Even before the pandemic, some worried that Chicago’s largest restaurant company, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, was abandoning upscale to focus on more casual concepts. The company closed Tru in 2017, when “fast casual” and “quick serve” were buzzwords in increasing usage within the restaurant world.
But trends tend to be cyclical and earlier this year St. Regis Chicago, the $1 billion luxury skyscraper near Navy Pier on Chicago’s seldom referred to East Side, presented LEYE with a unique opportunity after Alinea Group cancelled its plans. In October, Lettuce announced it would open two restaurants in the building, Now it’s ready to share more details.
The 1,191-foot-tall building boasts 191 hotel rooms and 393 condo units. It’s the third-tallest building in Chicago (behind Willis Tower and Trump Tower) and designed by Jeanie Gang; Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin notes that the building — formerly called the Vista Tower — is the tallest building ever designed by a woman.
Hotel guests and condo owners will form a mix of different tenants and Lettuce has already introduced itself and held pop-ups. The company wants to serve those customers and create destiny-worthy concepts inside the curved glass tower. LEYE managing partner Kiran Pinto says “luxury is for everybody,” and mentions the wagyu ishiyaki to be served at Miru, the 11th-floor restaurant. The dish, made with the famous marbled beef, is cooked on a hot stone lending a unique interactive quality. LEYE hasn’t been bashful with sourcing well-marbled wagyu, having premium selections from Japan available at its RPM Steak. If Miru (prounounced “mē-rōō”) continues in those footsteps, Chicagoans are in for a treat.
“Lettuce is focused, again, on being the best,” Pinto says. “We want to showcase talent and hospitality, and so if that ends up in luxury property, then we’re thrilled to do that.”
LEYE chef Hisanobu Osaka is also working on a ramen ravioli. Pinto describes essentially a super-charged soup dumpling stuffed with pork belly and tonakotsu flavor. Miru’s menu will also include dumplings, skewers, fried, rice, hot pot, and “a robust wagyu and seafood section.” It’s a large space with 225 seats indoors, so while the menu features izakaya touches, it’s not exactly an intimate pub. Sushi, sashimi, and other raw bar selections will also be served at an eight- to 10-seat sushi counter.
The 11th floor-restaurant will also feature dual 100-seat terraces with views of Navy Pier and the Chicago River. One will likely by available for private events. Miru will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While there will be Japanese influences for breakfast, don’t look for tamagoyaki and other traditional items. Breakfast will lean western with pastries and omelettes. However, if there’s demand for a Japanese-style breakfast, Pinto says Lettuce would be open to adding it.
There aren’t as many details available on the first-floor restaurant, Tre Dita. Pinto says the restaurant will be a little bit more elevated compared to Miru. Tre Dita will come with a menu from LA chef Evan Funke. He’s known for his pastas and his restaurant, Mother Wolf, made Eater’s Best New Restaurants in America in 2017. Tre Dita was described as a Tuscon steakhouse, and the name refers to “three fingers,” that’s the alleged measure purists use to assess the proper thickness of bistec Fiorentina. Funke’s relationship with Lettuce has lasted for years as a consultant and in various roles, Pinto says: “Every moment we’ve been with him has been an absolute joy.”
Rounding out the team is exeuctuve pastry chef Juan Gutierrez the winner of Netflix’s School of Chocolate: “Everything we’ve tasted from mint chocolate cookies to chocolate tarts has been a knockout,” Pinto says.
On the drink side, Diane Corcoran (Three Dots and a Dash) is busy working on a Bloody Mary, which apparently is apparently a signature at St. Regis properties. Don’t look for a ridiculous garnish: “It won’t be a meal in a glass,” Pinto says.
All in all, Lettuce is ready to stretch its legs after a rocky few years during the pandemic.
“I hope this really adds to the hotel dining scene in Chicago,” Pinto adds.
St. Regis Chicago, 363 E. Wacker Drive, Miru scheduled to open in spring on the 11th floor; Tre Dita to open afterward.