- Awning with hand-painted, distressed wood sign.
- panel created by local Chicago artist Vincent Grech. Many panels like these will be adorned on the walls.
- pressed sorghum reeds that will make up table tops.
- Shell of bar area, putting mirrors in between the metal arches.
- Black Sheep "mascot" looking over the front room.
- custom molds for glass plates.
The Black Sheep has had to travel a path full of twists and turns to get to where it is today, but the restaurant is back on track and will be ready to open right after Memorial Day. Chef/owner James Toland and general manager/partner Michael Simon (Graham Elliot) have a clear goal in mind: to make haute cuisine accessible, with a mission "to bring you the uncensored raw power that is progressive American cuisine, albeit twisted and distorted for your entertainment."
"We think fine dining in Chicago is broken," Toland says, "Our competitive set doesn't know how to step it up in service. Progressive American cuisine is an art form that shouldn't just be for the rich and connected." Pretty strong words, but come opening, we'll see if they can back it up.
The restaurant's facade has a well-worn feeling, with a distressed wood sign hanging from the front awning. Once inside, the place has more of an industrial, artistic feel with exposed ceilings, metal arches behind the bar and some areas of exposed brick. Racy art panels, from Chicago artist Vincent Grech, adorn the walls. The staff will wear custom suits and dresses created by Christina Fan of C/FAN Designs and Ryan Newman of Wilfred Newman. The music will be upbeat and independent, and while Toland is a rocker himself, the music will stay at comfortable level.
The restaurant is divided into two rooms. The front room, with the black sheep "mascot" looking over it, seats 45 and will be for walk-ins only, while the reservations-only main dining room will seat 50 and feature cool black leather elements. A six-person chef's table, available by advance request, looks into the kitchen, allowing for interaction with the chefs.
Regardless of where you dine, the restaurant will offer three menus, an a la carte menu and two tasting menus, one being completely vegetarian. Prices on the a la carte menu will range from $8 to $34 and will feature items like the "study of beets" with goats milk and lemon meringue; and the halibut with crispy beef liver and truffled quail egg. The two tasting menus will be under $100, excluding drink pairings. Simon created an avant-garde beverage program, with flavor ice, about 60 wines, 25 craft beers and cocktails derivative of the classics. Sarah Jordan (Blackbird), created the pastry program, which features house-made bread and a take-away sweet treat for all diners.
Toland will still target bands, industry folks and late-night diners, and entice them in with a secret menu available after the last seating at 10 p.m. This menu will allow Toland to experiment and have fun "cooking for cooks," he said. Essentially, it'll have whatever he feels like preparing, whether that's noodles or some sort of street food. And staying true to his rocker roots, Toland has plans for some "pretty big acts" to visit the space. Talk about accessible haute cuisine.
· James Toland Set to Open the Black Sheep May 9 [~EChi~]