Sequels are tricky. They’re rarely better than the original. “The Godfather Part 2” which had a richness and depth that surpassed “The Godfather” is one of few exceptions. Usually what happens in a sequel is you get a tired, slightly different rehash of the original. Or worse, the second film goes straight to video with different actors and crew – here’s looking at you “Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd”. This happens in restaurants as well. Publican Anker in Wicker Park is fine, but it’s not quite as refined or grand as The Publican.
I bring this up because one of my favorite restaurants of the last few years was Honey’s in Chicago’s West Loop, a place I gave a rare 4 stars to. Recently two of the key partners of Honey’s, chef Charles Welch and creative director Andrew Miller, broke off and formed their own group, called Out to Lunch Hospitality. Their first project is a four month pop-up (ends on December 31st) in Logan Square’s old Sink Swim space called Good Fortune. While Good Fortune is not technically a pure sequel, it is the second launch from the guys who were instrumental in Honey’s success. Because of my love of Honey’s I stopped in recently at Good Fortune to see if it would soar like Honey’s or founder like “The Matrix Reloaded”.
The room and stuff: Not much has changed in the Sink Swim space. Courtesy of its mod hanging fire place, white subway tile, and teal leather trim, it still looks like a modern Nordic ski lodge with accents inspired by a Tiffany and Co. jewelry box. The old pictures of crusty sea captains and old schooners have been replaced by swirling abstract paintings that look like studies in turbid splashes of milk But, hey, this is a pop up. While I didn’t expect a whole new interior, I did expect some of the Honey’s attention to elegance, design and detail. At one point, all four plates at our tables had chips in them. Except for dessert, not a single course was served without at least one plate sporting a flaw. Plastic sealed bags of linens were piled on a chair in the back and visible to the dining room. Pop up or not, I don’t want to see the laundry.
The drinks: Porcelain quality is not why I belly up to the dining table (unless Martin Kastner of Crucial Detail has made the serveware – in which case I can’t wait). First growth Bordeaux in a Red Solo cup is still magnificent. I lusted after the frozen negroni advertised on the sidewalk menu board outside. But, my server said it wasn’t ready because the machine had just been turned on. Oddly, this has been a trend. Recently, Mi Tocaya promised rose slushies infused with farm strawberries, but I never got a shot at trying them because they too turned on the machine too late. I can’t complain too much as Campari slurpees are a luxury few will ever have, except maybe the diners who came two hours after me.
I settled for a Holy Toledo ($12) featuring, gin, grapefruit tonic, and mint. It was a first rate aperitif brimming with citrus and bitterness that channeled summer on a Spanish plaza café. The white wines by the glass selection was full of eminently quaffable whites including a mineral-rich 2015 Malat Gruner Veltliner ($11). When I tried to see if the frozen negronis were ready about an hour later (they were not), the server smartly salved my disappointment with an upsell on the 2015 Emmerich Knoll Riesling ($16), something you rarely see offered by the glass. It was rife with pear and matched Welch’s mediterreanean-skewing food.
The food: One of the things I love about chef Welch is that he cooks with a level of refinement that’s usually only found at expensive pre-fixe restaurants. Hiramasa ($12), tiny scrims of yellowtail glisten with bright ponzu sauce alongside Mick Klug farms grapes and apple cubes that burst like fruity fireworks. The plate looks like a selection of precious jewels and wakes up the palate for the rest of the meal to come.
Octopus ($13) is braised until it has the texture of silky confited duck and none of the rubber most people associate with octopi. It’s tossed with grassy shishito peppers and baby leeks. Oysters ($3) and their shells become cornucopias overflowing with ripe August peach cubes and tangy horseradish. The raw bar game at Good Fortune is tight.
Though it is the season, there is maybe too much stone fruit on the menu. A panzanella ($10) featured hard fruit and is forgettable. Stone fruit also plays a disappointing centerpiece at dessert, but we’ll get to that later.
Welch reinvents Oysters Rockefeller ($15), subbing in creamy manchego for traditional parm, and salty melt-in-your-mouth serrano ham for bacon. This paired with the Holy Toledo cocktail could fuel a pretty good standalone tapas bar.
Scallops are stained with rusty-colored achiote paste and tossed with habanero, sour orange, and charred corn. It’s an inspired scallops version of a taco al pastor without the taco shell.
There is a housemade tagliatelle ($16) larded with funky sea urchin and fat curls of shrimp. It’s good, but the noodles don’t have the super comforting chew or even the creamy sauces that Welch’s pasta at Honey’s did.
Seared chicken ($26) has a crispy skin and its interior flesh is so soft I swore it must have been braised in vat of fat (it wasn’t). Unfortunately, it was undersalted. The chicken was nested in a porridge of wheat berries, pistachios and pumpkin seeds which also needed salt. The condiment, a tomato, pepper, and onion piperade ate like a killer winter goulash and was so good I ate it by itself.
Dessert: There was only one dessert, a peach crumble ($8) dolloped with whipped cream and sumac. I liked the lemony punch of the sumac, but the cream was not sweetened. It tasted flat, and slices of peaches were, as in the panzanella, hard. If you’re gonna offer one dessert, it better bring people to their knees.
Service and intangibles: In addition to the recommendation of the Knoll wine I discussed earlier, there were some fine service touches. At the end of our meal, a server came by proffering a gratis jug of txakolina. If you’ve never had txakolina, it’s like Sprite, Squirt and Riesling had a baby, one of my favorite white wines. This was not any jug, but a porron, which is a pitcher with a tiny spout on the bottom that you lift over your face and shoot the wine directly in to your mouth. It’s a Spanish thing and kind of like the wine drinker’s equivalent of doing a keg stand. We passed it around the table. Thankfully it wasn’t a red wine, because while I shot the first bit of wine straight in to my mouth, I dribbled part of the second on the front of my shirt. Practice however makes perfect, and I’m looking forward to procuring a porron for home use.
Our bill also came with these nifty toy fortune teller devices, packets containing cellophane fish. You take the fish out of the packet and put it in your hand. Depending on what the paper fish does, whether say it’s body curls up or its head or tails curl up, you can interpret your mood or personality based on a key on the front of the packet. I believe mine said I was fickle, which I guess is fitting for a critic.
Bottom line: While the pop-up format lends a little too much informality to Good Fortune at times in the form of chipped plateware or not ready for prime time boozy slushies, it also lends a freeness I don’t think Welch or Miller could have pulled off at Honey’s. I like that I could shoot wine straight in my mouth or oysters larded with Spanish ham. In the realm of sequels, Good Fortune is kind of like “The Fast and the Furious:Tokyo Drift”. Paul Walker and The Rock aren’t in it, but it’s still a bit of an entertaining rollick.
Mini-review: Good Fortune
3213 W. Armitage Ave.; 773.661.1671
Rating: * star (out of four)
This article first appeared in Redeye Chicago in a different form.