A vision of bro-bar bottle service is not the reverie chef Stephen Gillanders is trying to invoke with the name of his new Pilsen restaurant, S.K.Y.. Rather, the name is a sweet commemoration of his wife, Seon Kyung Yuk’s initials. But, it is hard for me not to hear S.K.Y. and think of the cerulean-colored Skyy vodka bottle, a 1990s-era talisman for things like blue-shirted consultants booty shaking to the former Fresh Prince of Bel Air’s #1 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It”.
Before Charlie Trotter, there was Arun Sampanthavivat. In 1985, two years before Trotter launched his eponymous world-famous restaurant, at a time when Thai food awareness was relegated to gummy pad thai and shrimp chips that tasted like Styrofoam, Sampanthavivat opened a prix-fixe temple serving scratch curries and noodles sprinkled with gold leaf. Like Rick Bayless showed America that Mexican food was more than chimichangas, Arun elevated Thai food in the local and national consciousness
For a long time, Mexican food in America was mostly a Tex-Mex hybrid featuring hefty doses of monterey jack and sour cream on deep-fried flour tortillas stuffed with meat. Not necessarily the stuff you’d find people eating in Mexico. It took pioneers such as Diana Kennedy and Rick Bayless to really open up the world of nuanced moles and hot griddled tortillas made from fresh masa.
There’s a long letter posted on the door at Andy’s Thai Kitchen, a new restaurant in Lake View. There’s stuff about an old restaurant no longer being the restaurant it once was, things about a new chef, preserving Thai grandparents’ ancient recipes, and authenticity. As letters on restaurant doors go, it is long.