Keep Calm and Eat On

January 5, 2012

First Charlie Trotter, arguably the most important trailblazer in contemporary American fine dining, announces he's closing his restaurant. Then one of Chicago's pioneer gourmet food truck chefs—Matt Maroni, chef/owner of Gaztro-Wagon—says he's shutting down the storefront, handing over the keys to his truck, and stepping back from the metal-umlauted restaurant MörSo he opened. Also, Michael Jordan's restaurant one sixtyblue, one of the first to stake a claim on Randolph Street, will close to "undergo a major concept change".

And Paul McGee, bearded and bespectacled barman extraordinaire, is leaving The Whistler.

Add in the closure of Crust, Chicago's first certified organic restaurant; and the heartbreaking, raw story of the rise and fall of Meatyballs, perhaps the best known and beloved food truck in the city—created by one of the most thrilling chefs anywhere in the world today, Phillip Foss—and the season's restaurant news so far could seem depressing, even to seasoned food writers.

But fear not.

Charlie Trotter's, the restaurant, won't close until August—and is even running a countdown clock on its homepage—and will also host a series of special event dinners. Charlie Trotter, the man, will then live out another dream life for many of us: to go back to school to get a master's degree and travel the world. Janet Fuller, the former Sun-Times Food Editor to whom he personally broke the story, said "he's already thinking through his thesis—Dostoevsky vs. Nietzsche and the God question" and "as for travel, Trotter says North Africa is top on list. 'And I've so underexplored Asia that I can't even begin to talk about it.'"

When I interviewed Trotter last January, he said then he'd never been to Japan, which I found especially shocking since I thought he must have been inspired by experiencing some exquisite kaiseki cuisine.

Maroni told me the Gaztro-Wagon truck will roll again—but not until Spring, with the MörSo team behind the wheel. (More on my interview with Maroni in an upcoming food truck series coming soon.)

one sixtyblue will also re-open in the "late Spring"—and the Michael Jordan's Steak House on Michigan Avenue in the InterContinental seems to be going strong.

I stopped by the MJSH grand opening party a few months ago and have to admit: I called my parents from the event—much to their excitement too. It's Jordan, it's steak: it's Chicago. We're proud of our stockyard palate.

McGee will be joining the Melman fils—R.J. and Jerrod—in their new River North concept, according to Time Out Chicago's Julia Kramer and David Tamarkin.

Crust owner Michael Altenberg still owns Bistro Campagne, in Lincoln Square, open since 2002—that's 10 years.

And then there's EL, Foss' "micro restaurant" serving breathtakingly beautiful dishes in an engaging setting. If he'd opened in an equally bleak arrondissement in Paris, instead of the Near Southwest Side of Chicago, he'd be the toast of the international food press. The relatively underground network of Serious International Fine Diners, though, are finding their way into his tiny dining room and spreading the word. (More on Foss in the food truck series too.)

And speaking of food trucks, Pleasant House Bakery's truck just rolled out for the first time today, serving up their savory British-ish by way of Bridgeport handmade Royal Pies.

Forget about keeping calm—run and get them!