Dan Pilkey has been on the job for about a month at Maple & Ash, the rebellious and lavish steakhouse in the Gold Coast. Pilkey’s title—head sommelier & director of wine imports—gives him a chance to revamp the pricey restaurant’s wine list. But he said he’s barely altered the selections, leaving much of what former sommelier Belinda Chang had in place before her departure.
“I think it’s only polite I listen,” Pilkey said while being overly complimentary about the existing wine program. “It’s the right thing to do.”
Pilkey’s experience includes working at Sixteen at the Trump Tower and at Alpana Singh’s Boarding House in River North. The 36-year-old is back working at restaurants after time as a consultant. His first task is reformatting the wine list. Don’t worry, the menu’s signature irreverent copy will remain. But Pilkey feels the list needed more info, as crucial facts like vintages and prices were omitted. He wants better efficiency for diners.
“I’ve been a fine-dining guy for forever and a moon,” Pilkey said. “But Maple & Ash is fast paced. Fine dining is four-hour, sit-down meals—you might have a champagne cart. There is so much time to kind of get to know your server and to ask for the sommelier...but Maple & Ash doesn’t necessarily do that.”
That puts increased dependency on the written word. Once Pilkey’s influence makes it to the wine list, expect to see rare gems from all over California. Producers like Arkenstone Vineyards and Hickinbotham Wines. It’s about more than the Napa Valley. While classics will be readily available, there’s plenty of spotlight for up and comers, including in different regions like South Africa. He’s also looking to establish a wine club for regular customers.
Chang was to be part of Maple & Ash’s Bucktown project. There’s no news pertaining to what Danny Grant and Co. will be doing at the former Southern, 1840 W. North Ave. Pilkey said he’s been busy will getting acclimated to Maple & Ash, so he’s not sure what they’ll be pouring over in Bucktown. “But I guarantee you it will kick ass,” he said.