Dining and food culture in Chicago

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Home: The Hearty Boys have left the building and longtime executive chef Joncarl Lachman is in charge

Bistro, Boystown No Comments »

By Jenny B. Davis

Chef Joncarl Lachman spent the evening of February 13th sitting in an empty restaurant drinking Champagne.

He hadn’t expected much of a crowd so close to Valentine’s Day, but record snowfall put the kibosh on any hope of business that night, so he decided against opening. Instead, he split his bottle of bubbly with the people who happened to be there at the moment—his partner, a waiter and a plumber.

The unlikely trio was only too happy to lift their glasses to Lachman. It was, after all, his first night as the chef and owner of the new restaurant, HB Home Bistro.

HB isn’t exactly a new restaurant. The Boystown eatery originally opened in 2005 as HB A Hearty Boys Spot, the name a nod to the celebrity moniker of its owners, Food Network TV stars Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh.

Lachman was involved from the beginning. An award-winning chef and a graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, Lachman had worked in high-profile kitchens in New York City and Washington D.C., including a stint as the executive chef of Urban Epicure in Andersonville.

As HB’s executive chef, Lachman quickly built a dedicated dining base of regulars. The reasonably priced, seasonal American menu contributed to its popularity, as did its BYOB status and waived corkage fee. While Lachman kept everyone in the narrow dining room well fed, the Hearty Boys focused on the meet-and-greet—that is, when they weren’t away taping an episode or catering a function.

By late 2006, the Hearty Boys were juggling the restaurant, the show, the catering business and a forthcoming cookbook (“Talk with Your Mouth Full” drops this fall)—plus they had added a baby to the mix. Which meant something had to give. And that something was HB.

“We had so many coals in the fire and were going in so many different directions that we were afraid of not doing anything well,” McDonagh says. “[HB] is such a lovely, intimate space, and it works best when the owner is there.”

It was only natural for Lachman to become the next owner, says McDonagh. “His goal has always been to open a restaurant, and because he was a main force behind the opening of HB, it was his baby, too.” And perhaps most importantly, McDonagh adds, “He is a very dear friend. We trust him completely and his food is outstanding.”

So the deal went forward. And in a matter of months, HB officially belonged to Lachman and his partner of seven years, Bob Moysan.

“It feels different, but in an easy, warm way,” Lachman says from his seat at a corner table near the restaurant’s front window. “I can’t explain it—I am just proud and humbled at the same time. I can’t believe it, and then I feel like I’ve earned it. And there’s always the fear that you’ll open and no one will come.”

So far, that hasn’t happened. In fact, business is better than it’s ever been, Lachman says. Even the ad hoc art gallery they launched on the restaurant’s rugged brick walls—the current exhibition is a collection of black-and-white photography by Moysan—is doing well.

Lachman hasn’t made any significant changes to HB, and he doesn’t plan to. (Yes, that means the BYOB policy will stay.) But he and Moysan have done some things to add their personal stamp to the place and to quietly enhance the dining experience. “I didn’t want to make changes just to make changes,” Lachman says. “But there were some things that I had in my mind.”
Perhaps the most noticeable change is the new name—HB remains, but it now stands for Home Bistro. Then there’s the addition of the art. The furniture is also new, with sturdy albeit nondescript chairs replacing the mismatched flea-market finds. The campy “hunky waiter” coffee mugs are also gone, although Lachman insists with a laugh that the actual hunky waiters have stuck around.

The menu still feels familiar, with its emphasis on beautifully prepared, honest food made with fresh, seasonal and often locally sourced ingredients. That’s apparent in entrees like the herb-marinated hanger steak with salsa verde and roasted tomato butter and truffle fries ($20), the double-cut pork chop with butternut squash mash and whisky-glazed apples ($19) and the appetizer of brown-sugar-baked almond stuffed dates wrapped in bacon ($11). Brunch menu standards are also still there, like the “almost famous” pancakes ($9) and the bananas foster deep fried French toast ($8).

Take a closer look, though, and you’ll see that Lachman has added some interesting flavors and preparations that he’s derived directly from his Dutch heritage. There are mussels prepared “Amsterdam-style,” in beer butter with garlic, basil and anise ($9) along with added dashes of nutmeg, clove and cinnamon—spices that hark back to the days of Holland’s South East Asia involvement.

Ideally, Lachman wants HB to convey the feeling of what’s called an eetcafe in Holland. “These cafes are unpretentious, cozy and comfortable,” he explains. “And it’s like that here—we have that welcoming feeling where customers come in and they feel like it’s their restaurant, they feel like they have an ownership in it.”

HB Home Bistro is located at 3404 North Halsted, (773)661-0299.