For years, Kan Zaman was synonymous with Lebanese food in Chicago. After moving from Andersonville to River North, the family-owned restaurant closed in 2015 due to lease issues. The owners surfaced again three years later in Lincoln Park with Cedar House.
Now the father-and-son team behind Kan Zaman are working on a new restaurant. Medi should open in late July at 2138 N. Halsted Street in Lincoln Park. Co-owners Elias Younan and Paul Alqas, longtime friends and children of Middle Eastern immigrants, along with partner George Rizzio, aim to create a different experience. They’re joined by Elias Younan’s father. Chef Hermiz Younan will run the kitchen.
Elias Younan’s parents, natives of Beirut, came to the U.S. in 1979 and founded Kan Zaman in Andersonville in the early 1990s. The restaurant featured pillow seating and belly dancers on weekends. The menu, like many Middle Eastern restaurants in America, served the big plates of rice and kebobs that have long been marketed to Western diners.
“We wanted to change it up, make it more ‘authentic,’ you might say, in terms of what we eat at home,” Elias Younan says. “It is a little more traditional — if you come over to my parents’ house or anybody from our family’s house, there’ll be a huge spread, a little bit of that, a little bit of this.”
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Medi’s still-developing menu will largely feature small and medium shared plates and rest on a foundation of Lebanese dishes but also integrate Armenian and Greek components. Lebanon’s position along the Mediterranean Sea has heightened those influences on the country’s cuisine as compared to other Middle Eastern nations, according to Younan, who says the restaurant’s offerings will be more traditional than those seen at Kan Zaman.
Elias Younan is particularly excited to highlight Lebanese options such as kibbeh nayeh, a tartar-esque mixture of raw minced lamb or beef mixed with fine bulgar and spices. Other offerings will include hot and cold mezze such as baba ghannouj, tabbouleh, and soujouk — a spicy Armenian sausage served in red sauce. A variety of kebobs will be available at Medi, as well as beef and chicken shawarma, and lamb chops.
Ownership brought in bartender and consultant James Urycki (Travelle at the Langham) to develop the seasonal cocktail menu. Medi will start off with summer-friendly drinks like a cold-brew Old Fashioned and the “Lasanta 12-Year Cobbler” (Olosoro and Pedro Ximénez sherries, blood orange juice, pineapple juice). A rotating selection of Mediterranean beers will also be available from countries including Greece, Lebanon, and Italy, plus glasses and bottles of wine from the region.
Medi’s food errs on the side of tradition, but the space will embrace contemporary aesthetics and popular culture. It’s a tangible representation of his and Alqas’s experiences growing up with Middle Eastern parents and culture in the United States. “Everything in this place really is a part of me, my family, Pauly, and how we grew up,” Elias Younan says. “It’s all part of growth and remembering where we came from. That means a lot to us on a business level, on a friendship level, and on a spiritual level.”
The 2,000-square-foot space has the capacity to seat 100, but Chicago’s pandemic restrictions have pared that number down to 25. Some design details remain under wraps, but the dining room will feature the same antique Middle Eastern chandeliers that appeared in Kan Zaman and have have been treasured by the Younans for more than two decades. Customers can anticipate an earthy palette with warm wood, white brick walls, and a white quartz-top bar that seats 15. Elias Younan also promises modern art and neons throughout the space, juxtaposing contemporary and classical aesthetics. In another nod to the family’s hospitality legacy, diners can also sit at a chef’s table for six with traditional pillow seating, where chef Younan will offer a customized menu based on patron preferences.
Elias Younan says he hopes to open Medi on or around July 22. Stay tuned for an opening alert.
Medi, 2138 N. Halsted Street, Scheduled to open at the end of July.