The group behind Giant, one of Chicago’s essential restaurants, is planning to open a bar that will serve Chinese-American food in Bucktown. The project’s called Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar and its inspiration comes from the Chinese restaurants chef Jason Vincent ate at growing up in Cleveland. It’s slated to open this summer at 2165 N. Western Avenue, the former Siboney Cuban Cuisine.
Restaurant partner Josh Perlman makes no secret that no one on staff is of Chinese heritage, and they aren’t trying to define the cuisine. Perlman, Vincent, and another partner — Ben Lustbader — are all Jewish. The trio shares memories of eating Chinese food on Christmas like many American Jews do. Chef’s Special will feature items like Mongolian beef, egg foo young, fried rice, and noodles. The menu is an homage to the owners’ nostalgia, not a pledge to authenticity. The name also shows a flexibility. “Chef’s special” may remind some of other Chinese restaurants, but it’s also supposed to represent an inventive kitchen philosophy. Perlman said ownership is cognizant of being respectful of the culture.
“We don’t want to come across that we’re an authority on what these dishes have to be, or what they have to have in them,” he said.
The menu will also have rotating specials with more “experimental” items. They’re still developing the menu, but Perlman suggested Chinese-inspired pizzas, burgers and even lasagna. These are just ideas as Perlman hasn’t consulted with the kitchen staff. When he does, he may ask them if Chef’s Special will offer a sequel to Giant’s popular uni shooter.
They’re still experimenting with the space’s configuration, but expect a dining room with room for 75 and a bar with seating for 12. They’ll also have outdoor seating on Palmer Avenue. The drink program, handled by Perlman and GM Chase Bracamontes (Publican, Giant) will feature natural wines, local beers, and cocktails. The drinks will feature Asian ingredients. Perlman said they’re working on a lychee/vanilla drink. They’re not doing tiki. Perlman wants to go beyond the usual Rieslings and offer other wines that pair well with spicy foods. The restaurant may also offer a bar menu. It will stay open late seven days a week and also offer take out. Ownership thinks carry outs are mandatory for a Chinese restaurant.
A news release touts the space a “dressed-up dive bar.” What that means is Perlman and company want to open a restaurant that’s accessible to locals. One that’s inviting to families during the day and where customers can come in at night and grab some crab Rangoon and drink a couple of beers. They may even offer an incentive, perhaps a free appetizer, for pick-up orders.
Former Giant workers Aaron Kabot and Tom Scodari will assume chef duties. Giant has been successful in retaining workers. The restaurant is a Chicago pioneer when it comes to the treatment of restaurant workers in Chicago. Giant offers health insurance to workers, a rarity in the industry. Perlman is hopeful they can carry over the benefits to the new restaurant.
The Giant team also partnered with the Ace Hotel Chicago in Fulton Market on City Mouse. Chef’s Special Cocktail Bar would be the trio’s third project. They haven’t officially formed a restaurant group. The LLC’s called “Hot Mess” so perhaps that’s a working title, Perlman said.
Vincent is a respected chef with a James Beard Award nomination. He’s also the former chef at Nightwood, a Michelin-recognized restaurant that’s since closed in Pilsen. Chicagoans may also know Giant from last year’s marketing dinner involving influencers and Glad.
Food and Wine first made the announcement.