Time Out Market Chicago is breaking form later this month by unveiling a full-service restaurant, a departure from the casual stalls that populate the three-year-old food hall. Beginning in two weeks, customers can ascend to the second floor to reach Valhalla from S.K.Y. chef Stephen Giillanders, a restaurant featuring an 11-course tasting menu.
“This is no holds barred,” says Gillanders. “This is the best food I can make right now as an evolution of my career up to this point.”
Vahalla will provide the food hall with its first upscale option with table service. It’ll take reservations via Tock for the 66-seater with a 14-seat chef’s counter that offers both tasting menu and a la carte options. The hope is the casual environment downstairs can entice curious customers normally not interested in fine dining.
Gillanders isn’t honing in on a specific region or type of cuisine. Gillanders wants Valhalla to complement the food hall. If the hall is holding an Octoberfest event, he may dip into his repertoire to serve a German dish or two to have fun with the theme. But the restaurant is an independent entity. The opening menu will feature plates like Japanese-style scallops with brown butter, bonito, and enoki mushrooms, as well as smoked ricotta cappelletti with sea urchin, quail egg, and nori tuile. But Gillanders isn’t looking to overload diners with exotic ingredients: “We’re not letting the archaic insistence of luxurious ingredients take the place of things that are inherently better for certain things,” Gillanders says. If pork belly works better than foie gras, he says he feels no reason to use the latter.
There will be wine pairings, and though there’s a small cocktail list, there’s not a huge emphasis as Time Out doesn’t want to cannibalize business from the food hall’s other bars. Desserts will arrive from S.K.Y. pastry chef Tatum Sinclair.
Vahalla also gives Gillanders the stage to cook something he’s never served: a Filipino dish. He says his mother has been questioning why he hasn’t embraced that side of his heritage on his menus, and while his is not a traditional take, Gillanders will serve a less porridgy version of arroz caldo, subbing queen crab for the traditional chicken.
The hangup in cooking Filipino food for Gillanders was he felt he could never cook versions that measured up to his grandmother. But his confidence has risen, and chefs like Tim Flores have challenged perceptions. Gillanders says he appreciates how Flores and pastry chef Genie Kwon have “recognized how Filipino food can be both delicious and beautiful” in opening Kasama, the world’s only Michelin-starred Filipino restaurant.
Time Out Market stands near Michelin-starred restaurants like Curtis Duffy’s Ever, Noah Sandoval’s Oriole, and John and Karen Shields’ Smyth, and Gillanders feels Valhalla can shine just as bright. The California native moved to Chicago and worked for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ Intro Chicago. It was supposed to be a short stint in the Midwest, as he had long planned to return to the West Coast to open his dream restaurant. Before that, Gillanders also worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten for 10 years.
On Time Out’s first floor, customers occasionally would see the big-name chefs from the restaurants associated with the food stalls. Gillanders wants to assure diners that he’ll be a fixture at Valhalla. He’s since delegated chef duties at S.K.Y. and Apolonia to other staff. Additionally, in August he left his chef post at Somerset in Gold Coast, a gig he’d held since September 2020. The departure, Gillanders says, demonstrates how much he’s committed to Valhalla.
For Gillanders, Valhalla is in step with fine dining trends across the world. He notes Geranium, listed No. 1 on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants rankings sits inside a Copenhagen soccer stadium. He also mentions former Alinea chef Dave Beren’s restaurant inside an LA strip mall. (Michelin awarded Pasjoli a star). “No one in Chicago has done that,” Gillanders says. “It’s all been traditional brick and mortar.”
Valhalla also marks the end of Time Out’s long voyage to fill the vacant second-floor space. The pandemic disrupted initial plans to host chef demonstrations. With Fulton Market real estate at a premium, it made little financial sense to keep the area empty.
Gillanders is a chef who’s navigated some bumps in the road. He was greeted by protesters in Pilsen who welcomed S.K.Y. into the neighborhood before the restaurant opened. There was also the recent controversy surrounding the Jean Banchet Awards. Apolonia in the South Loop faced a tough road in debuting in April 2021 during the pandemic. But now comes a challenge he’s up for: Valhalla will compete in the West Loop and Fulton Market, neighborhoods where esteemed chefs Stephanie Izard and Grant Achatz have dominated.
“I wasn’t looking to open another restaurant,” Gillanders says. “But Time Out did approach me. Obviously when Time Out gives you a call, you’ll take some time to listen to what they have to say.”
Valhalla, on the second floor of Time Out Market, 916 W. Fulton Market, planned for a September 21 opening.