The city’s first Burmese restaurant is a comforting place to escape the winter chill, writes Mike Sula. The Family House in West Rogers Park delves into uncharted territory with dishes like laphet thoke — “deeply funky” fermented green leaves tossed with cabbage, roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, and fried soybeans that “together perform a veritable symphony of crunchiness.” Ohn no khao swe is a “richly creamy” curried noodled soup served with “wickedly moist” slices of chicken breast, while mohinga is a “piping-hot” soup of tilapia, banana stems, deep-fried soybeans, and rice vermicelli. Similarly helping diners “snap out of [their] seasonal stupor” are “bracing salads,” each “sharp with chile and lime and deeply umamic with fish sauce.” [Reader]
Although it’s all the way out in Geneva, Craft Urban “would feel at home in any city neighborhood” according to Phil Vettel. There’s a selection of toasts to start, including a “very nice combination” of ricotta, grape mostarda, and prosciutto. Seafood also excels — rainbow trout in a lemon-caper sauce is “one of the nicest dishes on the menu” — while the meaty porchetta is a “classy” pork and beans that serves as “perfect winter-weather fare.” Desserts are “classic indulgences” and the best of the bunch is the chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallow, graham-cracker crumble, and sea salt. [Tribune]
Craft Urban restaurant brings some of the city to suburban Geneva, with a compact menu of bar snacks, seafood, great porchetta and classic indulgent desserts. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune)
Phil Vettel Contact Reporter
Craft Urban sounds like a whimsical name for a restaurant 44 miles west of Chicago, but owner Bernie Laskowski is quite serious about the name and its location.
“I wanted an urban feel, a city vibe,” he said. “I wanted to bring something unique to Geneva.”
Laskowski certainly understands city restaurants. He began his career at Everest and later put in time at Marche and mk. He was chef for the innovative Bin 36 in its original location and later opened Park Grill, the below-The-Bean restaurant in Millennium Park.
He’s no suburbanite-come-lately, having moved out west more than 15 years ago. And after leaving Park Grill in 2011, he opened a series of “shot-and-beer joints” in the south suburbs (which he later sold), and he and his wife, Cindy, created Cinderella Paleo, an upscale meal-service company based in Naperville.
“As time progressed,” he said, “I saw more and more demand for good, quality ingredients and innovative restaurants. Not as avant-garde as Alinea, but still.”
The economics appealed to Laskowski as well.
“When I looked at the cost structure, it only made sense,” he said. “The rents, relative to check averages, are very affordable.”
Thus was born Craft Urban, which opened in downtown Geneva in mid-November. With its brick walls, stylish lighting (a couple of arty chandeliers, horizontally mounted single-bulb lights), bare-wood tables and hammered-leather chairs, the restaurant would feel at home in any city neighborhood. The front lounge offers gleaming white subway tiles and matching tufted-leather bar seats; most of the space is given to the dining room, which has carpeting (that cuts down on ambient noise, though I wouldn’t call the place quiet), and a colorful mural by Caesar Perez of Ava Grey takes up the entire west wall. Another artist, Josh Shultz, designed the comic-book decoupaged restroom walls.
The compact menu, managed adroitly by executive chef Andrew Sikkelerus, skips appetizers in favor of bar snacks and a section of “breads and spreads.” Among the former are tempura-fried cheese curds, along with bread-and-butter pickles and a mildly spiced red-pepper dip; and a Gruyere-based, gratineed fondue with crisp apple slices and brioche toast. The latter category embraces the gourmet-toast fad without using the term; there is indeed an avocado version (with sunflower and pomegranate seeds), but also a “schmear” that combines chicken-liver mousse and pork rillettes with a nice spike of mustard, a creamed-spinach and mushroom combo with aged Parmesan, and a very nice combination of ricotta, grape mostarda and La Quercia prosciutto.
Sikkelerus offers a nice assortment of seafood options, bringing in wild striped bass, Rushing Waters rainbow trout, king salmon (recently added, enhanced with sesame and horseradish) and farm-raised Texas shrimp. The shrimp are the stars of the shrimp and grits, very prettily presented, and the rainbow trout, in a classic lemon-caper sauce, is one of the nicest dishes on the menu.
The star of the meaty options is the porchetta, a dish created by Laskowski’s son, Sebastian. It’s basically a classy pork and beans, placing rolled pork shoulder on a bed of slow-cooked cannellini beans with tomatoes, carrots and onions, and it’s perfect winter-weather fare. Brick-roasted chicken arrives with an appealingly crisp crust and a pile of chewy fregola, a pasta shaped like little beads.
Beef lovers can choose between the short ribs, sitting above sweet corn and topped with fried kale, and butcher’s beef, which consists of teres major (tender shoulder cut) sourced from Slagel Farms, arranged in wide medallions over potatoes and root vegetables.
Desserts are classic indulgences. Best of the bunch is the chocolate mousse, a sort of reconsidered s’more topped with toasted marshmallow, graham-cracker crumble and sea salt. Mom’s Pound Cake, which comes from Laskowski’s mother-in-law, is thick, toasted and smothered in berries and sweet yogurt cream. Tall apple pie, and the even taller hot-fudge sundae, are exactly how you’d want these desserts to be.
Friendly and unaffected service is a strength.
Beverage options include close to a dozen cocktails, mostly classics (such as a well-made Old-Fashioned) and one or two clever signatures, including a tasty, boozy eggnog that I imagine won’t remain on the list very long. Wines by the glass run $9 to $12; half the wines on the 24-bottle list are less than $75.
Craft Urban has a late-night ramen offering, beginning at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights, augmented by half-price canned beers. Though open to all, the late-night menu functions as de facto industry nights. Another advantage to suburban dining (besides proximity and free parking) is that the wee hours arrive early.
211 James St., Geneva
Tribune rating: Two stars
Open: Lunch and dinner daily
Prices: Main courses $19-$34
Ratings key: Four stars, outstanding; three stars, excellent; two stars, very good; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. The reviewer makes every effort to remain anonymous. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.
[Photos by Sandy Bressner – email@example.com] [Partner Bernie Laskowski (from left) and Executive Chef Andrew Sikkelerus create changing seasonal menus at Craft Urban, located at 211 James St. in downtown Geneva.]
GENEVA – A partner behind Craft Urban, which opened its doors in Geneva last month, is Bernie Laskowski, who brings a high-profile Chicago restaurant resume to the local dining scene.
He honed his culinary skills in Europe and Thailand, and was associated with Everest, Marché, Four Seasons and Bin 36. He launched the Park Grill at Millennium Park, where he spent eight years as executive chef.
He now has crafted a much more intimate space in the former location of Nosh at 211 James St., where a muralist’s splashes of color on the whitewashed brick draw the eye to the building tucked just east of Third Street. Among the enterprises he partners in is Cinderella Paleo in Naperville, providing prepared foods and catering.
“Personal projects are what led me to Geneva,” Laskowski said. “[After] working in large corporate environments where you’re doing a thousand for lunch [with] 140 people in the kitchen, it’s nice to get back to the nuts and bolts of the food and beverage community. You really learn what a small business owner is all about.”
I love everything about this town.– Laskowski
Craft Urban is about hyper-local sources of ingredients for seasonal food and drinks procured ideally within an eight-hour drive. It’s meant to be an American shared-plate experience.
“We want to find the most creative individual that’s producing [a] product,” Laskowski said. “We present it in a simple way. We dice up shrimp, mix it with avocado and tomato and toss with a local hot sauce and serve in a beautiful little cocktail glass.”
Among popular dishes are tempura cheese curds, bruschetta and a fondue with a crisp crunch on top and molten cheese in the center served with apples and toast points.
Different smoked salmon spreads are served with pumpernickel and fresh horseradish. There’s a roast squash hummus, as well as a recipe with avocado, pomegranate seeds, Brussels sprouts and chili toast.
“My other favorite is whipped ricotta on toasted artisan bread with fig … and prosciutto from Iowa,” he said.
Food is meant to be social and shared. – Laskowski
Entrees are featured, such as striped bass, beef short ribs and brick-roasted chicken. The menu also offers the Craft Urban burger, pumpkin soup and sandwiches.
“If you’re celebrating an anniversary, the menu is designed for that, [too],” he said.
[Craft cocktails include The Dude Abides (clockwise from left), Mexican Sunset and an Old Fashioned.]
Vegetables and protein receive a lighter natural touch without a lot of heavy cream and flour, he said.
He curated the drink menu with an eye to not duplicating what other bars already offer in town.
“You want to be able to support all the other businesses in the area,” Laskowski said, noting there are eight craft beers on tap that one won’t find elsewhere, along with 12 to 15 by the can and bottle, all from the Midwest area.
“With the cocktails, we have 10 craft cocktails that change with the seasons, the way the menu changes,” he said.
About 12 wines are offered by the glass, and a bottle collection is highlighted.
“A flavor profile I’m very fond of [is] very fruit forward, luscious and juicy,” Laskowski said. “I love California wines [and selections from] Washington, Oregon, Chile, Spain, France and Italy.
He said they avoided picking the most expensive wines.
We’re a neighborhood restaurant, and we respect that. – Laskowski
He said he wanted Craft Urban to be a true chef-driven establishment, where the executive chef is also responsible for service. He added that the restaurant is small enough to have an open kitchen behind the bar from which the chef can oversee the dining room.
[Midwestern craft beers are on tap at Craft Urban in downtown Geneva.]
The executive chef is Andrew Sikkelerus, long associated with Laskowski, whose business partner in the venture is Francisco Chavez.
With cooking, there’s a language of flavor and an understanding of how the food should create the feeling [for] guests … at the table – Laskowski
Because he enjoys a fresh cup of coffee, Craft Urban brings a French press to the table offering specially sourced coffee and tea. On the dessert menu is a family recipe for pound cake with tempting embellishments.
Craft Urban is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until midnight Friday and Saturday.
The regular menu ends at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, but Craft Urban then offers something unusual – late-night ramens.
“It’s our interpretation of a classical Japanese dish, but done in the Craft Urban style,” Laskowski said. “This past week … we created a pork broth … with shredded cabbage, smoked pork shoulder, fried chicken thighs done in a Japanese style [with] a soft-boiled egg and a spicy Tabasco sauce.”
A wall-sized portrait of a woman’s face is the focal point in the dining room. Laskowski said they did a massive makeover of the space and added sound-dampening components.
To learn more, visit facebook.com/pg/crafturban or call 331-248-8161.
Wondering what Bernie Laskowski did following his 2011 departure from the Park Grill kitchen? “I opened a bunch of little neighborhood bars in the south suburbs. Then I sold them all,” says the chef. He also launched a prepared meal company. Next on the agenda: Craft Urban Kitchen (211 James St., Geneva), a lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch eatery slated to open August 1.
It’s an eclectic community, It reminds me of being downtown Healdsburg in Sonoma. – Laskowski
The vision came to Laskowski as he drove around Geneva’s artsy downtown area delivering food for his meal company. The area charmed him so thoroughly that he wanted in on its restaurant scene. “It’s an eclectic community,” Laskowski says. “It reminds me of being downtown Healdsburg in Sonoma.”
On the menu: veggie-based appetizers such as smoked beets with pickled radishes, puffed quinoa, and fermented yogurt; six entrées, including handmade pasta and a burger made from a mixture of Slagel Farm beef and pork, topped with housemade pickles and tomato compote; and for dessert, pound cake with sweet yogurt and fresh berries—a recipe Laskowski and his mother-in-law have spent the past few years perfecting.
source – http://www.chicagomag.com/dining-drinking/April-2017/Craft-Urban-Kitchen/