Rebuilding Shikago

Chef Kevin Shikami has not only left Shikago (190 S. La Salle St.; 312-781-7300), the Loop spot he owned with his brother, Alan—he has retired from the restaurant business altogether. Shikami (Kevin, Yoshi’s, Jimmy’s Place) recently married and plans to travel with his wife to Southeast Asia, then relocate to Hawaii. Stepping into his shoes is Ryan McCaskey, most recently the chef at Courtright’s in Willow Springs. “We are changing everything,” says McCaskey of the revamp. “The name, the concept. It’ll be contemporary global cuisine, which means everything, of course. Some Asian, a lot American. A lot of French, Italian, Moroccan. You name it.” Alan Shikami, who touts McCaskey’s duck with hot blackberry jelly, likes his new chef’s grounding. “His cuisine does range all over, but he’s also very practical and not an in-your-face, cutting-edge type,” says Alan Shikami. “He’s very happy to make very accessible food.” The way McCaskey describes it, the still-unnamed restaurant will be a draw for power lunches, prix fixe dinners, wine-and-cheese plates before theatre, and a wine bar/lounge where the old to-go counter was. “And we have private dining on the 40th floor with 30-foot ceilings,” he says. “It looks like Bruce Wayne’s manor.” Shikago will remain open for now,  then regroup under its new umbrella in November.

Italian Modern Art

In May 2009, Tony Mantuano (Spiaggia) plans to open a 140-seat restaurant in the Renzo Piano–designed Modern Wing of the Art Institute (111 S. Michigan Ave.). “We are basically Italian, but the focus there will be less on importing Italian ingredients,” says Mantuano. “More about local and organic.” The still-unnamed spot will be lunch-only (plus dinner two nights a week), and will be available to non-museumgoers.  “It is the only restaurant at the Art Institute that you will be able to dine at without entering the museum,” says Mantuano. “There is a pedestrian bridge that goes from Millennium Park over Monroe and basically deposits people at the front entrance of the restaurant.” Meanwhile, Missy Robbins, the executive chef of Spiaggia (980 N. Michigan Ave.; 312-280-2750), has left for New York’s A Voce, near Madison Square Park. Mantuano is thrilled for her, and assures us that there will be no “seismic change” at Spiaggia.


“The difference between ‘involvement’ and ‘commitment’ is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: The chicken was involved—the pig was committed.” –Unknown

Neapolitan Pizza Alert!

Nella Grassano, Spacca Napoli’s talented original pizzaiola, will team up with her husband, Frank Grassano, and Mia Francesca’s Scott Harris to open Nella Pizzeria Napoletana (2423 N. Clark St.), a 110-seat Neapolitan pizzeria next January. “I met Nella through the guy who sharpens my knives, Claudio Cozzini,” says Scott Harris, owner of the Francesca Group. “He called me and said, ‘Hey, I got this girl; she makes pizza.’” Harris had been talking for two years about opening a pizzeria, and quickly partnered with Grassano, a native of Naples. “She’s got recipes from her family,” Harris says. “Her father’s a pizza maker. Her grandfather is a pizza maker. Her brothers are pizza makers. I want the grandma stuff and the great-grandma stuff.” On October 1st—in what is becoming the mark of a true Neapolitan spot—a pair of Italian craftsmen arrive to build Nella’s wood-burning oven, brick by brick. 

Shaken, Stirred, or However

Dirty Martini Bistro and Lounge (23 W. Hubbard St.; 312-661-1230), which opens in the old Bella Rosa space on September 12th, features martinis on tap. Martinis on tap? “In the middle of our bar it looks like an ice sculpture but it’s actually a tapper that serves up vodka at 20 degrees,” says Kent Blankenship, a managing partner who also works in the construction industry. “And the light fixtures are martini glass–type chandeliers.” Well, all righty, then. Dirty Martini’s chef, Jay Richardson (437 Rush, Green Dolphin Street) is pairing all this booze with sushi, mini and full-size sandwiches, pizzas, and pastas.

Unintentionally Hilarious Web Site Typo of the Week

“In 2003, David received the Wine Spectator Award for food and wine excellence and the 2003 Sante award for excellence impairing food and wine.” –Sweets & Savories (1534 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-281-6778), describing the achievements of its chef, David Richards

Friendly Persuasion

Pollack recently checked out Friends Sushi (710 N. Rush St.; 312-787-8998), which opened in April 2007 in the old Silver Spoon and renovated the space in April 2008. (Silver Spoon moved downstairs.) Though it’s next to Rosebud, it’s easy to overlook this spot. “It’s kind of a secret place,” says Malika Wongpanich, a partner. “If you walk on Michigan Avenue, you couldn’t see that we are here.” The spiffed-up room, with interlocking tables that recalled kidney-shaped puzzle pieces, was empty early, but it filled up. We liked the generous soft-shell crab ($9) with cucumber relish, not to mention the pan-seared crab cake ($8), basically a pile of nicely seasoned crab. Nothing fancy, but it’s quiet and affordable, especially for the neighborhood.

Things to Do

  1. Go to the September 17th book launch of The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs (Little, Brown), the newest definitive volume by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. The signing will be at Green City Market (Clark Street and Lincoln Avenue) at 11:30 a.m.
  2. Get free hors d’oeuvres, antipasti, pizza, a variety of Italian wines, and live entertainment on September 15th from 6 to 9 p.m. at the DePaul-area Italian favorite Via Carducci (1419 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-665-1981), which is celebrating its 12th anniversary with a party. “This is our way of saying thanks to all our customers over the past 12 years,” says Giovanni Scalzo, the owner.
  3. Peel a potato the easy way.

Dot Dot Dot . . .

More (1 E. Delaware Pl; 312-951-0001), the long-awaited Gold Coast sweet-and-savory cupcake shop that got Tru’s Gale Gand and Henry Adaniya (formerly of Trio) to consult on the menu, opens September 12th. . . . The prized spot next to Evanston’s Century Theatre, until last September the home of Wolfgang Puck Grand Café, has been filled with an outpost of the casual, Columbus, Ohio–based Bravo! Cucina Italiana (1701 Maple Ave., Evanston; 847-733-0917). . . . Happy fifth anniversary to Boka (1729 N. Halsted St.; 312-337-6070), which celebrates the milestone on September 15th with a six-course, $150 wine dinner. . . . Tap House Grill, an American restaurant with locations in St. Charles and Glen Ellyn and perhaps the most generic name in the history of restaurants, recently opened another in Oswego (123 W. Washington St.; 630-383-2020), and has a fourth coming soon in Westmont. We’re curious about the homemade Kit Kat, but that’s about it.