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John & Karen Shields Target May Open For Newly-Named Fine & Casual Restaurants

The Trotter vets are planning a lot in the West Loop.

Smyth and The Loyalist
Smyth and The Loyalist
Ashok Selvam is the editor of Eater Chicago and a native Chicagoan armed with more than two decades of award-winning journalism. Now covering the world of restaurants and food, his nut graphs are super nutty.

Executive chef John Shields hopes that May will mark when he and his wife, pastry chef Karen Urie Shields, open their second-floor fine-dining establishment they've simply dubbed Smyth, along with their more casual ground-floor accompanying lounge they're calling The Loyalist. The two concepts will share an address at 177 N. Ada St.

The Shields' return to Chicago brings them to a city that's changed since their stints at Charlie Trotter's and Alinea. For example, Randolph Restaurant Row had yet to emerge, and John Shields is now happy to be a part of the area after they found the space after only one day of searching. "It wasn't planned like this, we just happened to find a West Loop spot," he said.

The inspiration for the decor comes from the Shields' travels and experience, including their time at the now-shuttered Town House and Riverstead Inn in Chilhowie, Va. For the past few years, the Shields attempted to open a restaurant in Washington, D.C., but those plans never materialized.

But now back in Chicago, the Shields are revealing Smyth, which they hope is an atypical fine-dining experience. It will feature a 40-seat space that the Shields want to make feel like a home. They'll serve a $135, eight-course tasting menu, as reported by the Tribune. They'll also offer a 16-course tasting menu for $220. Ingredients will come from a 20-acre farm in Illinois. Shields said he's still working out the menu and can't reveal items.

The Loyalist, on the first floor, comes with a darker, more moody atmosphere, hoping to attract regulars with a more casual vibe. Guests won't need a special occasion for a visit, Smyth hopes. There's a lower price point compared to Smyth, and bartenders will mix classic cocktails. The music might be a little louder on the first floor compared to the more buttoned-up second-floor sibling.

Another change since the Shields were last in Chicago comes from the explosion of casual spots. That played into how Smyth and The Loyalist were conceived.

"You have to do what the market demands to a certain extent," Shields said. "I think if you are talented enough to do a tasting-menu restaurant, the few people who can, that's great...casual is king right now, and for me I'm a little older now, a little bit more mature now. I love the idea of expressing myself in that way."

The Shields aren't the first husband-wife team to open a restaurant. Most recently, the husband-wife duo of Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones opened Dos Urban Cantina, and it's a similar set up as Jones is also the pastry chef at the Logan Square Mexican spot. "It's a special type of relationship where you can work together all the time," Shields said.