Stephen Gillanders is leaving Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Intro Chicago in Lincoln Park to finally open his own restaurant. Though he originally planned to open S.K.Y. in Los Angeles, Chicago won over Gillanders and his wife Seon Kyung Yuk (her initials comprise the restaurant’s name). Gillanders now plans to open S.K.Y., an 80-seat restaurant, in late July in Pilsen.
Construction is underway at the 2,800-square-foot site at 1239 W. 18th St., inside a former clinic. After spending time at Intro, which LEYE billed as kind of an incubator for young culinary talent, Gillanders is ready to assume the daunting task of giving Chicagoans something unique.
“It’s hard because Chicago, for all intents and purposes, is a food city,” Gillanders said.
But the chef appears up to the task. Gillanders’ stay in Chicago was supposed to be a brief one, as he arrived in October 2015 as one of Intro’s rotating chefs. He earned the trust of LEYE founder Rich Melman, who give him a job overseeing the restaurant as its first executive chef. That restaurant space expanded to add Naoki Sushi, and Gillanders has even added a dim sim menu. He’s not sure when he’ll leave Intro, but it might be at the end of May. He chatted with Melman about his departure and said he received Melman’s full blessing. LEYE wished Gillanders success with his new restaurant in a statement. That statement also said to stay tuned for details on how they’ll replace Gillanders.
Gillanders counts two mentors, Melman, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. He spent 10 years under Vongerichten and opened up The Pump Room in Chicago for him. When it comes to his new restaurant, Gillanders remains apprehensive about some labels: “We’re not doing modern American because that doesn’t mean anything,” he said. “And I hate the ‘f-word.’”
The “f-word” is “fusion,” and it’s easy for critics and diners to throw the label around with Gillanders, whose mother is Filipino. He wants to use influences from Mexico, Italy, and Korea in his menu. Sample items from the rotating a la carte menu include Maine lobster dumplings with jade butter and herbs, foie gras bim bim bop with charred asparagus and mushroom bulgogi, and a banana budino with cocoa nib granola and bourbon. So expect elevated and globally-influenced fare. Gillanders said his first menu at Intro may provide a hint of what S.K.Y. will offer.
S.K.Y. will eventually add weekend brunch and hopefully weekday lunch too. A tasting menu is also in the works and should debut at its four-seat chef’s table. Gillanders wants his kitchen’s technique to impress the Chicago restaurant industry but also be accessible so his parents can enjoy a meal: “You’re not going to see a balloon full of cod,” Gillanders joked.
The beverage program will allow wine to star, as Gillanders noted that venues like Dusek’s (across the street) give the neighborhood enough cocktails and beer. Pairings are on deck. He also brought Charles Ford, formerly of The Bristol in Bucktown, on as the general manager.
Gillanders wants S.K.Y. to offer versatility, to be comfy for business meetings as well as bachelorette parties. An Italian influence will be seen in the space’s minimalist design, he said, as he described a trip to Milan he made with his wife and how they dined at a restaurant that carried an art gallery feel. Given the number of galleries in Pilsen, he and his wife felt S.K.Y. would be a good fit for the neighborhood. “We want to make sure we integrate ourselves in the community opposed to sticking out,” he said.
Check back in the coming months for more details on this intriguing new addition for Pilsen.