With the recent departure of chef Patrick Sheerin to open the Trenchermen with brother Mike Sheerin, the Signature Room at the 95th had some big shoes to fill. With today's announcement of Brandon K. Wolff as the new exec chef at the restaurant atop the John Hancock Building, those shoes just got a little tighter.
Wolff, who most recently served as exec sous chef at one sixtyblue under Michael McDonald, will release a new lunch menu this week and follow that up with a new dinner menu in May. Wolff will roll out the new menu items that will include the addition of fresh daily-made pastas. His new menu will focus on local and seasonal ingredients and will include dishes like handmade ricotta gnocchi with spring vegetables; lobster salad with shaved vegetables, sliced avocado and ginger aioli; and roasted salmon with a salad of pea shoots and asparagus.
When Wolff first came to Chicago, he worked at Osteria via Stato and La Madia and will incorporate an Italian philosophy of cooking locally and using limited ingredients in his food at the Signature Room. Before Chicago, Wolff earned critical accolades helming Milwaukee's Bacchus and the upscale 60-seat Dream Dance at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino, both owned by the Bartolotta Restaurant Group, where he received four stars at each restaurant.
Wolff said the Signature Room hasn't had a proper review from a major outlet in a while and would like his new menus to attract some attention. But is he gunning for four stars? "I'd love to get a four-star review here, but the amount of volume we do ? it's not just about the food, but also about the service," he said. "A four-star review is achievable, but also ambitious. I'd be happy with three stars."
In general, the menu at the Signature Room hasn't undergone sweeping changes in some time and Wolff is already working on tweaking that. "My cooking style is probably a little simpler and less fussy than [Sheerin's] style, not to say that one is right or wrong," Wolff said. "My approach is simple, seasonal and minimal ingredients and my background in Italian cuisine reflects that."
Having started about six weeks ago, Wolff has focused primarily on the lunch menu, which rolls out this Thursday, and will start to tackle dinner after that. He said that Sheerin helped him with the transition and in getting a handle on operating such a busy restaurant, which serves upwards of 800,000 people annually, many of which are visitors to Chicago. Wolff said he wants to start attracting a more local crowd, too.
"I'd like to see us build more of a Chicago clientele," he said. "I don't look at [the touristy part] that much. To me, we're serving our guests everyday. It doesn't matter that they may not be from the city, we still have to put out a great product."