Nearly two-and-a-half years after the initial announcement, the venerable Rick Bayless is revealing details on his large and mysterious Randolph Row project. Bayless, in a Facebook update, writes that Cruz Blanca will not only be a brewery with a tasting room, but also a taqueria "of sorts." Leña Brava, the adjoined project next door, is a Baja California-inspired restaurant with a "100% wood-fired" kitchen and a mezcal-focused bar. There's no word yet on opening dates, but Bayless wrote it will open "within two months."
Cruz Blanca will focus on beer, as the kitchen's pretty small, with the space devoted to the 10 barrels. Jacob Sembrano will serve as the brewmaster, coming over from Goose Island Brewing Co. Bayless' release said the chef's interested in brewing because it's now an extension of the kitchen, and Bayless is interested in "anything that touches the kitchen." Their speciality, Biere de Garde, (previously known as La Guardia) is inspired by French brewer's Emil Dercher's 1860s brewery in Mexico City. Foodwise, visitors could expect tacos with Oaxacan-style half-cured flank tasajo, red chile pork cecina and chorizo.
The seafood-dominated Leña Brava will have room for 113, as well as a party room. Bayless called Baja California, the restaurant's inspiration, a "different Mexico" due to Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Spanish —as well as Mexican— immigrants. The house mezcal will come from San Dioniso, Oaxaco. The husband-wife team of Lisa and Fred Despres are handling the chef duties. Lisa is the sous chef at Topolobampo and Fred comes from Arami.
Bayless' ambitious West Loop project aims to give Randolph Restaurant Row something different from two other coming-soon Mexican restaurants (Federales Tequila and Tacos and El Solazo). This summer should be a fiesta on Randolph Street.