The revamped Nisos (now called Nisos Prime) — the splashy West Loop Mediterranean restaurant that closed in May, 10 months after opening along Randolph Street — will debut in two phases and three components from the group behind Hampton Social.
Prime Bar, a more casual and less-expensive dining option, will open on Wednesday, August 16. The bar’s clubby, nocturnal companion — the Lounge — will open on Friday, August 18. Reservations are now live. Fans will have to wait a bit for the main event. Nisos Prime, with a menu from Rick Tramonto — the veteran Chicago chef who guided fine dining institution Tru when it was banking Michelin stars — should open in November. Tramonto is now Parker Hospitality’s culinary director with plans for future restaurants created by the chef, not just molded as in Nisos’ case.
“It’s not fine dining,” Parker Hospitality CEO and founder Brad Parker says of the new bar portion. “It’s a very approachable, fun atmosphere — we really want it in line with Hampton Social in terms of approachability and everyday dining.”
The original intreration of Nisos stumbled because it was too “out of the box,” Parker adds. Customers misunderstood his goal of creating a fun spot that highlighted various food from the Mediterranean. The extravagant presentations didn’t connect.
“What works in Europe doesn’t always work in the States,” Parker says.
The old menu, Parker says, perhaps featured too many Greek dishes. The latter was the product of importing chef Avgaria Stapaki from Greece. Stapaki departed Nisos shortly before Parker closed up in May. Now, three months after the shutter, Nisos is ready to reload with an upscale dinner spot with steak and pasta that will also eventually launch brunch five days a week.
The interiors, for the most part, have been left alone. That’s one of the reasons that Parker retained the name. He resisted the urge to rebrand as “Parker Prime,” or something similar. Parker also didn’t do a full reset: “There are so many parts of Nisos that were great: the decor, the design.”
Though Randolph Restaurant Row has gained quite a reputation for elevated dining in Chicago, Parker says there’s a large segment who prefer less pomp and circumstance and larger potions: “We’re the Midwest — we’re meat and potatoes,” he says.
The original Nisos perhaps had too much seafood. So at Prime, they’ll cook up a 22-ounce bone-in beef ribeye and an 8-ounce filet. Still, “prime” doesn’t necessarily mean the restaurant is a steakhouse — there are plenty (Swift & Sons, BLVD, Fioretta) already in the neighborhood. Parker takes a more general definition, “prime,” in his mind is more about the atmosphere. While they’ll still retain some Greek flavors, including lamb shank, Parker is using the “Mediterranean” umbrella to incorporate Italian pasta and eggplant parmesan.
Prime Bar, on the first floor, is casual. Tribune critic Nick Kindelsperger made it a point in his review to mention how Nisos attracted “beautiful people… to such an absurd degree….” Parker acknowledged that he invested a lot into the design of the restaurant, and he doesn’t want diners to come in “looking like they’ve just played a pick-up game of basketball off the street.” He does understand the need to make people feel welcome. Prime Bar will be open for lunch, and Parker envisions customers who have just finished their yoga sessions at Soho House to stop by or diners who want a place for a low-key business lunch to make use of the first-floor space. There’s also a 64-seat patio. Parker is keen on gin drinks and spritzes, so look for a selection of tonics and sparkling drinks.
Tramonto, who left Chicago for New Orleans, connected with Parker via a recruiter. He says the meats will come from Meats by Linz and Whittingham Meats and they’ll serve all sorts of meats (including wagyu — though he didn’t specify if it was full-blood American or the pricier Japanese cuts). They’ll have dry- and wet-aged options and the aging will happen at the restaurant and offsite.
The chef says he feels ready to take the challenge of making things work for Nisos 2.0: “We’re doing primarily coastal Mediterranean, but we’re in Chicago, so we’ll also be giving respect where respect is due,” he says.
The second-floor houses the main dining room and Nisos Prime, which will debut in the fall. It also will house the Lounge. It’s a 2,000-square-foot room where DJs will work on the weekends. It’s also for private events.
Chicago restaurants can sometimes feel too serious, Parker says. Despite the city’s role as a pioneering place for chefs, he believes a younger clientele isn’t as caught up with that and wants to let their hair down. He wants his restaurants to serve those people. Another project, Costera — a Mexican restaurant that focuses on Tulum — will open soon. It’s the reason they’ve spaced out the bar, lounge, and restaurant openings at Nisos.
“I want people to have fun,” Parker says. “Nisos is going to be fun, too.”
Nisos Prime Bar, 802 W. Randolph Street, opening Wednesday, August 16; The Lounge, opening Friday, August 18; reservations live via OpenTable.