A remerging trend has been restaurants opening inside retail stores, as major corporations team with local chefs to bring in more customers. Restoration Hardware in Gold Coast hit a home run with Hogsalt Hospitality when it opened 3 Arts Club Café in 2015. Now Crate and Barrel is taking the philosophy to the suburbs by bringing in chef Bill Kim (Urban Belly) to run their new restaurant at the Oakbrook Center shopping center.
Table at Crate takes over the space formerly occupied by Land of Nod, Crate and Barrel’s store that sold children’s furniture at 35 Oakbrook Center in Oak Brook. Crate and Barrel will use the 75-seat restaurant as a showroom for its merchandise. What better way to display plates, silverware, and other kitchen goods than while in action during a meal? This is “Crate and Barrel come to life,” said Kim. He added that the store’s customers come from all walks of life. This is an interactive experience, Kim said.
“I don’t care who you are or where you live: we can all say we have Crate and Barrel items in our homes,” he added.
Having Crate and Barrel as a partner was a revelation when it came to picking a decor. Kim works with Cornerstone Restaurant Group, the company that’s behind the steakhouses that bear basketball legend Michael Jordan’s name. They’ve got considerable resources. But working with Crate and Barrel was new ballgame with a vast selection of decor and tableware options, Kim said.
Many Asian-American chefs consider Kim as a Chicago pioneer. Born in Seoul, he was raised in Chicago and cooked under the guidance of legendary chefs including Charlie Trotter. The point is that Kim can cook more than Korean food.
“Everyone knows me as the Asian guy who cooks casual food,” Kim said.
Kim said he’s using several ideas he’s had in his back pocket while running his Pan-Asian restaurants. Table at Crate’s menu consists of sharable items. One of Kim’s favorites is the deep-dish cauliflower lasagna, a dish that owes much to the caramelized edges of a Detroit-style squared pizza. Kim said he steams a head of cauliflower and cuts in really thin like sheet pasta. He then layers it with cheese and tomato sauce.
There’s also bowls and salads including a kale with toasted ground almonds and fish sauce that replaces the traditional egg and yolk and anchovies in the dressing. They’re also doing afternoon tea service. The tower will include salmon rolls, roulade, and cucumber sandwiches with smoked white bean hummus. There’s also grab-and-go items and a coffee bar.
Table at Crate also serves alcohol with eight cocktails created by Julieta Campos, the head bartender at the Whistler in Logan Square. There’s an outdoor space so there will obviously be a few patio pounders like “Hey, Hi, Hello” (Tito’s Vodka, Dolin Blanc Vermouth, strawberry-guava syrup, Grand Poppy Amaro, lemon).
While it seems there’s a wave of new chefs opening restaurants in conjunction with retailers, this isn’t a new idea. The Walnut Room continues to serve chicken pot pies inside the store formerly known as Marshall Field’s on State Street in the Loop. It’s only been doing that since 1905. Kim said he hasn’t eaten there, but hopes folks will come out and see him in Oak Brook. He’ll be there for the first few weeks after opening. Kim said he’s excited to challenge the notion of what would work in a suburban restaurant.
“I just want people to know that this is going to be different and it’s going to be a fun place for creativity,” Kim said.
There’s still no opening date released at Oakbrook Center. It should open in July.