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Behind the understated façade at 1307 Chicago Ave. – the frosted glass windows, the inconspicuous “Co.” label over the door – is an intimate restaurant with a bold plan.
Company represents “a brand-new idea – a whole different concept” in restaurants, says Eric Singer, who owns the Lucky Platter and is partnering with Craig Golden, co-owner of Union Pizza, in this venture.
The owners are betting that, staffed with a rotating cadre of guest chefs whom they invite to prepare a meal for ticketed guests on one night or several, Company can remain fresh and surprising.
Housed in the space formerly occupied by Bagel Art, Company was “a year in the making,” says Mr. Singer. Mr. Golden bought the building, and the two of them saw to it that it would emerge from renovation with the pizzazz to attract both diners and chefs. They brought sparkle to the 18-seat dining room with an orbed crystal chandelier and what Mr. Singer calls “firepower” to the generous kitchen with gleaming equipment that includes an enviable, wood-fired grill.
Theirs is not a “pop-up” restaurant, says Mr. Singer. Pop-ups provide impromptu eating experiences cooked up by young chefs and staged in the back of a furniture store or half-empty warehouse. While pop-ups are “underground” happenings that are by definition temporary, Mr. Singer says, Company is permanent – fully licensed and inspected and ensconced in the community for the long term.
Still, Evanston’s new restaurant can boast of the elements it shares with pop-ups. Both hold appeal for a chef. Company is set up to offer a sous chef or line cook a low-risk chance to be an entrepreneur. It affords the opportunity to prepare something other than the nightly menu. Once engaged by Company, a chef makes all the arrangements for the evening, planning the menu, finding the ingredients, hiring a crew and handling event publicity.
Company, like the pop-ups, has an air of mystery and spontaneity. Ephemeral as a spring wildflower, the restaurant sprouts and blooms – then seems to disappear, while in fact it is gathering its resources to bloom again.
The restaurant “won’t be fully scheduled until May,” when Company hopes to have a liquor license, Mr. Singer says. But, operating with temporary BYOB credentials, it has already been the setting for several events. In mid-April a sous chef was granted leave from Chicago’s Perennial Virant to prepare a five-course meal of his dreams featuring foods of his family’s native Philippines.
For three nights in February, Company opened its kitchen to Erwin Drechsler, who Mr. Singer says was “between spots,” having closed his eponymous Halsted Street restaurant in July after 18 years. Mr. Drechsler brought along his former pastry chef, Stephanie Samuels, to help prepare a five-course, $100-a-plate dinner featuring seasonal ingredients. Mr. Drechsler saw it as a reunion of sorts, “really a celebration. It goes way beyond just a dinner.”
Mr. Singer knows his way around a kitchen. A trained chef, he worked for Leslee Reis at Evanston’s famed Café Provencal from 1978 until 1982 and then at Gordon in Chicago. His Lucky Platter, a favorite spot for casual dining in Evanston, turns 22 this year. He says he still enjoys working with the crew there (they have charged him with bringing back cilantro after the interview) and says Company “is not jeopardizing Lucky Platter.”
But he looks forward to his new role as booking agent for Company.
“There’s lots of [culinary] talent out there,” he says. He will be responsible for finding it and, in some cases, for passing along his experience to inexperienced but promising chefs. Working with them is “inspiring,” he says. “I get to see all the new stuff going on in food. I’m learning, too.”
Chefs’ credentials and their menus are posted on the Company website. Tickets, refundable only until 72 hours before the event, are sold online. The average cost is $65-$75 per person, Mr. Singer says. Paying in advance means no money need be involved on dinner night. “When [diners] arrive, it’s like a dinner party,” Mr. Singer says.
Customers, feeling perhaps like “company,” have one more surprise in store. Unless they book the room and chef for a private party, they will be seated at one of three long tables and will share the meal with guests they may not yet know. Their hosts are expecting that they will enjoy the company.