Reservations are live for Claudia, the Bucktown fine dining restaurant that started as the pop-up chef Trevor Teich has been running off and on since 2015. Teich aims to give diners a nostalgic glimpse into his childhood on the North Shore. Scheduled for an October 1 opening, Claudia will feature a 10-course tasting menu for $225, and a chef’s table menu with 15 courses for $265 with optional wine pairings.
Elements of the menu may already be recognizable to those familiar with the pop-up’s whimsical style. Crews have also done major work to the bar area in back, revamping the bar space with a marble countertop, natural woods, and dim lighting. There’s a separate bar menu with a la carte French dishes.
The restaurant will open in its new permanent home inside a storied building that’s housed Stephanie Izard’s first restaurant (Scylla), Takashi Yagihashi’s namesake restaurant, and — most recently — the short-lived Stone Flower.
In all its incarnations, from the first pop-up that ran from 2015 to 2018 to the revival in 2019, the food at Claudia has been influenced by Teich’s training in the French and Japanese traditions, combined with his nostalgia for his childhood in suburban Northfield. Teich wants his dishes to tell stories. One of his signature dishes — Snails in the Woods — uses tempura escargot, surrounded by a “forest” of edible flowers and moss in “soil” made from dehydrated mushrooms and pumpernickel bread. The dish was inspired by his brother Theodore’s habit of surprising their mother, Claudia, with creatures he’d collected from the nearby nature preserve (yes, Claudia is the restaurant’s namesake).
“We want a sense of fun and adventure and discovery,” Teich says.
To add to that feeling, each meal will be specially tailored to the diners. Upon making a reservation, the restaurant will ask customers about their hobbies, favorite childhood memories, and what makes them feel like a kid again. That information will help the staff create surprises during the meal, like, for example, a small airplane for a model airplane enthusiast like Teich’s father.
Teich wants to avoid fine dining cliches. He says Claudia is about “more than slapping down food and running through descriptions and endless lists of ingredients.” He’s not above candy — he’s molding giant peach gummy bears to recreate the feeling of how big everything seems when you’re a kid.
The 10-course meal will be available in a 24-seat dining room with the 12-seat chef’s table on the second floor. The downstairs lounge where diners can order tasting or a la carte menus. The lounge decor features shelves of Teich’s favorite childhood books and, inspired by the 1971 film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, a collection of cut-in-half items, just like inside Wonka’s office.
The 2019 version of Claudia in the West Loop was BYOB pending a liquor license. In Bucktown, however, Steven Miller (Revival Social Club) helms the bar program with sommelier Chris Crispino (North Pond) curating the wine.
The location at 1952 N. Damen Avenue was most recently occupied by Stone Flower, Jacob Bickelhaupt’s follow-up to 42 Grams. 42 Grams, a Michelin-starred restaurant, closed in 2018 and Stone Flower closed last year. The building is owned by Harpal Singh, a businessman who owns a few fast-food restaurants in the suburbs. Singh was the primary investor in Stone Flower as he and Bickelhaupt opened Stone Flower together in May 2019, two years after Bickelhaupt pled guilty in 2017 to attacking his ex-wife, Alexa Welsh, at 42 Grams where Welsh was also the manager. Bickelhaupt now lives in Denver and blames cancel culture for the demise of his restaurant; he’s even making a movie about his journey called 86ed. In helping Bickelhaupt open Stone Flower, Singh gave the chef a chance when many in Chicago’s restaurant scene avoided him.
Singh hasn’t publicly commented in his involvement in either Claudia or Stone Flower. For Claudia, in exchange for a share of the profits, Singh’s giving Teich a break on the rent, according to a Claudia spokesperson. The spokesperson says Singh no longer has any connection to Bickelhaupt. Over the last three years, Teich has also been vocal about his disdain for Bickelhaupt’s behavior.
The pandemic added another challenge for Teich who’s waited for years to find a permanent home for his restaurant. In 2018, he put his pop-up on hold so he could go to Las Vegas and make some money working at venues including NoMad, a hotel and casino. The Claudia pop-up’s 2019 revival was partially funded by a Kickstarter campaign. This current opening is financed by Teich himself and a group of investors. “It’s nice to know people want this restaurant to happen,” he says.
Teich is also pleased that the building was originally residential: “We don’t want make you feel like you’re out of place,” he says. “This looks like someone’s house. We want to make people to feel at home.”