There are two kinds of people in this city: those who depend on, crave and frequently revisit the Bento Box—and those who've never heard of it. I'm squarely in the former group, but for the latter camp: The Bento Box is chef Rick Spiros's tribute to the continent of Asia, a place that elevates bibimbap with juicy, tender hanger steak; that serves massive bowls of noodles with chili-rubbed chicken (one of the 100 Best Things We Ate last year); and that, as of last week, is bringing a little bit of Chinatown to Bucktown with the launch of Dim Sum Saturday nights.
The menu changes weekly, but if last week's is any indication, expect small plates such as pork-and-rice-noodle spring rolls, barbecue-pork steamed buns, shrimp fried rice, steak-and-mushroom chow fun, mussels in lime-leaf curry, Duroc roasted pork belly, yu choy with oyster sauce, pan-fried pork dumplings, shrimp potstickers and housemade kimchi. Dim Sum Saturday nights run from 5:30–10pm, which seems like a good time to remind any Bento Box loyalists that the shop's spring/summer hours are Wednesdays and Thursdays 5:30–9pm and Fridays and Saturdays 5:30–10pm (closed Sun–Tue).
Other updates: Spiros is renewing his committment to sourcing product as locally as possible and is now making vegetarian and gluten-free dishes, such as okra-and-eggplant Indian-style curry. Check the menu tab on Bento Box's facebook page for daily menu updates. 2246 W Armitage Ave (773-278-3932).
This dreary spring is looking a little more lovely thanks to Carrie Nahabedian, the chef-owner of Naha, who's officially opening her second restaurant, Brindille (pronounced braun-DEE and French for branch or new growth), April 22. Since this is the ever-classy Nahabedian we're talking about, this will most definitely not be another of the thumping, late-night, shared-plates emporiums that have colonized River North over the past few years. Brindille (where former Naha sous chef Ali Ratcliffe-Bauer will be the chef de cuisine) is about Paris, it's about a return to refinement, it's about vintage French cocktails, and (of course) it's about foie gras (served as an appetizer with rhubarb, fennel and candied olives). Or perhaps you'd prefer to start with frog legs? Check out the full menu after the jump.
Brindille (534 N Clark St, 312-595-1616) soft-opens this weekend and is now accepting reservations for Monday, April 22 and beyond. Its hours will be open Monday–Saturday 5–10pm and Sundays 4–8pm.
King Crab Merus, Spring Pea and Tapioca Custard, Black Truffles and Sauternes $21
Oysters, Eggs Brouillés, Leeks and Oscietra Caviar $19
Frog Legs, Blanc-manger of Cauliflower and Parsley, Ramps, Hazelnuts and Green Garlic $18
Foie Gras, Rhubarb, Fennel, Candied Olives, Lavender and Beaumes de Venise $27
Steak Tartare with Flavors of Rye, Sorrel, Tarragon, Pickled Mustard Seeds and Quail Egg $21
Broccoli Soup, Hedgehog Mushrooms, Crème Fraîche and Bacon, Brin d’Amour Toast $15
Veal Sweetbreads, Loin and Rack of Rabbit, Fiddlehead Ferns, Golden Beet and Cacao $19
Salad of Soft Lettuces, Tartine of Easter Egg Radish, Crottin and Caramelized Almond $17
Frisée Salad, Forelle Pear, Roquefort and Walnuts $ 16
La Mer and La Ferme
Guinea Fowl, Morels, Fava Beans, Sunchokes, Cockscombs, Savory and Vin Jaune $42
Lobster Brindille, Black Trumpets, Coco Beans and Pebble Potatoes, Fragrant Flowers, Coral Butter and Vanilla $48
Rib of Beef, Potato Tarte Tatin, Tomme de Savoie and Bone Marrow $46
Dover Sole Meunière, Asparagus Viennoise, Grapefruit and Lemon Balm $45
Monkfish Tail, Burgundy Snails, Gem Romaine, Yellow Beans, Flageolets and Coriander $39
Tranche of Duck Breast, Foie Gras and Wheat Berries, Young Carrots and Turnips, Watercress and Candied Orange Peel $44
Lamb Saddle, Artichokes, Knob Onions and Spring Vegetables, French Olive Oil, Herbs and Parmesan $45
Omble Chevalier, Beluga Lentils and Oxtails, Granny Smith Apple, Kohlrabi and Horseradish $41
Paris-Brest of Strawberries and Fromage Blanc scented with Pralines and Rose $ 12
Warm Baked Cherry & Almond Clafoutis, Crème Chantilly $ 14
Roasted Pineapple, Crème Fraîche Ice Cream and Cashew Nuts $12
Fantaisie au Chocolat $13
Selection of French Cheese, Lady Anne Apple, Huckleberry and Meyer Lemon Jam, Seeded Raisin Ficelle $22
Representatives from many of the best bars and restaurants in Chicago gathered together at Terzo Piano last night to find out who would receive the Readers' Choice and Critics' Picks Eat Out Awards. The big winners of the night: Fat Rice, which readers voted Best New Restaurant, and Scofflaw, the recipient of the Best New Bar honor. Congratulations to all the winners: Browse these photos of the event, then read all about the winners!
Cleetus Friedman had a big day yesterday: He was revealed to be one of 17 finalists for the host position of Check, Please!
It also happened to be the first day of his new job as chef of the Fountainhead.
Since shuttering City Provisions, the sustainably-minded deli and catering company, Friedman has been talking to lots of people about lots of jobs. Most of them were chef jobs; some of them were consulting requests; some people wanted to do City Provisions again. "I had the gamut, and I really wanted to hold out for the right fit," Friedman says.
Fountainhead appears to be that fit. It's a natural choice for Friedman in multiple ways. First of all, it's in Ravenswood, the same neighborhood City Provisions was in. Second, it's a beer joint, and Friedman is a bonafide beer freak (at City Provisions, he collaborated with several local breweries on custom brews). Finally, brunch is involved. "I love brunch!" Friedman exclaimed to me. "And they want brunch to take off. So I'm going to take my brunch here."
The specifics of the menu are yet to be determined. Friedman told me that he plans to collect feedback from his followers (Twitter and otherwise) as to what he should put on the menu. Certain signatures of his are, he assumes, forgone conclusions. "My turkey sandwich—that's gotta be on there," he says. He plans on offering many items in varying sizes, so that a dish can feed one person or four. He also hopes to continue cooking sustainably, as much as he can. In other words, it sounds like what Friedman plans for the Fountainhead will have a lot of City Provisions elements to it—and a lot of people will probably find that a very good thing.
It's been few years since Mark Steuer left HotChocolate, and so far, nobody has really replaced the guy—the savory side of the restaurant, which got rehabbed last year, has been held down by Mindy Segal and a rotating crew of other chefs, none of whom ever stuck around or made their mark the same way Steuer did.
Now, that seems to have changed. Segal has hired a new chef to handle the savory side of her restaurant, and wouldn't you know it—he was one of TOC's 20 Chefs To Watch.
His name is Dennis Stover. He was a sous at Big Star for two years; after that, he was the executive sous chef at Longman & Eagle. Last month, he was on the verge of taking a chef position in New York. But then HotChocolate called.
"Mindy and I talked for two hours that night," Stover says. He told the guys in New York thanks, but no thanks.
There are things that Stover won't be changing at HotChocolate. The burger, the crab cake sandwich, the mac and cheese. "There's no reason to change those things," he says. But Stover does plan to execute a broader level change. The food "is going to be more composed," he says. "And executed differently as far as the composition of the plate." If that sounds like HotChocolate is going fine-dining, well, maybe it is, a little ("I'm classically trained French technique," Stover reminds me). But Stover also has what he calls "hillbilly roots" (specifically: Kentucky) and an itch to make everything from scratch.
So at HotChocolate he plans to serve a sort of fusion: "It's like mom and grandma food, but taking techniques and giving it finesse." (But, he's quick to point out, "it has that refineness without being pretentious or overly plated with tweezers.")
So far Stover has made tweaks to many of the dishes on HotChocolate's menu but has not released a menu that is completely his own yet—that will come in about a month. If you're looking to taste what Stover can do in the meantime, you know what to do: Focus on the specials.
Almost 100 fans have left kind messages on Lillie's Q Facebook page, and it's fair to assume that many more people are grieving the loss of a restaurant that in 2010 surprised the city with its expert ribs.
The official word from Lillie's Q so far is that, well, there is no word. A representative for the restaurant told me that both locations (the second is the recently opened annex in the French Market) are "closed indefinitely—there's no timetable for reopening either location right now. It is the plan to have them up and running as soon as humanly possible."
Which leaves people who want to help the restaurant—or maybe just get another taste of it—pretty helpless.
But it occurred to me that there is one way that Lillie's Q is still with us. We still have its sauces.
The restaurant bottles and sells six of its sauces at stores in six states. In Chicago the sauces can be found at The Goddess & Grocer, Publican Quality Meats and a good number of other stores (the complete list is here). You can also still buy the sauces online.
How long the sauces will last, I don't know. They were produced in the basement where the fire broke out. But they're here now, which is a small solace. And maybe the stock will last until Lillie's Q opens again....
Perhaps that's just wishful thinking on my part. But can you blame me? Today, Lillie's Q is where all my thoughts—and wishes—are directed.
We're in the final days of voting for the Eat Out Awards, and without giving away any of the hyper-secret results so far, I can say that these races are close. Very close. So close that, for once, your single vote can actually tip the scales—you have the power, man!
Power not enough incentive? Then consider this: Today through Wednesday, every person who votes in the Eat Out Awards will automatically be entered to win a pair of tickets to Taste of the Nation. (If you aren't familiar with Taste of the Nation, it's a huge charity event where every great chef in the city comes under one roof and throws snacks down your throat. It's amazing. And expensive. Two free tickets is nothing to shake a stick at.)
So what are you waiting for? Power—and power-eating—is yours for the taking. All you have to do is click here.
Since opening Niche in 2005, Gerard Craft has been a poster boy for St. Louis's dining scene, earning a Food & Wine Best New Chef nod in 2008 and spawning a mini-empire that now includes Taste by Niche, Brasserie by Niche and Pastaria. Craft comes to Chicago tonight to prepare a collaborative dinner with (Michelin-starred chef) Andrew Zimmerman at Sepia, where the pair will alternate between courses. (One of Craft's: pork belly with preserved trout sauce, honey-radish purée and sorrel). He tells us more about that dinner (for which seats are still available—call 312-441-1920), Paul Kahan and (of course) hot dogs in the survey below.
Name Gerard Craft
Occupation Executive Chef and Owner of Niche, Taste by Niche, Brasserie by Niche and Pastaria
Welcome to Chicago! Why are you here?
I am in town to cook a modern Midwest dinner with Andrew Zimmerman. I think we both have a mutual respect for really celebrating the ingredients that are around us. Andrew and I worked together to develop the menu, and we will be alternating courses using the first of spring ingredients. Andrew is an amazing chef, and we are so excited for the opportunity to cook with him!
Did you have any fears/anxieties/nervousness about coming to Chicago? Explain.
Love and respect all of the chefs in Chicago so I am just hoping to do my city proud and show everyone what our city has to offer. We've established a pretty tight-knit community of chefs in St. Louis that are really pushing the dining scene forward and creating a cool collaborative culture, and I’m very proud to be a part of that. We come up to Chicago, though, a couple of times a year, and we always leave with new ideas.
True or false: You will be eating at Avec while in town.
Absolutely true! I always try and hit it right when they open.
The Chicago hot dog—yes or no?
What does Chicago have that your home city doesn't have?
Paul Kahan! That man is a genius!
What does your home city have that Chicago doesn't have?
The Cardinals! Sorry Guys!
Tell us an interesting story from your childhood.
When I was pretty little, I went to a marine biology camp in California. I was a pretty picky eater, but during a cooking class, we went to the beach and harvested kelp berries for muffins. It really opened my eyes.
Tell us a funny/interesting/frightening tale about your company.
There was one time while we were opening Pastaria when a cook starting making fun of another cook for the way he was chopping wood. He grabbed the hatchet and said, "This is how you do it," and put it straight into his own hand. He is lucky he still has it.
If I had just one more day in Chicago, I’d use it to...
...eat at way more places!
The nominees for Restaurateur of the Year in the 2013 Eat Out Awards are:
Janan Asfour, Tom MacDonald and Jason Normann
Telegraph and Reno
Matt Eisler & Kevin Heisner
Jerrod, Molly & R.J. Melman
RPM and Bub City
The Boarding House
Bavette's and Au Cheval
Polls close March 13. Vote now!
Details about Parson's Chicken & Fish, the new spot from Land and Sea Dept. (Longman & Eagle partners Cody Hudson, Robert McAdams and Peter Toalson, along with Mode Carpentry's Jon Martin), started leaking this morning on Windy City Live. We learned of the location (2952 W Armitage Street), the concept (fish and chicken shack) and a few dishes (chorizo clam chowder, fried fish). Now we have one more detail to add: the chef.
His name: Hunter Moore. And here's everything we know about him: He has previously worked at Girl & the Goat, Lula Cafe and Nightwood; will "elevate 'typical chicken and fish joint offerings'"; and will be bringing a "mix of coastal, comfort, soul and street-food influences." Also on board is Max Wolod, a North Pond and XOCO alum who'll be overseeing the beverage program as General Manager.
The tentative opening date is mid-April, but look for events in the space in the weeks to come.
The Chicago-style hot dog is an icon that needs no improvement, but certain adaptations (such as Allium's) threaten to do just that. The Popcorn Factory is taking the classic food in its own direction, with Chicago-style hot dog–flavored popcorn, part of a trio of "Chicago" flavors that hit the market today, in honor of Chicago's 176th birthday. Also featured: Chicago-style deep-dish pizza popcorn and drizzled-cheesecake popcorn. The Popcorn Factory kindly sent over some samples; my tasting notes are below.
Chicago-style deep dish pizza popcorn
Looks...like it was literally attacked by a deep-dish pizza. It glows crimson and appears slightly alive.
Tastes...like tomato sauce with fake cheese. In other words, exactly like a deep-dish pizza.
To summarize...kind of genius.
Chicago-style hot dog popcorn
Looks...like heavily seasoned popcorn.
Tastes...like mustard. Lingering finish of onion powder. Faint scent of nitrates.
To summarize...At least it doesn't taste like ketchup.
Drizzled cheesecake popcorn
Looks...like any popcorn with melted chocolate.
Tastes...like corn syrup, fake vanilla, shortening and chemicals.
To summarize...This cements cheesecake's status as a second-tier "Chicago food."
Chicago flavors are available online at The Popcorn Factory through March 31.
The name of the restaurant, which I'm told will likely open in the spring, comes from two places: First and foremost it is an homage to New York's Mott Street, a place two of Ruxbin's partners—chef Edward Kim and his sister Vicki Kim—frequently visited to eat when Edward was studying at NYU. But, serendipitously, the Korean word for "taste" is pronounced "mott," giving the name an added layer of meaning.
Not that Mott Street will be a Korean restaurant. Like Ruxbin, the influences will come from everywhere, making the genre of the restaurant almost impossible to peg. If there's a through-line to Edward's menu, it'll be food that you might find at a night market—that is, snacky foods that quell that specific brand of late-night hunger; hyperflavorful, sometimes-spicy dishes that set off the release of endorphins. "It's food that won't bog you down," Vicki says. (No draft of the menu is available yet, but the menu of the DLS event is indicative of what will be served. For another preview, pay attention to what's happening with Fête—Mott Street will preview its food at the market on April 4.)
It's not only the food that will be night-market-esque. The space, 1401 N Ashland Ave (formerly MC Bistro), will also have that vibe. While the room will be bright and have a "West Coast aesthetic," according to partner Nate Chung, it will also be, as Vicki says, fairly "utilitarian." (David Nanni, who designed Ruxbin, is not involved in the project.) The space fits about 65 people inside and 40 on an outdoor patio, and the Mott Street team has come up with all sorts of plans for the parking lot and surrounding outdoor space: A farmers' market, a vegetable garden, a place to host picnics and movies (though they admit many of these things will happen down the line, not right away).
Despite the bigger space, perhaps the most major difference between Mott Street and Ruxbin is alcohol: Mott Street will sell it. Right now Chung sees the beverage program as being centered around cocktails and beers and "possibly wine." Right. Who drinks wine at a night market?
Second City holds a monthly video shorts competition, and this month's winner gives a fantastical version of the origin story of Chicago's own Malört liquor. Second City holds a monthly contest for short videos; each month's contest is based on a suggestion from the previous month. This month's suggestion was "What's That Smell on the Bus?" The answer involves a talking polar bear:
Name Richard Blais
Welcome to Chicago! Why are you here?
Doing some media for my first cookbook, Try This at Home.
Did you have any fears/anxieties/nervousness about coming to the Midwest? Explain.
I LOVE Chicago and the Midwest. I'm a big runner and it's my favorite running city, and of course a great eating and sports city. Hmmm, guess I won't be running though the next few days :/
True or false: You will be eating at Avec while in town.
False, but I have and it's one of the best places in the country. A true chefs' restaurant, so delicious.
Where else will you be eating?
Trying to see what my friends Grant Achatz [and] Homaro Cantu are up to. I haven't been to Girl & the Goat yet (gasp...) maybe [restaurants from] Graham Elliott Bowles, Rick Bayless, maybe Grace. But honestly, I'm unfortunately in and out :/
The Chicago hot dog—yes or no? (Choose one.)
C. I don’t know what that is.
A. An enthusiastic YES! That dish has truly inspired me. It's the celery seed/celery salt thing....Blows my mind. I'll be having one for sure, even if it's at the airport.
What does Chicago have that your home city doesn’t have?
The Cubs. I love the Cubs. Food-wise, a great number of well-done restaurants. A great mash-up of both ultra-creative fine-dining spots, stuff-your-face eateries, and historic street/casual food. It's an epic food city, but you know that…
What does your home city have that Chicago doesn’t have?
A good football team....I'm going to get in trouble for that. Food-wise, the South has a more storied tradition, perhaps deeper roots. But I consider Chicago a better overall food city to be honest.
Tell us an interesting story from your childhood
My first job was at a McDonald's. I was the poissonier, which means fish cook in French. So it was a very prestigious position.
Tell us a funny/interesting/frightening tale about your restaurant.
We have 400 reservations at The Spence Saturday—that frightens me.
If I had just one more day in Chicago, I’d use it to:
Run 10 miles lakeside. Such a beautiful back drop. And running through the Museum [Campus] & Soldier Field: the best. But I'd want it to be Spring :/
The nominees for Best New Pastry Chef in the 2013 Eat Out Awards are:
Erin Mooney of Maison & Eggy's
Read more about Mooney, one of TOC's 20 Chefs To Watch.
Mitsu Nozaki of Urban Union
Read more about Nozaki's Copy Kat dessert, named one of the 100 Best Things We Ate last year.
Bobby Schaffer of Grace
Read more about Schaffer, one of TOC's Four Pastry Chefs To Watch in 2013.
Anna Shovers of the Publican
Read more about Shovers, one of TOC's Four Pastry Chefs to Watch in 2013.
Katie Wyer of Telegraph & Reno
Read more about Wyer's famous wood oven–fired bagels.
Voting ends March 13. Vote now!
Despite the proliferation of craft spirits, Chicago-proper still has only two functioning distilleries: Koval and Letherbee. Looks like baby will make three this spring, with the launch of CH Distillery in the West Loop. CH's focus is premium vodka, and the facility will also have a bar with small plates from consulting chef (and avec alum) Jesse Katzman (one of TOC's 20 Chefs to Watch). TOC spoke with Tremaine Atkinson, who's opening the distillery with Mark Lucas:
You’re a home brewer. How did that translate into opening a distillery?
As a brewer, I was always interested in the idea of taking beer to the next step, which is distilling it and turning it into something else. I’ve always just been a huge fan of vodka, so it’s kind of a natural progression from being a brewer to becoming a distiller.
Is there a demand for a locally made vodka?
Yeah, I think so. The idea of this is really driven by a passion to do something and do something well. But from the business side, there are obviously a lot of vodkas out there, and there are a lot of craft distillers out there. There aren’t a ton of craft distillers who are focused on vodka as their primary product and also making that vodka from scratch, from actual grain. There’s a fair number of vodkas out there that are made by distilleries while they’re kind of waiting for their whiskey or their bourbon to age in the barrels. And to really make a really high-quality, very clean-tasting vodka takes different equipment and a different approach to distilling. Our passion is with vodka, and there seems to be a bit of an opportunity—maybe—in the market for a really well made, truly hand-crafted vodka that’s also local—that’s made right here in the city, made from Illinois grain and with a focus on Chicago as the market.
What is the different type of equipment that you need to make a high-quality vodka?
There are basically two types of stills: one is a pot still, which is used really for making whiskey. The pot still does not have a lot of ability to sort out and filter out the various different types of alcohols that, when you’re making vodka, you need to remove. To do that, you need a column still, which has a lot more plates, which give you very fine differentiation of temperature as you’re vaporizing and re-condensing the alcohol. You really can’t make a high-quality vodka from scratch on a pot still. Column stills are also more expensive. They also have to be taller, so you need some ceiling height in your space as well to be able to do that.
Will vodka be your only product?
It will be our primary product, but the nice thing about having the equipment that we have is it does give us the ability to make really any spirit that we like. And since we will have a cocktail bar as part of the operation, and by the state craft spirit license, we’re limited to only selling what we make, we’re also going to make some products for the bar. We’ll make a gin [in a style that’s lighter on juniper than most]. We’ll likely make an [unaged] rum and an [unaged] whiskey as well. And we’ll see: If those become popular, that’s something we could make more of.
Where did the idea come from to have a bar attached to the distillery?
It was really born of having visited a lot of smaller distilleries and being a little frustrated by only being able to get a warm, little tiny taste of their product. There are some places where you can actually get a full pour or a cocktail made, and we like those better. We just think it’s cool to be able to actually have a drink! And it seemed to also fit well with the neighborhood. For example, if you’re going to avec for dinner and you want to have a cocktail before, we thought our location would lend itself really well to that. The bar will have room for about 45 people. And we will also serve some small-plate, light appetizers as well. We will not have a full kitchen at all...it’s not the intent to serve dinner or anything like that. It’s more to have some interesting foods that pair really well with the spirits. For example, it might be a glass of very cold vodka (kind of as it’s done in some of the Eastern European traditions) and a small piece of smoked fish and a piece of rye bread with that.
Are you the head distiller?
Yes. Myself and Kevin McDonald, who worked at Koval last summer. Kevin and I will be the day-to-day distilling team, but we’re also working with a consultant, Steve Wright, from Canada, who has worked with some of the big vodka producers for about the last 20 years. He’s sort of our higher-level guru that we’ve developed our recipe with and is sort of helping guide us a little bit. One of the cool things about vodka, versus a higher-flavor-profile spirit, is that vodka, from a distillation standpoint, is a much more technical distillation. It’s more science-based. That’s also where our name was born from: C and H came from carbon and hydrogen, which are the principal atoms in alcohol.
From Chinese restaurants (Home Style Taste) to coffee shops (Jackalope) to sit-down spots (Oliver's Cafe), Bridgeport has been gaining traction recently as a dining destination. (That's not to mention less-brand-new favorites Bridgeport Coffee, Maria's and Pleasant House Bakery.) Husband-and-wife Jay Sebastian and Carrie Clark, residents of the neighborhood, are eager to be a part of the revival. "We're hoping to improve the profile of the Bridgeport community," says Sebastian, who, along with Clark, is opening Bridgeport Pasty, a bakery, this spring. "A lot of new small businesses are coming to the area," he says, "and it’s starting to become a bit of a destination."
Sebastian thanks his food truck of the same name, which launched two years ago, for making the brick-and-mortar location possible. "Despite all the city problems with licensing and restrictions [with regard to food trucks]," says Sebastian, "we've still been able to reach a nice cross-section of residents for a fraction of the cost of opening a restaurant." In so doing, "it allowed us to test the waters and see if our product will appeal to the public," he says, adding: "It has." As a result, this spring the couple is adding a non-mobile location on Morgan Street to sell their pasties: hand-held meat pies with fillings like pork-and-apple, steak-and-Stilton, ginger chicken and spinach-and-mushroom. In addition to pasties (sold hot and frozen), it will serve soups ("logical soups to go with the hand-held working-class food nature of the pasty," says Sebastian, such as Tuscan bean soup or corn chowder), salads, baked sweets, coffee and sodas (like Bridgeport-made Filbert's). The food truck will continue to be a "mobile 'incubator' for new ideas," says Sebastian.
As showcased in that tiny, electric-powered Bridgeport Pasty food truck, Sebastian and Clark are serious when it comes to sustainability. They're having solar panels installed on the roof of the bakery, "so the cool thing," says Sebastian, "is we'll be able to charge our electric truck with solar power and run most of the bakery out of it."
Bridgeport Pasty (3142 S Morgan St) is slated to open this spring. Follow its progress @BridgeportPasty.