On March 7, Ryan Poli will leave his post as executive chef at Perennial and start as chef/partner at the forthcoming 300-seat River North restaurant Tavernita from Mercadito Hospitality.
Poli has spent considerable time in Spain and wants to follow his passion by focusing on a Latin-inspired concept that captures the Spanish lifestyle of eating in bars. "[It's a] concept I have a lot of passion about: European-driven, small-plate menu with South American influences," Poli said. "I've lived in Spain and have been wanting to do Spanish food in a small-plate restaurant for a long time. This just made a lot of sense."
Tavernita will feature a large dining room, a cool barcito and lounge. The barcito (or "little bar") will feature a variety of "snacks" that are still under development and a crudo and oyster bar where Poli will showcase a large variety of different fish. They'll also have a variety of Uruguayan-inspired grilled meats and Poli will focus attention on vegetables, especially a la plancha. "I think vegetables will be the new pork," he said.
Poli and the Mercadito team are already planning a number of R&D trips to Las Vegas, LA and New York and will head to Europe to explore food in Italy, Spain and France. There's even talk about heading south to Uruguay.
But leaving Perennial won't be easy. Poli joined the Boka Restaurant Group almost exactly three years ago, a few months before Perennial opened. "Kevin [Boehm] and Rob [Katz] are great and have been great bosses, but it's time for me to spread my wings and be an owner. It's the next stage of my career," Poli said.
As for what will happen at Perennial? Boehm said he and Katz have aligned themselves with a celebrity chef who will partner with them and take the restaurant to the next level. Boehm couldn't say who yet, but did say the news will come out sometime next week.
Mercadito is also planning to open a second Tavernita in Miami about a year after opening the Chicago location and Poli will oversee both restaurants. "It's a good role," Poli said. "I'm sad to leave Rob and Kevin, but this is my passion and it's what I want to do and what brought me here."
· Mercadito Opening Tavernita in the Former Martini Park Space [~EChi~]
Ryan Poli [Photo: Timothy Hiatt Photography]