David Rekhson, one of the owners of Bull & Bear and Public House, spun this (condensed and edited) tale of the partners’ enviable trip to Italy. Their convivial hosts were the family of Fabio Viviani, the Top Chef fan favorite and Los Angeles restaurateur.
“We had dinner with his grandfather and his parents, and his mother cooked. The stuff she made was just so simple. She made lasagna from homemade pasta, with probably 20 paper-thin sheets all layered together, and she really crisped up the cheese on top. For a potato dish, she used something similar to Idaho potatoes, cut them up coarsely, poached them in olive oil, and threw in sage and garlic. That’s it. Also risotto fritters—ricotta cheese mixed with risotto and deep-fried, with cinnamon-sugar on them. Grandpa—he doesn’t speak a word of English—motioned me to pour my grappa into my espresso. We hung out in the kitchen, drinking wine, and dinner took about two hours to make. It was just the best food. We visited a wine cave with wines that were 150 years old. We drank 62-year-old dessert wine.”
The European jaunt provided research for Siena Tavern (51 W. Kinzie St., 312-788-7078), a rustic Italian restaurant with what Rekhson calls “an edgy dimension to it.” Currently building out the 10,000-square-foot space, Rekhson and his Dineamic group partner, Lucas Stoioff, plan a February opening with a menu of homemade pastas and Neapolitan pizzas baked in a Woodstone oven. Viviani plans to use some of Mom’s recipes. And as chef/partner, Rekhson hopes to bring Mom’s hospitality full circle: “We would like to bring her out for the opening.”
Hu What Now?
Tony Hu, who operates the increasingly uncountable stable of Lao restaurants, serves up another scoop, which may put him ahead of Baskin-Robbins for 2012. “Next door to Lao You Ju [2002 S. Wentworth Ave., 312-225-7818],” he says. “[On Lao You Ju’s] north side. An empty space. I’m taking it and breaking through. One big place. I will have dim sum now, too.” Hu says he might open the expanded restaurant this month, just after Lao Mala and the Uptown Lao Sze Chuan, and just before Lao 18 on Hubbard Street and an as-yet-unnamed place on Michigan Avenue, if you’re keeping close track. Also, if you’re keeping close track: Quit trying.
New Review: Ada Street
New restaurant reviews, updated to reflect critics’ recent visits, appear each month in Chicago magazine, in Dine, as well as on our website. Listed restaurants are rated from one to four stars, where one is good, two is very good, three is excellent, and four is superlative. Ada Street previously was not listed. The new review appears in the October issue, on newsstands now.
Ada Street (1664 N. Ada St., 773-697-7069). Mediterranean small plates.
½ (good to very good)
$$ ($30–$39 per person for a meal, without tax, tip, or alcohol)
Once you get past the unlikely industrial location (and the haunted-house anteroom), this young, hip boîte offers solid sour-salty-spicy gastropub food in an atmosphere perfect for chilling out. Bar bites such as fried black-eyed peas and Asian-flavored blistered Melrose and shishito peppers outdo Beer Nuts by a hipster mile; cavatelli with mint pesto, peas, prosciutto, and Parmesan demonstrates how to show off seasonality in this milieu for strong flavors. Some dishes fizzle with weak ingredients or overdo the salt. Cocktails don’t live up to the hype. But no other place in town with a Ping-Pong table on an AstroTurf patio turns out food this good.
For the dishes we liked best, click here.
“A man may be a pessimistic determinist before lunch and an optimistic believer in the will’s freedom after it.” —Aldous Huxley (1894–1963), English writer
The Little Goat (820 W. Randolph St., no phone yet), the diner from the Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard (Girl & the Goat), is currently scheduled for an October opening. When we checked in with her recently, she shared a few new Little Goat morsels, for which we provide exegesis.
- “When you walk in, it’s like a mini mall of goatness.” The Little Goat will have separate spaces and entrances for the diner, a bread shop, and a coffee shop, but they’re all internally connected. Staff members will wear corresponding uniforms.
- “We’re deciding if we want to do [for example,] every Monday is a certain dish or [alternatively,] have all the blue plates available all the time. We ordered the actual plates.” The diner tradition of the blue-plate special will live on, color and all, with dishes such as chicken pot pie, fried chicken, and braised meats.
- “We did a fried-ice-cream PB&J. Peanut butter ice cream inside of white bread, deep-fried and topped with house jam and marshmallow. I did it on Iron Chef about a year ago, and I’ve been dying to do it, but it didn’t seem right for [Girl & the Goat]. I saved it for the diner.” That one probably speaks for itself.
Jam Is in Session
Not a stoner-rock music venue, The Jam House (1854 W. 18th St., no phone) in Pilsen follows family tradition for the owners, René Lemus and Belen Jimenez, whose forebears operated street-food carts in Guadalajara in Jalisco. The shop, open about two months, specializes in hand-shaved ice topped with homemade jams in flavors such as strawberry, mango, pineapple, tamarind, and the tropical fruit mamey. “[The jam is] not too thick,” Lemus says. “Not thick like what you spread on your toast. Liquid, but not too liquid.” Lemus and Jiménez plan to sell the jams separately soon, at customers’ request. Requests for “Free Bird” will not be fulfilled.
A member of the family behind Bucktown’s beloved Cafe Laguardia and its former Galewood branch, Cafe Laguardia West, has opened a place not incorporating the family’s last name: The Lazy Parrot (2257 W. North Ave., 773-227-5299), a Cuban and Caribbean restaurant now open about a month. The Lazy Parrot’s chef/owner, George Laguardia, creates a menu of entrées (average price, $13) such as pulled pork, jerk chicken, and something called Caribbean-style falafel, with chickpeas and mango. “Sounds weird, but it’s very tasty and people really like it,” Laguardia says. He recommends the house specialties of oxtail stew with a red wine tomato sauce, made from a long-standing family recipe, and a pudding-flan mixture he calls pudiflan. “Almost like a cake with flan on top,” he says. “It’s like nothing you’ve ever had. That’s our house dessert because you won’t find it anywhere else. No one else has this. Not even my brother at Cafe Laguardia.” Whoa, tone it down, kids. Are we going to have to separate you?
He Said It
“I have a designer from the city [Sam Kirk] who is very into art. She is trying to make it look like a chicken coop.” —Christian Moreno, the owner of the forthcoming The Art of Chicken (2041 N. Western Ave., no phone yet), a counter-service spot for grilled chicken and sides, including home fries. Moreno plans to open as soon as inspections go through.
The Forces of Gouda
The moon may not be made of cheese, but empires apparently can be. The grilled-cheese specialist Cheesie’s Pub & Grub (958 W. Belmont Ave., 773-388-1574) has manifest-destinied the space next door, adding 63 seats, 20 bar seats, and 12 plasma-screen TVs. The expansion also brought pizza to the menu, available by the slice after 5 p.m. or whole at any time of day. The next step is colonization. A suburban location of Cheesie’s (622 Davis St., Evanston, 847-868-8686) is scheduled to open in about two weeks, possibly with more salads available in addition to grilled cheeses such as the Tenderizer, consisting of Mozzarella, cheddar, deep-fried chicken tenders, bacon, Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce, and hot sauce on Texas toast, with ranch dip. “We’re looking into creating two franchises,” says Chris Johnston, the owner. “Cheesie’s and A Slice of Cheesie’s [the pizza spinoff].” And all this only a year after the first Cheesie’s opened. At this rate, the moon actually may soon be the only cheese-free place.
- A little bit sexy, a little bit lowbrow at Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf.
- Pollack encounters a super size matzo ball at Eleven City Diner.
- Gingersnap Sweets & Such has plenty of ways to sate a sweet tooth.
Follow Pollack on Twitter.
Things to Do
- Take a minute to get in the know about off-the-menu delights, thanks to Grub Street’s handy “Secret Suppers” listicle.
- BYOV (that’s “vino”)—and bring it in a brown paper bag—tomorrow to Due Lire Vino & Cucina (4520 N. Lincoln Ave., 773-275-7878). The restaurant will waive its $20 corkage fee for the evening and its chef, Massimo Di Vuolo, will conduct a blind taste test—hence the paper bag—and recommend comparable selections and samples from Due Lire’s own wine list, along with food pairings.
- Give fall fare its proper welcome at Lincoln Square’s 25th annual Apple Fest, bobbing up at the 4700 block of North Lincoln Avenue on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Neighborhood gems such as Chicago Brauhaus, Fountainhead, Pizza D.O.C., and others will crank out plenty of apple-y snacks, including 500 apple-topped pizzas.
- Brasserie 54 by LM (5420 N. Clark St., 773-334-9463), a French spot in the former Premise space, managed by the growing LM Restaurant Group, is open.
- Lao Sze Chuan (4832 N. Broadway, 773-293-4653), the latest from Tony Hu’s Tony Gourmet Group (which gives LM Restaurant Group a run for its money on the rate-of-expansion front), is off and running in Uptown.
- Madame ZuZu’s (582 Roger Williams Ave., Highland Park, 847-926-7434), a 1930s-style 30-seat Chinese teahouse owned by the Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, is rocking the North Shore.
- Mezcalina (333 E. Benton Pl., 312-240-5000), an Oaxacan restaurant and coffee shop, has become the newest addition to the burgeoning Lakeshore East dining scene.
- Elizabeth (4835 N. Western Ave., 773-681-0651), a fine-dining restaurant with three tasting menus and an online ticketing system, opens Friday.
- Katherine Anne Confections (2745 W. Armitage Ave., 773-245-1630), a boutique confectionary that has garnered a farmers’ market following with its seasonally inspired caramels and truffles, debuts it first café on Saturday.
- Embers Fire & Smoke (122 S. York Rd., Elmhurst, 630-834-5700), a casual spot where the menu is arranged not by appetizer, entrée, and desserts but by fire and smoke, opens September 25.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
The 312 Dining Diva and Eater pieced together the story of Andrew Brochu’s departure from Graham Elliot. Elliot is said to be manning the grills for the time being. . . . Billy Dec tweeted his next venture: a new bar concept in the former Martini Ranch space. . . . The next Next iteration—Kyoto—launched last weekend.