The end of the year is a big season for restaurants, and many of us are looking for a special place to celebrate the holidays with friends and family.
Chef Trevor Teich, who was in our very last Big Heat listing before the pandemic, has worked in some of Chicago’s best restaurants, including L20, Nomi and Acadia. Now, Teich hopes to inspire appropriate holiday wonder at his recently opened Claudia in Bucktown. Born of his lauded pop-up, Teich continues blowing minds with artful and delicious plates of innovative cuisine.
We were fortunate to dine at Teich’s Claudia pop-up several years ago, and the best way to describe the experience is that it was one of wonderment. Plates of unlikely combinations and creative takes on traditional dishes were set before diners at communal tables, and then for a moment all would go silent as we absorbed the beauty, creative energy, and the wonder of each, sometimes whimsical culinary composition.
“The overall concept of Claudia tasting menus is telling a story through food,” Teich says. “Your server is like a guide, a storyteller on your private adventure.”
Menus will be playful, drawing upon experiences from Teich’s childhood that he believes will be universal. A dish called “snails in the woods,” a forest of tempura escargot, dehydrated mushrooms, edible flowers and more, is an homage to his brother, who used to bring creatures back from walks in the woods to terrorize their mother, Claudia. Teich says his mother always encouraged him to be creative, hence the namesake restaurant.
“Penny candy,” homemade gummy bears and other high/low treats are part of the menu, as well as courses tailored to the interests and personalities of individual guests. When making a reservation, guests are asked questions like, “What makes you feel like a kid again,” or “What are your favorite hobbies,” and then Teich tries to surprise his diners with dishes that seem made just for them, a special kind of holiday gift that speaks directly to each guest.
“If you’re a sports fan, and that’s your favorite hobby, maybe we’ll give you a little flag of Manchester United, or something like that,” he says. “If you’re someone who has a sense of nostalgia that comes from watching the movie ‘Hook’ with your kids, maybe we give you some Peter Pan-type of memory in the middle of your dinner. We want to make sure that we’re giving people a really fun experience.”
Guests can order from a regular chef experience menu, which is ten courses, or an extended fifteen-course menu. The restaurant also has a bar with an a la carte menu of “crunchy food,” like oysters on the half shell, pate en croute, foie gras torchon, oysters and lobster pot pie.
Chris Crispino and Jessica Dennis are joining Teich as sommeliers, and they’ve created an old world wine list along with more modern options. The cocktails are also a mix of classic and modern.
Claudia is taking over the space where Takashi, Dixie and Stoneflower were based, but Claudia will feel different from any of those restaurants, thanks to design firm Siren & Betty, who have reworked the feel of this small white brick house in Bucktown, a fanciful, slightly fancy environment that suits many of the culinary offerings. The restaurant will feel larger than before, with two stories and a full bar. For Teich, it’s a dream that he has finally been able to realize.
“This was always the goal,” he says, of opening a restaurant after seven years of doing the pop-up. Like many restaurant owners, he closed the Claudia pop-up in 2020 when the coronavirus swept the country. “It was very tough, and having always wanted to open a restaurant, I’m very happy to have come out the other side,” he says. “Now I have the opportunity to give people jobs, healthcare and a place to work and to be proud of what they’re doing.
“We’re just trying to make a really special restaurant, just trying to make people happy. I want it to be a fun experience that people feel is made just for them.”
Reservations are available now through Tock. The ten-course tasting menu is $225, and the fifteen-course chef’s table menu is $265. Both offer optional wine tastings. After a hard year-and-a-half, Teich, who requires staff to be vaccinated and provides guests with masks and hand sanitizer, hopes fine dining can be fun again, even in the current climate. Claudia is well-suited to a holiday party, reflecting the joyous spirit, the whimsy, and the wonder of the season.