The restaurant scene is growing more active, very quickly. Things that happened this week:

• Bellemore is no more; the former Embeya space is becoming Alla Vita, an Italian restaurant from Boka Group and chef Lee Wolen. $69 oyster and caviar pie is out, Italian comfort food is in, or so it sounds. Opening later this summer.

Venteux, the new French restaurant from Don Young (Woodwind, Temporis) that will take the former Free Rein space, announced an opening date: May 26.

Mansion on Rush, “a Japanese fusion restaurant, bar, and Champagne Lounge with Latin flair,” will open in the Gold Coast on May 15.

Avec has opened the rooftop on its River North location, which was the Laurel Room when the space was Pacific Standard Time.

Hop Butcher to the World, a Chicago-based brewery (as if you couldn’t tell from the name), finally got a taproom by buying Half Acre’s Lincoln Avenue spot, just in time for drinking beer in the garden season. Half Acre will focus on its Balmoral Ave. location, which just gained a new chef in Claire Smyth, ex of Band of Bohemia and Eris Brewery and Cider. (Block Club has more.)

• The Huettenbar, one of the last of Lincoln Square’s old German haunts, will reopen in July as Lincoln Square Tap, with a focus on Chicago breweries (so something to drink besides BBK) but nods to the area’s German heritage.

• Zach Engel, chef/co-owner of Galit, will be guest cheffing for the summer at Saint Lou’s Backyard, the evolution of Saint Lou’s Assembly.

• John Manion’s Babygold Barbecue, the food service option at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn, opened last week.

En Passant is a new restaurant in Logan Square, from ex-Au Cheval chef Sam Engelhardt.

• And as you’ve probably heard, there’s a new Rainbow Cone in Lombard.


So I was at a restaurant and chatting with the chef, and the issue of staffing came up—is it as true as everyone says it is that it’s so hard to find people? He just shrugged—and said if I knew anyone who wanted a job as a runner, he had four openings. It isn’t surprising that after a year of the restaurant industry getting the back of the hand, many took the opportunity of lockdown to go do something else entirely.

At Plate, a piece that says it’s not just (as so many say) that you can get extended unemployment benefits—many question whether they want to return to the industry at all:

“I’m not going to be bullied by former employers or other people in industry. I’ll go back when I’m ready,” says Kira Helman, a former bartender in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “The power is in the hands of the workforce.”…

Workers’ hesitancy to return is manifold. For starters, only 33 percent of Americans have been fully vaccinated, and there are real dangers for employees, even in the best-run restaurants. In 2020, the excess death rate among line cooks was the highest of any profession, according to a study from the University of California-San Francisco. And front-of-house staff have become “proto first-line health care workers,” responsible for enforcing mask wearing and other safety protocols, according to Schettler. “It’s not what I got into this for, but we’ve had to do it so we don’t die.”…

“The industry as it has been set up doesn’t deserve everybody. It doesn’t deserve to be fully staffed,” says Fiore Tedesco, chef and co-owner of Austin’s L’Oca d’Oro. “Significant populations have not been treated well. They have had their careers exist in a substandard way compared to other industries. It’s like, ‘I’m working service, but Mom would respect me more as a lawyer. Then the pandemic hits. I don’t have a job anymore. Maybe it’s time to go to grad school.’ This is someone who would have been an empathetic leader who’s been pushed out.”

This is the time to remake the restaurant industry along fairer and more decent lines—and that means we diners have to be ready to pay for that.


The Tank Noodle story gets messier and messier. Louisa Chu tells us about the whistleblower employee who revealed how the restaurant was stiffing employees:

One former employee of Tank Noodle spurred a federal investigation resulting in nearly $700,000 in back wages paid to 60 employees of the Vietnamese restaurant in the Uptown neighborhood. After cooperating with officials and staying at the job under their advice, the ex-employee was left with a check for back wages totaling $2,644.81 — and plenty of lingering questions….

Though government agencies encouraged the employee to stay on the job to help amass evidence, state and city government didn’t seem very eager to pursue the cheating of employees:

The state Department of Labor confirmed in April it received the complaint, but said that in April 2019 — four months into Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s inaugural term — the department’s policy was to refer the complaint to city officials, as the state “does not have jurisdiction to enforce the higher city minimum wage,” a spokesman said…

When the city received the employee’s second complaint one month later, its Department of Business Affairs and Consumer Protection conducted an on-site investigation. The city department noted only that Tank Noodle posted required labor signs and that the information from the employee “did not show that the employee was paid less than minimum wage” — which the federal investigation later contradicted.

“I was just going back and forth (between departments),” said the former employee. “We felt betrayed and helpless.”

Finally, a federal investigation went somewhere.


Steve Dolinsky looks at the all-day menu at Three House, opened by the son of the owner of Wishbone.


Titus Ruscitti tries Andros Taverna, from Doug Psaltis, the former P in RPM, now cooking his Greek heritage, and finds a pricey take on a street food worth the price:

I really liked the traditional pork gyros. It’s listed as Georgie’s Gyros on the menu and it’s made with beautiful cones of pork that sit horizontally over the live fire and are sliced fresh to order. The meat which I believe is pork belly gets a very nice grilled smoke flavor and comes served on one of the previously mentioned woodfired pitas with tomatoes, cucumber, and French fries which is a pretty standard practice over in Athens. A very fresh spiced yogurt sauce comes served on the side and really livens up the sandwich as whole. It was probably the most expensive gyro I’ve ever had at $22 but it was also one of the most memorable I’ve tried.

He also tries a Taiwanese tea house and restaurant in Arlington Heights, Tugo Tea House.


David Hammond talks lard with Jonathon Sawyer, James Beard Award winner who just launched Adorn in the Four Seasons Hotel (more below):

During a recent dinner for local media at Adorn, we started with the bread and edible candle service. “This dish goes back to me being a nerd,” Sawyer says. “I was looking up the history of how the sandwich was invented, and some sources trace it back to poor people’s food, where you take two-or-three-day-old bread and soak it in warm water or warm fat. Mariners used to do something similar, when they’d burn their candles of whale, lamb or beef fat and they would dip their bread into all that warm fat. I thought it was amazing that no one had ever thought of edible candles, and I started buying candle-making supplies, like molds and wicks. Now we use unbleached butcher’s twine for the wicks. We render the fat from the meat trimmed in our kitchen—a combination of wagyu and grass-fed beef—then clarify it, put it in a ramekin and let it cool. After it’s served, it takes about eleven to seventeen minutes for the candle to melt onto the plate.”


I though this Food & Wine list of the best pizza states wasn’t bad—like any national list, it’s all a matter of how well you read the local literature and convey what local opinion rates highly. Illinois ranked #4 for pizza, which isn’t at all bad (I’m just happy to see New York not get a reflexive #1). Steve Dolinsky diagreed on how they ranked Illinois pizza, and talked about it on Anna Davlantes’ show on WGN Radio.


Congrats to the three nominees in the Peter Lisagor awards food category, given by the local Headline Club: Block Club twice, and Mike Sula at the Reader. (Fooditor did not enter this year, in case you’re wondering.)


I know there are people still saying they’re not ready to eat in restaurants yet. I have my shots, most other people likely have theirs, everyone’s being cautious in appropriate ways, and if there is a risk, it seems more likely to be in an Uber or a grocery store than at a socially distanced table. So—I ate inside a restaurant three times this week, and lived to tell the tale!

First, I had a meeting downtown and afterwards, I was curious about the current status of one of downtown’s food landmarks these days, Eataly. I didn’t know if it was even open—well, it’s half reopened, as it turns out. The pizza and pasta restaurants, always the most popular ones there, are the only ones reopened, and some of the space around them has been cannibalized a bit for greater social distancing and a new, more secure entrance to that area (the olive oil section seems much reduced). The other stands are all shuttered still, including the sandwich stands and the seafood bar, and the area where you could grab something from one of those and a glass of wine and stand and eat remains closed. But it was pleasant to at least grab some tagliatelle with wild boar ragu and a glass of Sicilian rosé and do some shopping for future meals (picked up some very nice ravioli stuffed with English pea and mint).

Another day I decided to check out the food stand in the back of Talard Thai grocery on Broadway, the old Golden Pacific location. I wasn’t sure if I’d be dining inside or in my car, but there was no one else in the seating area (maybe two tables), so I took it. Anyway, there are various Thai dishes stewing in pans, and you get three of them plus rice for about $10. They were mostly pork dishes, but far enough apart in flavors that they didn’t seem repetitive—green curry, sweet pork belly, and so on. What they all had in common was a kind of rustic, homemade flavor, deeply satisfying from time spent in the pot, stewing. This is some of the best and most authentic Thai food in town right now, check it out.

Finally, I went to a media preview and had a real dinner out. What a concept! The restaurant is Adorn, replacing Allium in the Four Seasons Hotel in a reconceived, open space with a bar, a dining room, and tables around the bar looking out big windows. (I once photographed Nigella Lawson by those windows.) The chef is Jonathon Sawyer, who had a number of good restaurants in Cleveland and was the rare non-Chicago chef to win the title of Best Chef Great Lakes at the James Beard awards. The menu is definitely a hotel menu—yes, there are two steaks and a Caesar salad on a short list—but it transcends the genre because of Sawyer’s cooking, deep currents of funky meatiness in familiar items, similar to chefs like Paul Kahan (who used to sell Sawyer’s line of vinegars at PQM). To give an example, an amuse-bouche is a little caviar and cream on a potato chip—but the chip was fried in fat from, I think jamon iberico, giving it a deep pork funkiness that took a typical bite in a new direction.

As you ought to expect from the location, it’s in the pricey side, though you can’t complain when the most expensive entree, a version of Joe Beef’s lobster spaghetti dotted with lardons, comes with a couple of enormous hunks of lobster. In any case, price didn’t seem to bother Chicago foodies—I knew two other parties there that night (not media, either, just frequent diners). People are ready for fun again, to have their sensations tickled—and ready to dine with appropriate caution but real enthusiasm again, I think.