We are plunging into this busy season where new restaurants seem to be throwing open their doors to these frigid temperatures with the all the hope and vigor of a sauna-taker. It is every bit as thrilling and delicious as an experience can be. These are the new spots I’m diving face-first into.
Yong Joni: Bruised Ego
I almost hate to tell you about this speakeasy, because I can already barely find a seat in here, but the back bar at Young Joni is serving some incredible cocktails courtesy of Adam Gorski (the one-time bar manager at La Belle Vie.) Young Joni, the restaurant, draws inspiration from owners Ann Kim and Conrad Leifur’s mothers. Young is Ann’s mom and Joni is Conrad’s. The combination of the two is a delicious mix of pizza, Korean dishes, and fantastic cocktails. It’s a lot of things and all are tasty, but start with the drinks! If the red light is on in the alley between Young Joni and Dangerous Man Brewing off 13th, the bar is open. The Bruised Ego is like his Scandinavian take on an Old Fashioned and it is fabulous. The dark room back there with the mishmash of furniture and black floral wallpaper might just be the coolest room around. (Read more about the Young Joni opening here.)
Esker Grove: Chestnut Pain Perdu
I got an early taste of this new collaboration between Doug Flicker and the Walker Art Center, and there are many things to love at first sight. The art in the room is really cool and the cocktails are a dream, but the singular bite that stole my heart was this insanely rich, savory bread pudding. The menu makes wonderful use of vegetables, grains, and sustainably raised meats, but this one humble bite just about knocked me out. It’s a bite as tender as a piece of bread is capable of being while still retaining a whisper of integrity. They’re now open for business, and I expect dinner service is going to be a new reason to pop by the museum’s new entrance.
roast chicken with pain perdu at Esker Grove. Photo by Joy Summers.
Piccolo: Scrambled Eggs with Pickled Pigs Feet
And while chef Flicker is hard at work on the new eatery, he’s also preparing to close our beloved Piccolo. It’s long been one of the most imaginative restaurants in town, but the chef has decided to put this baby to bed in March. It has been an extraordinary run and I plan on getting in there at least a couple of more times before the final curtain. As the menu has continually evolved, the one constant are these perfectly scrambled eggs. It’s a play on textures and expectations: the kind of dish only this chef would make for us.