In a few weeks, Chicago will see yet another food hall open, this one with five concepts inside. While many of these stalls are led by chefs who have been in and out of the Chicago restaurant scene for years, one of them, Pink Salt, is a relative newcomer, with Palita Sriratana at the helm.
“This is like a dream come true,” Sriratana said. “I wanted to bring Thai food and mimic it like a street cart. Doing it this way made the most sense to me.”
She’s been cooking since she could reach the stove, making simple dishes for herself like instant ramen. But she spent the rest of her time obsessing over the creations her grandmother would make in their kitchen in Bloomington. Her immigrant Thai family was close, and Sriratana would spend her summers in Thailand with her retired aunts while her parents went to manage the family’s durian and rice farm. In that kitchen, she and her aunts would spend the entire day cooking to feed the rest of the household when they came home.
Despite her love for cooking, she later decided to pursue a career in medicine. She worked in health care for seven years, conducting drug studies at Rush University and then working in Bangkok at an infectious disease clinic at Mahidol University. On her evenings off, she interviewed musicians and wrote concert reviews. Yet something was missing.
“I thought I liked health care, but it just wasn’t for me,” she said. “I knew I wanted to get back into food; I just didn’t know how to go about it.”
She decided to enroll in business school, thinking that she might want to start a food delivery service like Blue Apron or HelloFresh. In the three months before she began business school, she staged at Au Cheval and Nico Osteria and realized what she really wanted to do was cook.
After business school, she launched a recipe blog and started hosting large dinners with her friends and their friends. As time passed, she began to toy with the idea of doing something more formal. When she saw news about Fulton Galley, she sent in an application with a 4,000-word essay. She loved that each concept had its own open kitchen instead of a shared one, and was excited to make food to order and build a customer base.
Her menu at Pink Salt is Isaan-style Thai food, which features sticky rice and chili peppers. This is the regional cuisine she grew up on, known for dishes flavored with savory fish sauce and bright, punchy herbs. You’ll find dishes like gai yang krob, crispy seared boneless chicken thighs marinated in lemongrass and Thai herbs and spices served with a classic sweet chile sauce, or gai tod hat yai, fried chicken tenders marinated in white peppercorns, topped with fried shallots and served with sriraja sauce, a chile sauce similar to the bottles of Rooster-brand sauce Sriracha you’re familiar with. On her opening menu, Sriratana will have a special moo krob, crunchy roasted pork belly with a spicy tamarind and lime juice nam jaew sauce. These large dishes are all served with a side of jasmine or sticky rice.
For something a little smaller, don’t miss the som tum classic, a green papaya salad with tomatoes, green beans and peanuts in a spicy citrus dressing or the tod mun kapod, lightly curried corn fritters with ribbons of makrut lime and served with a sweet cucumber relish. But the dish that started the blog and is a favorite among her friends is larb gai, lemongrass minced chicken tossed with toasted rice and lime dressing.
You’ll want to save room for the gluay khak, street-style fried bananas with coconut shreds and sesame seeds. And all of her dishes go nicely with a cold brew Thai iced coffee or an iced Thai tea. Instagrammers will want to look out for the fresh green coconut with “Pink Salt” branded on the side.
“Technically the recipes are still being developed,” Sriratana said with a laugh. “I want to get this perfect! But I also don’t want to drive myself crazy.”
She credits her sous chef Dylan Heath (Cafe Marie-Jeanne) for deciphering her “handful of this” and “some of that” into recipes. You won’t find any pad thai on her menu, but you’ll taste tomatoes from local farms and fresh corn and fruit when they come into season. Once the concept is up and going, she’ll launch brunch with items like crab omelettes and Thai wontons.
“I’ve gone through more than 80 iterations,” she said of the menu. “I wanted to do something ingredient-driven and focused. It’s been stressful, but I think it will be worth it in the end.”
The other concepts that will be in Fulton Galley are Taco Mucho by Ron Aleman (Devon Seafood Grill and Fairmont Chicago hotel), Italianette by Gerad Gobel and Alexis Rorabaugh (Soho House), Steingold’s Deli by Aaron Steingold, and Fairview by Dennis Bernard (The Publican).
For Bernard, this is an opportunity to try something he’s always wanted to do. Like Sriratana, he praised Galley Group for “providing a good, safe, secure place to start your own concept.”
“I’ve spent 12 years with One Off (Hospitality) and I couldn’t ask for more,” he said. “But this is something I need to do for myself to grow as a person and take this leap of faith on my own.”
He’ll be doing rotisserie meats, fish and vegetables with Latin American flavors, going back to his first job working the rotisserie at a restaurant in Florida 20 years ago. He’ll be making chicken marinated with mortita chile and lime, served with Yukon Gold potatoes, aji verde crema and scallions, and pork collar with green garlic, pineapple, citrus mojo, ancho barbecue lentils, escarole salad and chicharron. He’ll also have a few ceviches and sandwiches, as well as a crema cheesecake with rhubarb and cinnamon chicharron.
“I’m excited about working in this food hall in the sense where you’re a little more interactive with the guests,” Bernard said. “You bring the food out to them and you get to talk to the guest. I’m also excited about collaborating with the other chefs here. It’s like one community under the Galley roof.”
1115 W. Fulton Market, pinksaltchicago.com, fairviewchicago.com
THE LOOP — Do-Rite Donuts & Chicken will open in Catalog, the new 300,000-square-foot, five-story dining, retail and entertainment center at the base of Willis Tower. Look out for donuts, coffee and fried chicken sandwiches. Other restaurants in the space will include Brown Bag Seafood Co., Convene, Urbanspace, Shake Shack, Sweetgreen, Starbucks and Market Creations. 233 S. Wacker Drive, willistower.com
WICKER PARK — San Francisco-based Philz Coffee will open its first Chicago location June 22, serving up coffee and Philz merchandise. Three other stores are planned in Hyde Park, Lincoln Park and Evanston. 1640 W. Division St., philzcoffee.com
GOLD COAST — Lost Larson will host a one-weekend-only pop up at SPACE 519 and The Lunchroom, bringing pastries, bread and baked goods to the downtown area. 8 a.m.-noon, June 21-23. 200 E. Chestnut St., 312-751-1519, space519.com
WEST LOOP — Dirty Root, an all-day, fast-casual restaurant, will open this summer with a menu focused on local, seasonal produce sourced from Genesis Growers and Nichols Farms. All the dishes will be gluten-free and avoid refined sugar, GMOs and canola oil. Led by Justin Milius (The Purple Pig, Balena, Frasca Food & Wine, Plumpjack), look out for hearty bowls with ancient grains, greens or cauliflower rice and mushroom pilaf as a base, plus two sides, such as summer cabbage slaw or za’atar-spiced carrots, plus four proteins, and a sauce to top. The restaurant will also serve organic drip coffee from Kickapoo Coffee Roasters and retail items from Vital Proteins, Waterloo Sparkling Water, The New Primal and Alter Eco. 939 W. Randolph St., instagram.com/dirtyroot
WEST FULTON MARKET — Alinea Group announces new project: The St. Clair Supper Club
COTTAGE GROVE — The Cajun Connoisseur has closed its brick and mortar space but will still operate its food truck. 4317 S. Cottage Grove Ave.
WEST LOOP — Nellcote and RM Champagne have closed after seven years, according to a post on Instagram. 833 W. Randolph St., 116 N. Green St.
LOGAN SQUARE — Son of a Butcher is closed and its space will be taken over by 8 Hospitality. 2934 W. Diversey Parkway.