


“I think foosball is a combination of soccer and shish kabobs.” –Mitch Hedberg (1968-2005), American comedian

Spanish Balm

Marcel Somfelean, the owner of The Grocery Bistro (804 W. Washington St.; 312-850-9291), is working with The Bandoleros to open Pasha Spanish Cuisine (802 W. Randolph St.), a 90-seat Andalusian restaurant, one block away. When the place unveils on October 22nd, it will feature Daniel Marquis (formerly of Bin 36 and China Grill) in the kitchen, periodic live music by The Bandoleros, flamenco dancers, tango nights, and what Somfelean says is $80,000 worth of art on the walls. “The menu will be an influence of Jewish Sephardic food, like adafina, a soup with lamb dumplings,” says Somfelean. “Of course, we have paella. And a full Spanish bar with wines and sparkling cavas from Spain.”

A Conversation with Erik Williams

A veteran of Volo and Bin 36, Williams is now the chef of Morgan Harbor Grill (2948 W. Devon Ave.; 773-764-8115, ext. 2), a new 52-seat pareve kosher BYO attached to the Good Morgan Kosher Fish store.

D: Pareve kosher? So no meat or dairy?
EW: Right. We have fish and vegetables and pasta. Our specialty, of course, is fresh fish and sushi. We are the only real storefront kosher sushi restaurant. The only other game in town is Shallots Bistro, and they are much more fine dining.  

D: What are some good menu items?
EW: I have a miso-glazed escolar that comes with braised fennel, hot slaw, and preserved lemon sauce. Also, we have crispy-skinned striped bass that comes with an herb potato dumpling.

D: You don’t keep kosher. What led you to this job?
EW: I’ve cooked everything in this business. I’ve done braised pork bellies in some places. Spent three years at Burhops and about four years at Dirk’s. [The owners of Morgan Harbor] were looking for someone who knew fish, and I was looking for something new.

D: Do you feel like you are cooking with one arm behind your back?
EW: Learning how to work within the kosher segment has been a challenge, but I was looking forward to it. This is a way for me to retrain as a cook. It’s challenging to not just be able to throw butter on things. Making soups, not only can you not throw a hambone in, you can’t even throw a beef bone in because of the pareve restrictions. We start with vegetable stock, then maybe add fish stock.

D: Sounds like a pretty healthy diet.
EW: What we are offering here is healthier than at other kosher restaurants in the city. The kosher community here is used to pizza, hamburgers, fried fish sandwiches.

Back to Basics

Ajasteak (Dana Hotel and Spa, 660 N. State St.; 312-202-6050), a glitzy River North steak house that opened in June 2008, is in the process of morphing into Aja, an all-Asian concept with a “tighter” menu, per Beth Flintoft, the publicist. “Customers were ordering more of the Asian elements off the menu,” says Flintoft. “So let’s go with our strength, lower the prices, and have an approachable menu.” The same chef, Joshua Linton (formerly of Tribute in Farmington Hills, Michigan) will shift to a seasonal, local-focused menu; lunch will include bahn mi sandwiches and Kobe sliders. As for the “floating” sushi bar that dominated the upstairs of Ajasteak, it will be overhauled to include only sustainable fish. ETA: October 22nd.

Things to Do

  1. Get a free small “Chicago mix” bag of Garrett Popcorn to celebrate the odoriffic legend’s reopening on the Mag Mile (625 N. Michigan Ave.) on October 15th. The freebies are available from 10 a.m. to noon so expect a line.
  2. Read Chris Borrelli’s fascinating story in the Tribune about the stress Rick Bayless is feeling these days, thanks to the popularity of Xoco (449 N. Clark St.; 312-334-3688).
  3. Score a three-course dinner at Foodlife (Water Tower Place, 835 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-335-3663) for $10 any night of the week. You get a soup or salad, an entrée from any of Foodlife’s 14 kitchens, a cookie or brownie, and a soft drink.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

La Farine (1461 W. Chicago Ave.; 312-850-4019), Rida Shahin’s European-style bakery in West Town that sells its wares to various local restaurants from May Street Market to HotChocolate, has opened to the public. . . . Lake Side Cafe (1418 W. Howard St.; 773-262-9503) celebrates its fourth anniversary October 17th with a vegan buffet/poetry reading/party with live music and theatre. Tickets are $22 if you buy them on Lake Side Cafe’s website . . . . RB Grille, a “refined dining experience” within River North’s Rock Bottom Brewery (1 W. Grand Ave.; 312-755-9339), is slated to open in November. . . . On October 20th at 7 p.m. John Besh (Restaurant August in New Orleans) will be at Borders (830 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-573-0564) to sign copies of his new book, My New Orleans (Andrews McMeel) . . . . “When Mexicans leave Mexico, we become more Mexican,” says Luis Montero, owner of FDM Mexican Cuisine & Bar (3908 N. Lincoln Ave.; 773-348-7635), a new outpost of Fonda del Mar. “You want to show your pride, your colors.” Watch FDM’s short video to see what Montero’s Mexican pride looks like.