Some have told chef Rob Shaner that it was a gutsy move for him to name his upcoming French tasting-menu restaurant after himself. Shaner, who in March left the chef’s job at Kennison in Lincoln Park, assures interested parties that’s not the case. Robert Et Fils, slated to open around March inside the former Kitsune space, is a tribute to Shaner’s father, Bob Shaner.
Robert Et Fils, which translates to “Robert and Son,” is Rob Shaner’s first restaurant after working for many pedigreed Chicago chefs including Chris Pandel (Cira) and John Manion (El Che Steakhouse). His father, Bob Shaner, died in 2008. He worked as an executive in the telecommunications industry, for Cellular One and various iterations of the company. The job took him and his family to Paris in the mid-‘90s for several years. That exposed Rob Shaner to French cuisine. In France, the father and son were both known as “Robert,” as no one cared for their abbreviated nicknames.
“It kind of blew my mind eating in France with that experience,” Rob Shaner said, noting that at the time he had a 1980s Midwestern palate overloaded with frozen and processed foods.
Rob Shaner spent parts of his childhood in Missouri and outside of Chicago in the West Dundee/Carpentersville area. He shared fond memories of dinners in France, where servers took their time giving family a chance to bond. Shaner wants his new restaurant to capture that feeling of intimacy, giving diners a break from being bombarded with smartphone notifications. The vision is for a 24-seat tasting-menu restaurant, an elegant space that feels comfortable and lived in.
The pace of the meal is key for Shaner. Chicago isn’t New York where owners, pressured by the city’s expensive real estate rents, are rushing diners out the door so they can reset tables and serve more customers. He plans to cook either five- or seven-course dinners that will last more than two hours.
Shaner is fond of game birds and Parisians are fond of pigeon, so expect squab on the menu. He is also fond of taking old dishes no longer in fashion, like braised celery, and resurrecting them. While Shaner wants to be respectful, the dishes won’t be copies of the originals.
“I don’t want to bastardize it, we have made so much progress with just technology in general,” Shaner said. “Whether it’s an oven or the cooking process, we have access to information that gives us such a foot up compared to what was 80 years ago.”
Pricing hasn’t been finalized, but Shaner hopes to keep dinner costs to around $100 per person. Shaner describes the menus as prix fixe, not tasting; customers will get full portions. He’s hoping the experience — along with natural wines, classic and modern French cocktails, and spirit-free cocktails — will bring Robert Et Fils customers from all across the city.
Acclaimed chef Iliana Regan ran a Japanese-inspired restaurant, Kitsune, for three years in the space. Despite Regan’s Michelin-starred reputation earned at her first restaurant, Elizabeth, the neighborhood didn’t fully take to Kitsune. Shaner is aware of the challenges that he’ll face at his neighborhood restaurant, as he also worked at Royal Grocer Co. in Bucktown. Shaner’s pastry chef is Cati Molnar, who worked at Boka Restaurant Group and 90/94 Restaurant Group’s Kennison and most recently at Lost Larson in Andersonville.
At the time of his father’s death, Rob Shaner said he was a bit of a mess. His father worried about his son’s future. Eleven years later, Rob Shaner has quit drinking and has a 7-year-old daughter. He’s got confidence and owes much of it to his father.
“His mind would be at ease now,” Rob Shaner said.
Stay tuned for updates on his restaurant in the new year.
Robert Et Fils, 4229 N. Lincoln Avenue, Scheduled to open late winter or early spring.