Mezcaleria Las Flores has gone west to replace departed beverage director Jay Schroeder after his disagreement with ownership. Caitlin Laman, a former Food & Wine best new mixologist, moves to Chicago to develop a new drink list at the Eater Award Bar of the Year winner. She spent time in San Francisco at Trick Dog, a Bay Area bedrock that helped popularize craft cocktails in the Mission District.
Laman actually left Trick Dog in January 2016, according to a release. That bar isn’t known for mezcal, but Laman accrued experience with the spirit in Mexico, having spent four months in Mexico City consulting for Licorería Limantour, a touristy bar that’s a frequent guest on top bar lists.
It will take a couple weeks for bartenders at MLF to start serving Laman’s drinks. Expect a departure from Schroeder’s hip-hop references that decorate the current menu. In the announcement, Laman says the bar’s focus will remain mezcal, but her and staff “will throw some cocktails based on other spirits in there as well,” including “lots of sherry.”
That’s not the only big shuffle to report: Former Big Star and White Oak Tavern chef Tom Van Lente is back in the city after spending six months working for his family’s business at Drury Lane Conference Center & Theatre in suburban Oakbrook Terrace. He’s already started in Ukrainian Village at The Winchester, where he takes over the kitchen from Tyler Hudec, who slides back to his role as chef de cuisine. Hudec stepped up after chef Duncan Biddulph left a couple months ago, according to Winchester owner Chris Pappas, after starting at the Winchester in January 2016.
Van Lente said they’ll unveil the new dinner menu on Friday night. He raves about a squid ink fettuccine among new house-made pastas, as well as sausages and meats from Slagel Farms, including a flatiron steak they just butchered. They’ll also serve veggies from Nichols Farms.
Although he wasn’t cooking, Van Lente says the experience at Drury Lane helped him evolve him as a chef. He says he’s now more technical and precise and that he’ll aim for approachable food that the neighbors could appreciate. Van Lente is also looking forward to the spring when they’ll open The Winchester’s new patio.
He also wants to stick around The Winchester, calling the moves between Big Star, White Oak and Drury Lane an aberration. “My next move had to be extremely calculated,” he says, “I certainly don’t want to be the person who jumps around every year...it’s certainly not right for me or for the business.”