Oriole first opened five years ago — a 28-seat dining room vying to set itself apart from other fine dining restaurants in Chicago. Ownership worked diligently to create a unique and comfortable environment (without a dress code) that felt cutting edge without coming off as gimmicky. And they succeeded: Chef Noah Sandoval and GM Cara Sandoval besieged diners with 16 or so courses that lacked filler. The menu often changes, but the playful textures, precise plating, and overall fun factor allowed Oriole to serve hit after hit and soon after opening the restaurant earned two-star status from Michelin.
Lots has changed over the last five years. For one, pastry chef Genie Kwon and husband and sous chef Tim Flores departed to open Kasama. Last year, the pandemic created a global crisis and forced fine dining restaurants like Oriole to close their dining rooms. The Sandovals briefly resurfaced afterward to sling barbecue, but it wasn’t a full-time takeout pivot. It’s a challenge to translate Oriole’s service and experience into a bag.
Changes were discussed even before the pandemic, but the suspension of indoor dining accelerated plans. One of the restaurant’s investors owns the entire block of property where Oriole sits and there was a neighboring vacancy. Crews knocked down a wall and when work was finished, the loft-like restaurant had triple the space. That doesn’t mean reservations are easier to come by, Oriole increased seating capacity by only three. The Sandovals did add an upstairs for a bed and breakfast experience that could be ready later in August, according to the Tribune.
The renovations include a lounge where customers will nosh on bites and bartenders will pour drinks. A host will then escort them to the kitchen where they’ll meet chef Sandoval who will greet them before they make it to their seats. The new menu also comes with a price increase. It’s $285 compared to $175 opening menu price from 2016.
Oriole isn’t the first Michelin-starred restaurant in Chicago to undergo renovations. In 2016, Alinea unveiled a new look. However, it’s notable that this modernization reveals more of the Sandovals’ personal story. The couple met in high school in Virginia during a battle of the bands, and music continues to be the thread that binds — it’s what connected them to Empty Bottle owner Bruce Finkelman and gave rise to Pizza Friendly Pizza. If diners look above the kitchen, they’ll spot a ceiling covered with vintage concert posters from an eclectic group of artists including Leonard Cohen, Superchunk, and the Smiths. Not too many Michelin-starred restaurants have Bad Brains posters, but here we are.
Walk through the space below. Reservations are booked until August for parties of two. Customers can also make reservations for the bar space and enjoy drinks created by Julia Momose, a partner at Oriole’s sibling bar Kumiko. There’s also a kitchen table; but it’s also sold out through August. September reservations aren’t yet available.
While waiting for fall reservations to open up, take a stroll through the space below. The next iteration of Oriole is ready to soar.
Oriole, 661 W. Walnut Street; reservations are available via Tock.