As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many of Chicago’s upscale restaurants have pivoted toward an approach their chefs could never have fathomed before March: carryout food for delivery or pickup, boxed kits, and family meals to go. Glitzy Fulton Market restaurant and lounge BLVD is moving in the opposite direction. The Lake Street spot designed to evoke 1950s-era Hollywood glamour reopens Wednesday, August 12 with a new name and menu. BLVD Steakhouse will feature steaks, seafood, and more.
BLVD had been offering delivery, carryout, and grill kits during the shutdown. That will continue, but now ownership is further committing to the luxurious offerings that loyal customers know them for; it bucks a trend that’s seen many upscale restaurants go more casual during the pandemic. Chicago has plenty of steakhouses, and Fulton Market — the former meatpacking center of the city — already has a few entries. But BLVD will be different, swear co-owners and spouses Frank and Kara Callero. The change is less of a rebrand and more of the restaurant’s natural evolution since it first opened in 2017. While BLVD opened as a new American restaurant with shared plates, the Calleros say diners over the years gravitated toward steaks and their frequent accompaniments.
“We naturally progressed into this steakhouse concept without that moniker, without that name attached to it,” says Kara Callero. “Earlier this year we sat down as a team and said, ‘This is what people are telling us they want, this is what we’ve turned into. Let’s just own it.’”
The Calleros say they believe that once the pandemic has passed diners will want upscale options. They feel strongly about holding onto BLVD’s “core concept” — this is a move with the long term in mind. For the time being, the restaurant’s safety measures include QR code menus and a hot towel “cleansing service” for those who order seafood intended to be eaten with hands instead of utensils, like Alaskan King Crab legs.
Executive Chef Johnny Besch, who’s been with BLVD since it opened, will present an almost entirely new menu of both novel and classic renditions of steakhouse fare, from a spin on shrimp cocktail (horseradish panna cotta, spicy tomato gastrique, lemon confit) to a 16-ounce dry-aged New York strip from Slagel Farm to a classic Lobster Thermidor (parmigiano bread crumb, grilled lemon). The steak-focused “Butcher’s Block” section of the menu also features a four-ounce A5 Wagyu imported from Japan.
Additional entrees include Dayboat scallops (white corn grits, pine nut vinaigrette, crispy leeks), grilled lamb chops (mixed mushrooms, marble potatoes, marinated tomato, chimichurri), and a steak burger (cheddar, pickles, house dressing, sesame seed bun, hand-cut fries). A few hits from BLVD’s original offerings remain, including a seafood tower and caviar service. Besch is also featuring an onion soup fondue, his riff on the classic soup that appeared on the menu at the original Hamburger Hamlet, a popular Sunset Boulevard dining destination during Hollywood’s Golden Age. The whole thing is meant to exude a “sophisticated yet approachable vibe,” according to Kara Callero.
In keeping with the theme, the cocktail menu proffers numerous classics including a “BLVDier” (Basil Hayden bourbon, Peychaud’s aperitivo, St. George Nola coffee liquor, sweet vermouth) and Old Fashioned (Woodford Reserve bourbon, Zucca, molasses). There are also several options deemed “Retro Reimagined,” like the Chicago-friendly “Pilsen Paloma” (Lunaazul Blanco, Jeppson’s Malort, Aperol, Q Grapefruit, passionfruit, lemon). Wines by the glass and bottle are diverse and plentiful, and there are some draft and bottled beers to choose from too, such as Off Color Brewing’s Apex Predator saison.
The bi-level space created by Chicago designer Karen Herold of Studio K Creative will largely remain the same, maintaining a sleek and swanky feel that still feels appropriate for a steakhouse. The restaurant won Eater Chicago’s 2018 award for best design of the year. Some changes were made to the bar space to create a more comfortable area for dining, like the addition of bigger tables and removal of some bar stools to allow for smoother entrances and exits. Seating will be limited to 25 percent, per the city’s guidelines, but owners plan to place candelabras on empty tables to hold on to an intimate feeling.
“As crazy as the COVID world has been, it’s given us unique opportunity to make what we think is an exciting long-term change,” says Frank Callero. “We finally feel like the menu itself is going to truly compliment the dining room we built... it was always meant to be this way.”
BLVD is the Calleros’ first restaurant as they hope to grow their company, Sancerre Hospitality Group. They’ve recruited former Spiaggia chef and Top Chef season 15 winner Joe Flamm for a forthcoming Croatian-Italian restaurant. Construction continues, and Sancerre should soon have an update. Flamm’s restaurant is also nearby as the Calleros have decided to make a bold bet on the neighborhood; they plan to be around for the long term.