Chicago chef Paul Kahan is behind plenty of big names: Blackbird, avec, The Publican, and of course, Big Star. The chef's latest project with One Off Hospitality, Nico Osteria, opens today, showcasing Kahan's first foray into authentic Italian cuisine.
The ktichen, helmed by Erling Wu-Bower (of avec, Publican Quality Meats), will be churning out an assortment of crudos (think Marea, but less delicate), Tuscan bruschettas, and an assortment of whole roasted fish (branzino, turbot) and house-made pastas.
"For me the food that I gravitate to as I get older, my wife and I cook really simple fruits and vegetables from the garden in the tradition of Italian cooking," Kahan told The Daily Meal on the phone. "That’s really the food that I want to eat." That means items like a lobster spaghetti or a Neopolitan ragù, a stew with swordfish meatballs and roasted and glazed pork belly. As for the roasted fish, the fish will first be deboned, then roasted with the main bone skeleton to retain the flavor, and presented tableside, deboned easily, and served hot.
"I get really excited about eating a whole roasted fish in an Italian restaurant but it's always a little anticlimactic," Kahan said. "You get a whole roasted branzino and in the end after its deboned at the table, the final result is always cold. It's really good, but cold. So we worked really hard to do this perfectly."
Rounding out the kitchen is pastry chef Amanda Rockman, with names like L20 under her belt, and Matty Eggleston and Bret Heiar running the beverage program.
As for what's after Nico's opening: Big Star's little sister. Kahan tells us One Off Hospitality is taking over the former Cipollina space in Wicker Park.
"We’ve taken a small restaurant adjacent to that and we’re doing Big Star connected stuff in there. It’s going to be a little 39-seat counter-service restaurant; it’ll share a lot of things with Big Star and not share a lot of other things. The food and vibe will be slightly different but it will be Big Star’s younger sibling," Kahan said. As for the original taco-whiskey joint, Kahan said, "We’re in the middle of expanding Big Star, since we're building another kitchen in an adjacent space as a commissary kitchen," which will service both Big Star and the new upcoming project.