The bar at Osteria Via Stato (620 N. State St.; 312-642-8450) is going bye-bye this fall, and in its place will be the Roman-style Pizzeria Mo.Di, outfitted with a gas oven. “I didn’t want to do what everybody else was doing,” says Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises chairman Richard Melman. “We don’t have to use wood to make great pizza. You need temperature.” Mo.Di’s recipe is based on a pizza in Rome that his team fell in love with a few years back, which he describes as “traditional, crustier than Neapolitan, yet light. Some of the pizzas will sport tomato sauce, others even more traditional San Marzano tomatoes and buffalo mozzarella. It’s what I love in pizza, and I trust my instincts.” And the name? “Mo [Maureen Ferris] is our GM, and ‘Di’ is [chef] David DiGregorio,” he says. “Nothing tricky.”
“Caramels are only a fad. Chocolate is a permanent thing.” –Milton Snavely Hershey (1857-1945), founder of Hershey Chocolate Company
Maya Del Sol (144 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; 708-358-9800), a 170-seat “New World Latin” restaurant from Anan and Margi Abu-Taleb (Pizza Capri), opens in the next few weeks in the redone Vivaldi space. The chef, Ruben Beltran, is a 16-year veteran of Frontera Grill, where he worked his way up to sous-chef; his new menu mixes the flavors of Mexico, South America, Cuba, and California. “We are trying to maybe take it up a notch from the typical Mexican restaurant,” says Todd Gunderson, the director of operations. “We’re adding a fresh twist to tacos, with house-made tortillas, our own chipotle sauce, and your choice of oak-grilled skirt steak, chicken breast, or seared rock cod in it.” Other perks: margaritas shaken tableside; entrées like macadamia-encrusted halibut; and an affordable wine list packed with South American bargains.
A white-haired and dapper Bob Djahanguiri greets patrons at the door of his new boîte, Old Town Brasserie (1209 N. Wells St.; 312-943-3000), so even if you never frequented Toulouse or Yvette, it feels like old home week in Old Town. The white-tableclothed dining room is tucked behind a stunning granite-topped bar. Chef Roland Liccioni didn’t work the room the night we were there, but his lobster ravioli appetizer and slow-poached salmon brought back some very pleasant memories (Les Nomades, Le Français). With Nan Mason warbling up front on weekends and Liccioni the maestro in back, Djahanguiri is positioned to make some beautiful music on Wells Street. Pollack’s one lament: You promised us a sexy, romantic spot, Bob: So why, oh, why the plasma screens over the bar?
Pepitone’s (5437 N. Broadway; 773-293-3730), a 150-seat contemporary spot opening on October 3rd, is not owned by that Joe Pepitone—the colorful guy who played for the Cubs in the seventies. It is owned by a distant relative of the same name. “I don’t want to say anything about that,” says Pepitone, who has spent the past year and a half building his restaurant up from the ground floor. His chef, Michael Artel (formerly of Santullo’s and The Hearty Boys), will do “American comfort food with an Italian influence,” as in the cornmeal-dusted blue stone crab cakes with fresh sautéed baby spinach and fire-roasted red pepper sauce. The bar up front, with a 32-foot mahogany bar, will have 14 beers on tap and enough plasma screens for everyone. And Pepitone is planning three more locations—in the South Loop, the West Loop, and Wrigleyville—also called Pepitone’s. But not that Joe Pepitone.
We heard a great (and true) story about Bruce Sherman, the chef at North Pond (2610 N. Cannon Dr.; 773-477-5845). Apparently, the first year he was at North Pond, the place was ridden with troubles: structural problems, mechanical breakdowns, power outages during service—you name it. Sherman, normally a practical guy, became convinced that his restaurant sat upon . . . wait for it . . . a Native American burial ground. He brought in a shaman to placate the spirits, and the problems disappeared. “Who’s to say whether it worked or not?” says Jenn Galdes, his publicist. “All he knows is that shortly thereafter, things began to calm down.”
How do a James Beard nominee and the country’s biggest doughnut chain get together? “My wife saw the posting on Monster.com,” says Stan Frankenthaler, executive chef/director of culinary development for Boston-based Dunkin’ Donuts. “In many ways, it is a natural fit. I’ve always been just a regular Dunkin’ Donuts customer.” The bigger question is: Why? As he interviewed for the position, Frankenthaler, who won acclaim for Salamander in Boston, found himself intrigued. “They wanted to do things differently from a stereotypical restaurant chain,” he says. “And over a million customers a day? That’s pretty exciting to think about.” Dunkin’ is about to release Frankenthaler’s new pumpkin doughnuts, on October 1st; we got an advance tasting of the pumpkin streusel muffin and pumpkin cake doughnut, both of which represented a step up from the usual DD fare.
Chicago magazine’s chief dining critic, Dennis Ray Wheaton, says you should make a beeline to your liquor store and snap up a bottle of North Shore Distillery’s single batch Rhuginger No. 6 gin (about $35). The Lake Bluff distillers recently infused 150 pounds of Illinois rhubarb plus fresh ginger root into 408 bottles of No. 6. “It’s got a terrific subtle rhubarb flavor with a light ginger finish propelled by an excellent gin base,” says Wheaton. The few hundred bottles left on the shelves are it—no more after that. Check www.northshoredistillery.com to see where it’s available.
Things to Do
1. Figure out a way to be at Charlie Trotter’s (816 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-248-6228) awesome-sounding $5,000 all-star dinner on October 7th, which will feature courses by Ferran Adrià, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Heston Blumenthal, and other masters, including Trotter himself. Eighty lucky guests will pony up the money, which goes to The Charlie Trotter Culinary Education Foundation. Call 773-248-8949, ext. 30, and blow the kid’s college fund. Your belly will forgive you.
2. Taste the world’s most expensive coffee, Panama Geisha from Hacienda La Esmeralda, freshly brewed on October 1st for an event at Intelligentsia’s Roasting Works (1850 W. Fulton St.). Admission $25; wine and hors d’oeuvres served, too. Click here for reservations.
3. Watch this, then try to get it out of your head.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The windows of Platiyo (3313 N. Clark St.) are papered over, and the phone has been temporarily disconnected. . . . Wakamono (3317 N. Broadway; 773-296-6800) is expanding into an adjacent double storefront, which means that along with Pingpong (3322 N. Broadway; 773-281-7575), Henry Chang now controls six storefronts on that stretch of Lake View. . . . Grant Achatz (Alinea, 1723 N. Halsted St.; 312-867-0110), who is recovering nicely after treatment for a tumor on his tongue, is finishing up a self-published cookbook, which will be distributed by Ten Speed Press in fall 2008. Check out the cool trailer: . . . . If you’re still waiting for the long-promised bakery at Aigre Doux (230 W. Kinzie St.; 312-329-9400), your wait just got longer. Chef/owners Malika Ameen and Mohammad Islam are expecting their third child in January, which means plans to open the bakery have been “tabled indefinitely.” . . . . Heaven or hell? Your call.