Graham Elliot at night [Photo: mdfeeds/Flickr]
While Graham Elliot gears up to head off to Los Angeles tomorrow for the next seven weeks to shoot season two of MasterChef, his namesake River North restaurant is revealing GE 3.0 tonight. Now under the guise of new chef de cuisine Brian Runge, the restaurant is stepping things up to take things to the next level in the hopes of getting two Michelin stars next year.
"We were once teenagers in a punk rock stage, but now we're grown up," said Runge, who became chef de cuisine just after the first of the year. Part of that growing up sees an entire overhaul of the menu, save the restaurant's signature deconstructed Caesar salad. Otherwise, the new menu was concepted entirely by Runge, along with sous chef Jacob Saben and pastry chef Gabe Geers. Elliot, he said, approved everything.
Now, instead of an a la carte menu, Graham Elliot will offer diners four options: a $50 three-course prix-fixe; $75 five-course tasting; $125 10-course tasting; or the "repetoire," where you can indulge in everything on the menu for $150. Runge said that all guests, regardless of their selection, will start off the meal with a canape, which currently is a take on savory American pie: a single bite of a savory cheese and cinnamon tuile filled with apple gelee. All tastings will start with an amuse and have accompaniments along the way, including an intermezzo, which tonight will introduce a Campari and grapefruit granita.
Guests will see things like crispy black bass with smoked leek, salted marcona almond and tomato marmalade; sweetbread empanada with oregano oil, chimichurri and chili espuma; fluke tartare with shaved fennel, meyer lemon gelee and pink peppercorn tuile; heirloom duck with Napa cabbage and apple butter; and wagyu flat iron steak with trumpet mushroom and roquefort custard.
Overall, the menu and restaurant will have a theme of "progression," Runge said. They want to continue in the vibe Graham Elliot started with, but change things up to "stay ahead of the game and keep people interested," he said. "We're not going for an Alinea-like vibe; we aren't that. We will always be Graham Elliot."
Other changes included removing tables in the restaurant to allow people to spread out and stay longer. They're going to max out at 150 patrons on Friday and Saturday night. And the kitchen doubled in size by removing a storage closest and moving in another prep area to allow the cooks to have more space. GE is also currently looking for a new general manager after Michael Simon recently left to pursue other opportunities. New exec chef, Merlin Verrier, will oversee operations at the restaurant as well as Grahamwich.
Plus, in the vein of growing up, servers will no longer wear the ubiquitous GE T-shirts or Chuck Taylor sneakers. Front-of-house staff will now wear nice, dark jeans and gray vests or blazers, crisp white shirts and black shoes.
As for Graham Elliot the man, he said he still loves the artistry of cooking and is a fan of the craft, but has focused more of his attention on the big picture, partly to be able to live up to the celebrity chef title he's garnered over the last year. "Rather than take ingredients and make a great dish," Elliot said, "now it's more rewarding to take great people and make a stunning team."
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