Last November, Javier Haro got a call from the producers of the Gordon Ramsay television show Kitchen Nightmares. Somebody had tipped the producers off to the fact that his eponymous restaurant was struggling, and they wondered if Javier would like a good brow-beating from the temperamental British chef. Javier immediately sent out a message to his mailing list: “Haro really could use the expertise of Mr. Ramsay to revamp our restaurant’s operation,” he wrote, adding that he “would like to personally invite [you] to write to the producers and continue nominating Haro.”
Clearly, the man was desperate. When it opened in January 2006, Haro got lots of press for its pintxos (the Basque region’s answer to tapas), which were new to Chicago’s dining scene. But the buzz wore off quickly, and by the time Kitchen Nightmares called, Haro was open only two days a week. Javier says part of the problem was the food: Basque cuisine is still new here, he says, and some of his customers “just don’t understand the style of cooking.” But his location hasn’t helped: Spanish food has been a hard sell in Heart of Italy, and he admits his menu might have been ambitiously priced for the neighborhood. “I think I might have priced a few of [the locals] out, but we’re working on that.”
In fact, he’s working on everything. Having brought on a new partner, Javier now has Haro open five days a week again, and this week he and chef Donny Morales unveil a new menu. Buckling under pressure to serve the more typical Spanish foods, he’s adding some traditional tapas (bacon wrapped dates, for instance). But he’s also adding ostia, a flank steak served with six sauces, and “Jamon a Mano,” hand-cut Serrano ham . The hope is that the “revived” Haro will save the restaurant from going under. (After all, Kitchen Nightmares ultimately didn’t choose to feature the restaurant.) “I need to get a little spark,” Javier says. “So I can let people in the city know that Haro’s back, we’re back strong and we’re here to stay.”
2436 S Oakley Ave between 24th Pl and 25th St (773-847-2400). Bus: 21, 49 (24hrs), 60 (24hrs). Dinner (closed Sun, Mon).