733 W. Madison
David Friedman just wanted to go out to lunch. “For many, many years there hasn’t been anywhere downtown to eat kosher food,” says Friedman. Even Shallots Bistro in Lincoln Park, the city’s only kosher fine-dining restaurant, had moved to Skokie in 2004. “I’ve been in a position so many times where I wanted to meet with somebody, and they want to meet during lunch. There are only so many excuses you can use for not being able to meet during lunch.”
This past spring Friedman, president of F & F Realty, which runs the West Loop’s Crowne Plaza hotel, realized he could do something about it. He’d already been running a kosher catering service out of the hotel. He decided to expand operations to reintroduce upscale kosher dining to Chicago.
MetroKlub, his brainchild, shares its seating area and staff with Dine, the supper club at the Crowne Plaza. Open just Monday through Thursday from 11 AM to 3 PM, the spot caters to a power lunch crowd; on a typical day it’s full of men in yarmulkes dining with associates.
The restaurant, which debuted July 31, has its own kitchen, its own cookware, its own dishes, and its own silverware. Friedman tapped D.B. Fink, chef de cuisine of the kosher catering facility F & F runs out of its conference center in Northlake, to bring Chris Turano, Dine’s executive chef, up to speed.
It was a tall order: Turano, who’s 24, had no experience in preparing kosher food. Jewish law forbids the mixing of meat and dairy or fish and meat–the cookware and tableware used for each must be kept strictly separate–as well as all pork or shellfish. Every day a kosher Jew must open and close the door to the kitchen and turn the ovens on to “start the fire”–a staffer is charged with these tasks. Because the consumption of blood is prohibited, every piece of salad lettuce must be checked under a drafting light for insects. Meats must be deveined and koshered. Turano keeps certain cuts covered with kosher salt for up to an hour. “Afterward we have to soak our skirt steak in water,” he says.
Kosher food doesn’t have to be Jewish food, and you won’t find matzo ball soup on the menu here. MetroKlub sticks to Dine’s 1940s supper-club theme, offering American comfort fare. There’s a burger with caramelized onions and peppered beef frye, or “Jewish bacon” ($10), Cobb salad with grilled chicken ($12), skirt steak and herb-tossed french fries ($18), a turkey club ($9), and a spicy chicken sandwich ($12). Grilled chicken ($16) and flaky seared Atlantic salmon ($16) come with caramelized leeks, wild mushrooms, green beans, and flavorful lemon potatoes. For vegetarians there’s a wrap with portobello mushrooms and grilled seasonal vegetables.
But Turano, who worked at Ted Cizma’s Naperville restaurant Elaine before moving to Dine in October 2005, also had to devise some dairy-free dishes that would be compatible with meat preparations. Tomato-basil bruschetta, served on thin and crunchy bread, is covered with tomatoes, garlic and basil so fresh that cheese isn’t missed. He came up with a dairy-free Caesar-style salad with a double-garlic dressing, thyme, and herbed croutons. For dessert, there’s a vegan turtle cheesecake surprisingly similar to its cream-cheese counterpart.
“I was floored when I tasted it,” Turano says. “It was something so scary that I never thought it would be palatable. But I learned you just have to be a lot more creative. I’ve become the kosher Iron Chef of sorts.”
The concept seems to have taken off–MetroKlub has already expanded from a small private dining room to a second space within Dine, doubling its seating to about 60. And Friedman can at last kibbitz at lunch in comfort. –Dawn Reiss
For more on restaurants, see our blog The Food Chain at chicagoreader.com.