Duck egg pasta with duck confit and cracklings
Duck egg pasta with duck confit and cracklings Credit: Andy Barnes

Does a restaurant exist if Google can’t find it? Go ahead and type the words “Two restaurant Chicago” into a browser. Bubkes, right? As of this writing the only immediate pertinent result I can come up with is a not terribly helpful Everyblock post on the second page. To get anything relevant out of a search engine you would have to know Two—the second restaurant from Yamandu Perez, chef/owner of Hinsdale’s Zak’s Place—is located at 1132 W. Grand, the former home of the doomed Black Sheep and before that May Street Market. Plug in the address and there it is.

That seems consistent with the almost aggressively low-key opening of this spot, which has been significantly redecorated, brightened, and filled with reclaimed blond wood fixtures, sweeping out the ghosts of the Black Sheep to make way for entirely new ones, and replacing its seminal, if dusty, punk-rock soundtrack with unthreatening aural wallpaper such as Coldplay, Lenny Kravitz, and Sade.

Perez bills his unhelpfully named spot as a “Midwest farm and butcher shop-inspired neighborhood bistro (minus the French).” That isn’t terribly helpful either. Not many know this, but a few years ago the city stopped granting business licenses to restaurateurs unless they claimed some sort of allegiance—no matter how nebulous—to farmers and butchers. This is no longer an illuminating method by which to market your restaurant. We’ve seen so many of these nominally meat-dominant shared-plates concepts in recent years to render most of them invisible.

In execution Two doesn’t cement much of an identity, either. I had meals of such significant inconsistency I felt I was eating in different establishments, on one occasion snarfing up a bowl of ruddy, thick duck egg pasta with duck confit and cracklings with such reckless abandon I lost all sense of self. Same goes for a fall-off-the bone chicken thigh with an abundance of sweet corn and chewy fingerling potato coins, and a stack of lightly crispy and fluffy potato croquettes with a chile aioli. These, together with two fat little lamb T-bones smeared with sweet bacon jam, boded well for the next visit, but I should have been more suspicious that first time of a bowl of chilled carrot soup so thickened with honey you could spread it on bread, as well as a trio of cold, dry cream puffs filled with thick peanut butter icing that nagged well after I left. The de rigueur cocktails that arrived in hurricane glasses with a surplus of small cubes—even a manhattan—didn’t inspire hope, either. These were so diluted by the ice that they lost all integrity, like something poured out of a machine on a cruise ship.

And then on that second visit—a similarly slow weeknight—my table was subjected to a succession of dishes so fundamentally wrong it felt as if culinary students were feeding us. The off odor of grilled octopus swimming in stewed tomatoes arrived well in advance of its leathery flesh, while a chilled plank of smoked salmon had a mushiness that wouldn’t have been noticeable had it been sliced thin rather than nearly an inch thick. A fat house-made sausage looked temptingly seared off but possessed none of the juicy snap a visual cue like that should foreshadow, and it arrived at the identical temperature to a small soft pretzel on the side. Similarly, a blistering hot braised oxtail ragu was a solidified mass on its raft of grilled cheddar grits.

The inappropriately uniform temperatures on a given dish run hot and cold. The roasted beet and house-made-ricotta bruschetta came out on a frigid plate that matched the chill in the toast. A server had made much of the restaurant’s use of neighboring D’Amato’s Bakery bread, but why go to the trouble of toasting good bread if you’re just going to refrigerate it? The dish—and the answer to that question—arrived less than a minute after we placed the order.

Much of what we ate tasted like someone did good work at 2 PM and that good work had been left to sit before being warmed up at service. We kept listening for the damning ding of a microwave and peeking into the kitchen for evidence but spotted nothing.

There is one glaring consistency at Two. The front-of-the-house staff has been trained to inquire about each and every dish moments after it hits the table. It’s hard to imagine the restaurant or its servers benefiting from this kind of relentlessly obtrusive service.

Two has found at least one way to stand out, I guess.