This year’s James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement recipient Rich Melman is no rookie in the restaurant business. With over 40 years experience — or as he jokingly describes it, “forty years of mistakes” — and more than 100 restaurants worldwide in his Lettuce Entertain You empire, he has a track record of success. With his latest venture, Intro, Melman and chef/partner Matthew Kirkley (L20) introduce a concept that will serve as a blank canvas for up-and-coming chefs.
“[Lettuce Entertain You] has always been a very entrepreneurial organization,” Melman says. “I like coaching, and I want to introduce Chicago to new chefs from around the country who I think will be stars. Chefs are mostly artists; we’d like to help make them more business savvy.”
Chefs will rotate through the space every two or three months, and have creative reign over everything from the menu to music to décor, while Melman and the other partners at Lettuce will help each refine his or her idea and provide mentorship on the business side.
Here’s what you can expect right now at Intro:
Chef stats: The inaugural chef-in-residence is CJ Jacobson, “Top Chef” alum and executive chef of Girasol restaurant in Studio City, California. He describes his menu as rustic-refined with some California touches and elements of foraging.
Into the woods: Sourcing local ingredients in Chicago in the dead of winter wasn’t an easy task, but Jacobson managed to find some great indigenous plants he foraged himself. He utilizes Douglas fir in his fresh fluke dish — with avocado, Korean chili paste, radish and a Douglas fir jus — as well as in an earthy Fir Mule cocktail with vodka, Douglas fir syrup and ginger beer.
Tick-tock: Instead of reservations, Intro uses Tock, a ticket system developed by Nick Kokonas (Alinea, Next). Diners pre-purchase tickets for the tasting menu for a particular date and time — prices range from $65-$95 for Jacobson’s menu — and can add on supplemental dishes and drink pairings.
Fruit forward: Jacobson partnered with the West Loop’s Harvest Juicery to create a non-alcoholic beverage pairing ($30) to complement his dishes, using interesting combinations like fennel and watercress and blood orange and tarragon. Juice takes the forefront in some of the cocktails, too, like the Sparkling Vampyro ($12) with beet, apple, elderflower and sparkling wine.
2300 N. Lincoln Park West, (773) 868-0002; Introchicago.com