After two years of elusive city permits, endless recipe testing and agonizing construction delays, the team behind Blackbird and Avec is on the verge of opening this year's hottest restaurant-provided it doesn't kill them first.
A few days later, Madia walks into the restaurant and heads to the kitchen. Compared to the condition it was in just a week ago, the kitchen looks good: It has been cleared of construction debris, and white penny tiles, a thousand tiny circles of progress, have been installed on the walls. Madia stands facing the tile, lifts his arms and, like a doctor checking for a heartbeat, presses his hands against them. He moves slowly across the rows, pressing as he goes.
On a wall to his right, workers are scraping the tiles off. They had been installed only days ago, but the grout used is a dark gray—dark enough that it highlights the grid in which the tiles were laid. It isn’t a very obvious flaw, and it’s in a part of the restaurant most people won’t see. But Madia insisted the tiles be scraped down anyway and installed again with white grout.
Madia has his hands on tiles that have already been relaid. They aren’t perfect, either—one line of tiles is jutting out from the rest. But he steps back a little and looks at it from a distance. It will have to work.
Minutes later, a shipment arrives. “Is that it?” Seitan asks, hurrying outside to help Madia meet the truck. Together, they move crates into the restaurant, grunting as they lift them from the dolly, carry them through the door and set them gently on the floor. Inside the crates are brass fixtures meant to suspend a plethora of globelike lights from the ceiling. Immediately, they start counting them. “That’s 83,” Madia says. “Where’s 84? We’re missing one?” Madia is flirting with panic at this point. They count them again.
A few days later, the partners are drinking coffee at Starbucks when the topic turns to resilience. Midwesterners, Kahan says, trudge through long winters only to meet hot summers, then they live the whole thing over again. He likes that. He likes hard work and the people who do it. The four of them have counted on that Midwestern resilience to get them through this process, to deal with two years of setbacks and details like steel structures. And penny tiles.
And now they’re near the end. Madia has a story to prove it, and it goes like this: After a recount, the 84th light fixture was found, and over the weekend, electricians worked long hours to install them. That Sunday, Madia walked into the restaurant to see how they looked. It was dark outside, and most of the globes had been installed; they were hanging from the ceiling in neat rows, and together they cast a dreamy, yellow light. Somewhere in the restaurant, a radio played, emanating a soft echo of classical music. Madia walked into the glow, and for a moment he was stunned into silence. He’d never seen anything like it in his life.
The Publican is slated to open in September at 845 W Fulton Mkt.
Check out the other sections in our 2008 Fall Preview: