The King of Spain was not waiting in the bar tonight. But, if he were, I know I would have been seated first. I cannot blame the King of Spain for not yet dining at Pacific Standard Time (PST), the new restaurant from the partnership of One Off Hospitality (Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, et al.) and Underscore Hospitality (Erling Wu-Bower, Joshua Tilden). Like me, he probably heard the name of the restaurant and shook his head. Which is to say, it feels a little weird to have a restaurant that is an homage to California produce and “California coast soul” (sadly, Marvin Gaye is not involved) named after a Western time zone open in Chicago. I suppose I’m being provincial, but if you opened a restaurant named Central Standard Time in Los Angeles serving Italian beef and tater tot hot dish, Jonathan Gold might just resurrect the LA Times rating system just to award no stars at all. Advertisements
In the last few years, “dad rock” has been used as pejorative shorthand for critics to dismiss bands or music of a certain ilk. Such music is usually plaintive, nostalgic, seemingly simplistic, maudlin or sometimes just fringe complex and weird.
The true character of a restaurant is often measured by what its crew does when no one is watching. Great restaurants do what’s right or go the extra mile even if diners don’t see the details or have specific expectations. New York’s Eleven Madison Park (EMP), for example, sends guests home with a parting gift of homemade granola so good it could put Nature Valley out of business. To mitigate what is often the most awkward restaurant service act, presenting a bill, they bring a bottle of apple brandy and offer gratis pours of the spirit with the delivered check so that guests don’t feel like they’re being rushed.
The good news is the restaurant ceiling didn’t fall on my head. When I dine at chef Iliana Regan’s restaurants, weird things happen. When I reviewed Regan’s Elizabeth, I went to the restroom, and when I closed the door, ceiling tiles fell on my head. I didn’t mind. The tiles were soft and I was so buzzed on the foraged pre-fixe meal (and, to be honest, a little too much Hermitage blanc wine), I wouldn’t have felt pain anyway. That night, Regan and her crew were very gracious and apologized for the mishap. Regan and I had a good laugh about this when we spoke last week about her new spot, Kitsune, a Japanese-skewing restaurant in North Center. “I think the bones of this place are much more solid,” she said
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about whether or not I truly exist. It’s mostly because I recently rewatched “The Matrix,” the premise of which is that the human world is a simulation created by sentient machines to distract us from the fact that those machines are farming humans to subsist on our bodies as an energy source. Normally I’d dismiss such a premise as temporary amusement or stoner fodder, but the recent launch of Publican Anker—the newest restaurant from One Off Hospitality Group (Avec, The Violet Hour, Big Star)—has me wondering if I’m actually living in a simulation
If you’ve ever dated someone who uses really good-smelling shampoo, you’ve probably found yourself leaning in to catch a whiff. Or maybe it wasn’t shampoo, but a cologne or a scent on a T-shirt or the lingering tang of lip balm after a kiss. The point is, you’re kind of intoxicated or haunted by that scent depending on your experience with its wearer. I had the same reaction to the first dish I tried at Elske, a new West Loop restaurant from husband-and-wife duo David (Blackbird) and Anna Posey (The Publican).
Forrest Gump was wrong. Sometimes life is not like a box of chocolates. You do know what you’re going to get. In the restaurant business, this means that people with good track records tend to churn out great work over and over again. The folks behind Lakeview newcomer Entente—owner Ty Fujimura (Small Bar, Ani, Arami), chef partner Brian Fisher (Schwa) and pastry chef Mari Katsumura (Blackbird, Acadia)—are a veritable dream team.
Outside of Fergus “Bone Marrow” Henderson, Jamie “Naked Chef” Oliver and Gordon “Hell’s Kitchen” Ramsay, the English aren’t usually lauded for their food. They are, however, celebrated for their soccer, aka football. These facts tend to manifest themselves here in Chicago in that most places where you can catch a Premier League or World Cup game look like questionable basement man caves and serve middling pub food. But the tide is turning with Chelsea and Art Jackson’s recent reincarnation of their long-running but now-defunct Bridgeport bakery, Pleasant House, as Pleasant House Pub in Pilsen.
Visions of maple-glazed crispy pig ears have been dancing in my head for years since I tried them at chef Jason Vincent’s now-defunct Nightwood in Pilsen. They were one of those iconic Chicago dishes, like Avec’s bacon-wrapped dates or Alinea’s black truffle explosion. But as of 2015, they were no more. Though he was named a Food & Wine magazine best new chef (the equivalent of an Oscar in the culinary world), Vincent went into semi-retirement to raise his two young children. But it was only a matter of time before he reemerged, and earlier this year he announced a partnership with Josh Perlman (Avec) and chef de cuisine Ben Lustbader to open Giant in Logan Square. I stopped in recently to see if his new venture could hold its own
Leña Brava, which translates to “ferocious wood,” might make a decent character name in the next “Magic Mike” flick. But in this case, it’s a nod to the fact that just about everything cooked at Rick Bayless’ new West Loop restaurant is wood-fired in a hearth or cooked over oak-stoked grills. That’s right; there’s not a single gas-fired dish coming from the kitchen at Leña Brava.