Until late February the term “snaggletooth” didn’t conjure many lovely associations. It’s the name, for example, of Motorhead’s ferocious canine mascot (and its eponymous song). It also refers to a thick-skinned sociopathic artist/bounty hunter lurking among the other freaks in the Mos Eisley Cantina of Star Wars: A New Hope. And the word originally refers to a particularly nasty looking deep-sea fish with a bioluminescent angler dangling out of its hungry maw.
You aren’t likely to see anything that fearsome at Snaggletooth, the Lakeview fish-centric sorta-deli from original C Chicago chef Bill Montagne and girlfriend Jennifer Kim, who worked with him at the River North seafood house before his dismissal not even a full year into his tenure. Yeah, that profligately priced tanker had serious problems in the early days, but I liked Montagne’s beautifully composed plates, which you could imagine had been heavily influenced by his work as a sous chef at Le Bernardin in New York.
Now Montagne has resurfaced at Snaggletooth’s tiny bilevel Southport storefront, serving fish every bit as attractive as it was at C Chicago. The emphasis here is on creatively cured, radiantly colored fish sold by the quarter pound from the display case that greets you as you enter. Jasmine- and pastrami-cured trout and lime-cured hamachi are just a few options from the rotating selection. Montagne stands in full view at the counter, slicing shimmering, translucently thin sheets from the fillets like a surgeon, arranging them with dabs of mustard and Greek yogurt-based schmears infused with things like black lime nori and spiced mango pickle.
But that’s not all. About the only thing the pair don’t make in house are the bagels, sourced from New York Bagel and Bialy, upon which you can smear schmears along with things like fig jam and other house-made preserves. But possibly the best use of those bagels are the tartines on which Montagne builds gorgeous creations every bit as Instagrammable as toast from Iliana Regan’s Bunny, the Micro Bakery. The pastrami-cured trout dotted with microgreens conceals a schmear made up of seared, pureed kimchi piled on pumpernickel—it’s one the most visually stunning and delicious things I’ve ingested all year. The O.G. Lox, a tribute to the traditional bagel and lox, is composed of a scallion schmear with trout lox and a filigree of radish and cipollini onions on an onion bagel.
The conceptual affinities with Regan’s petite patisserie are such that Montagne ought to append “the Microdeli” to Snaggletooth. And yet there’s more: brunch and lunch specials (trout benedict, the tomato-egg dish shakshuka), as well as small bites, such as the season’s first asparagus, which came with a jiggling sunny-side up egg sprinkled with hamachi “bottarga,” which was like fishy toasted breadcrumbs. Montagne explained he isn’t actually curing hamachi roe, but that the gnarly looking tail flesh, not quite suitable for proper plating, gets hung in cheesecloth and cured until ready for shaving. Nothing like using the whole animal.
Snaggletooth, 2819 N. Southport, 773-899-4711