(North) Shore Fire

With M, Benjamin, and two cupcake shops already opened in the past year, suburb-of-the-moment Highland Park added 2nd Street Bistro (1825 Second St., Highland Park; 847-433-3400) to its roster of hot 2011 openings last Friday. “I love all these bistros in the city,” says Bobby Dubin, the owner. “I wanted to do a farm-to-table, local, organic, sustainable restaurant.” The bistro—which is BYO with no corkage fee—moved into half of Stash’s, a hamburger and hot dog joint also owned by Dubin. The 29-year-old chef, Michael Gottlieb, has 15 years (!) of North Shore restaurant experience, including stints at Gabriel’s, Carlos’, and The Palm in Northbrook. Gottlieb’s menu includes appetizers of olives marinated in local herbs ($6) and a shaved organic Brussels sprouts salad with Parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and golden raisin vinaigrette ($5). Entrées include an herb-marinated Amish half chicken with roasted fingerling potatoes in sherry jus ($16) and a thick-cut skirt steak (three thin pieces protein-bound together and cooked sous vide) with smashed potatoes and shallot marmalade in a Chianti reduction ($19). With Highland Park dining taking off like this, we expect to see the food trucks cruising there any moment now.


Pollack’s Dinner at Vera in 132 Words

First impression: Bread and butter costs $6? Shouldn’t bread just show up? We ordered it anyway. A round, warm, crusty loaf arrived with extra-virgin olive oil and three different butters: garlic, duck cracklings, and sea urchin. Four of us ate the bread and then our words. alt text
Vera’s rabbit-and-duck
Won over, we let the waitress suggest cheeses and wines from the brief but well-considered lists. Prairie Breeze Cheddar, Bayley Hazen blue, and Robiolla rocchetta went well with one another and with glasses of Cepas Antiguas tempranillo, a spritzy Ameztoi from Basque, and St. Feuillein saison. The garlic shrimp easily made the grade—perhaps just for the sensational spicy lemon-butter sauce—but the rabbit-and-duck paella is simply the best version I’ve had since visiting Valencia, Spain. Lasting impression: Vera (1023 W. Lake St.; 312-243-9770) has charm, cultivation, and real cooking chops.



“To eat is a necessity, but to eat intelligently is an art.” —François de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), French author of maxims and memoirs


Continental Divide

On the restaurant beat, the only continent we hear about less than Africa is Antarctica. But this past week, RedEye reported on Alain’s (1355 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-922-1186), a restaurant that aims to bring African flavors to upscale American cuisine. “Some of those rare ingredients that we find only in Africa, I want to serve some of those in the restaurant,” says the chef, Alain Njike, who grew up in Cameroon. For example, Penja peppers feature in his steak and grits, along with Kobe-style sirloin, sea salt, and Wisconsin blue cheese. Njike says the peppers have a “long, soft, mild flavor” and some sweetness. (And speaking of Sweetness, a Chicago Bear—defensive end Israel Idonije—is a partner in Alain’s.) Scheduled to open in early December, the 75-seat restaurant will also offer wines from South Africa and desserts by Njike’s sister. African flavors in American food—sounds like an excellent kind of continental congress.


Seven Questions for Chris Nugent

Nugent announced to The Stew yesterday that he was leaving Les Nomades after November 5 to open his own restaurant, Goosefoot (2656 W. Lawrence Ave.; 773-942-7574).

Dish: How is the space different from when it was Rendezvous Bistro?
Chris Nugent: We are trying for a little bit more modern look. We wanted to set the color tone. A darker palette on the bottom and then slowly move into a nice, soft gray and golds. Modern and classic. It reflects who I am as a chef.
D: Who is “we”?
CN: My wife and I. She is director of finance at the Mag Mile Hilton. Her name is Nina Nugent. She is definitely the better half. This is our dream. This is what I’ve wanted to do.
D: What does Goosefoot mean?
CN: Goosefoot is a plant family. It includes Swiss chard, beets, quinoa, bull’s blood, any kind of spinach, like Bordeaux, and lamb’s quarters. When you look at a beet green, it has a vein in there that resembles the foot of a goose. The menu is market driven, [so the name refers to] going to market and using smaller artisan farms. Not just in Chicago but around the world. Mostly in the U.S., but if we need truffles and it’s at a farm in France, we will take advantage of it. I grow a lot of things at home. Everything from red ribbon sorrel to nasturtiums to Ruby Streaks mustard greens. I grow any kind of microgreen that you can think of.
D: What will the menu be like?
CN: The menu is very seasonal. An 8- or 12-course tasting menu, [for] $90 or $140. A contemporary American restaurant that is market driven.
D: What will be on the opening menu?
CN: There will be some of my favorites from the past, such as a roasted local fillet of beef [with] a mosaic of carrots [of] different varieties, [such as] chantenay, often called Thumbelina carrot.
D: How many seats?
CN: 34 seats. It’s a BYO.
D: Why did you decide to have a restaurant at this level of price and sophistication be BYO?
CN: I’m happy with a BYO, a small, manageable chef-driven restaurant, and when [customers] come in, it’s not pretentious. Warm environment. A little more upbeat. That’s always been my dream for a restaurant.


CV Show

Here’s an unusual resumé:
• Production manager, Nagano Olympics, Nagano, Japan
• Graduate, French Culinary Institute, New York City
• Pastry cook at Le Cirque 2000 and Café Boulud; New York City

• Manager, Levain Bakery, New York City
• Instructor, Toscana Saporita Cooking School, Lucca, Italy
• Instructor, Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Chicago
It belongs to Bill Milholland, the owner of Baker & Nosh (1303 W. Wilson Ave.; 773-989-7393), an artisan bread shop that will also sell cheeses, sandwiches, pizzas, coffee drinks, and some baked goods when it opens (Milholland hopes) in December. Homemade salads, such as panzanella, and soups will be available seasonally. The property has a fenced-in yard with outdoor seating and an herb garden where customers can snip small amounts if they buy something from the shop. Considering the amount of excess parsley we’ve thrown away in our lives, we hope the snippet of herbs as customer perk becomes a trend.


She Said It

“We are going to have a new beginning, but I want [people] to come and say goodbye to Carlos’.” —Debbie Nieto, who, with her husband, Carlos, owns Carlos’ (429 Temple Ave., Highland Park; 847-432-0770), a North Shore fine-dining fixture that Pollack ranked number 12 on her list of the most important Chicago restaurants of all time. Carlos’ will host a series of special events until it closes on January 1 for a makeover and reconceptualization. The reinvented restaurant will entail a switch from first to last name and become Nieto’s.


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Things to Do

1. Marvel at the way time flies while lunching at Keefer’s (20 W. Kinzie St.; 312-467-9525), where they’re marking a decade in business with a $10 midday menu, available each weekday in November. Offerings change daily and reflect favorites past and present from John Hogan’s menu. Main items, such as braised rabbit on pappardelle or a chicken bánh mì, are served with soup or salad and your choice of a vegetable.

2. Burn off some calories chasing the fitness trainer Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser as he rides the Quaker Oats-Mobile through town Saturday, dishing up samples in honor of National Oatmeal Day (which we observe for a second time on National Cinnamon and Brown Sugar Day). The truck’s first stop will be Navy Pier (10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.), followed by a stint at the Greater Chicago Food Depository (1 to 2 p.m.), where Quaker will donate nearly 10,000 boxes of oatmeal.

3. Raise a glass (and a fork) to Diwali, an Indian festival of lights that’s typified by gluttony, drinking, and July Fourth–like revelry. Vermilion (10 W. Hubbard St.; 312-527-4060) will celebrate with a $65 five-course prix fixe dinner, highlighted by a goat biryani platter. River North newbie Bombay Spice Grill & Wine (450 N. Clark St.; 312-477-7657) will usher in the merriment with a build-your-own five-course menu for two for $49.95 (or $59.95 with two glasses of wine). Both specials are offered tonight through Sunday. 

4. Ignore the whiz-bang writing style and find out what makes Brandon Baltzley, the Pensiero Ristorante chef, tick. 


Dot Dot Dot . . .

The ever-expanding mobile lunch fleet gained a new member: DucknRoll is now roaming the streets with a truckload of bánh mì, the It sandwich. . . . A Midwest Kitchen (5740 N. Milwaukee Ave.; no phone yet), a new shared-kitchen space, is scheduled to open in Jefferson Park in the spring. “Midwestern-type baked goods with a focus on natural ingredients, that kind of thing,” says Jocelyn Hernandez, an owner. “Who knows? By spring, it could be all different.” . . . Logan Square’s Letizia’s Fiore has expanded its offerings with the addition of dinner—pastacentric eats created by Fabio Sorano and his mother, Letizia—and a subterranean wine bar. . . . Filini, a classic Italian eatery, will open November 1, with Christian Fantoni (New York’s Le Bernardin and Le Cirque, Chicago’s Bice) in the kitchen. . . . Saranello’s, an Italian spot from the Lettuce Entertain You crew, opened last night inside Wheeling’s Westin Chicago North Shore. . . . And speaking of Lettuce Entertain You, R. J. Melman, an heir to the Lettuce throne and a restaurateur in his own right, was crowned 2011 Chef/Restaurateur of the Year by Share Our Strength for his ongoing commitment to ending childhood hunger in the United States.Bill-