Several restaurateurs kept busy by opening second enterprises. Don Saunders of In Season took the Kenwood neighborhood by storm with, appropriately enough, the Kenwood. Stewart and Heidi Woodman of Heidi's crafted an eco-friendly neighborhood gem with Birdhouse. The Be'wiched duo of Matthew Bickford and Mike Ryan launched music-focused (and pie-friendly) Icehouse. The gregarious Northeast Social went south with Eat Street Social, downtown's Eli's crossed the river with Eli's East, Cafe Maude grabbed the former Nick and Eddie space and launched Cafe Maude at Loring, Rusty Taco expanded to Minneapolis, gastropub Republic expanded into Calhoun Square, Raku doubled up in the West End, Masu planted a flag at the Mall of America and El Burrito Mercado debuted a best-of branch at the Midtown Global Market. Al Vento and Rinata chef/owner Jonathan Hunt outdid them all by forging his third concept, a wood-fired operation he dubbed Sparks.
Crave head honcho Kam Talebi revived the fabled Figlio name, transplanting it inside his short-lived Sopranos Italian Kitchen. Would the former Uptowner play well in the burbs? Judging by the crowds, the answer would be a resounding yes. Then in November, Talebi converted a blighted downtown building into Union, complete with a basement nightclub, a first-floor restaurant and bar (by chef-to-watch Jim Christiansen and libations monarch Johnny Michaels) and the rooftop to end all rooftops, its enormous square footage capped by an all-weather retractable glass roof.
ON THE STREET
One of the year's more exciting phenomena was the ever-burgeoning food truck scene. A constant influx of newcomers kept sidewalk superintendents happy (five favorites: Ngon Bistro and its retro-chic VW bus, Bacon Trolley, Sayo, MidNord Empanada Truck and Andrew Zimmern's AZ Canteen), and several outfits matriculated into bricks-and-mortar maturity, including Foxy Falafel and El Primo but most notably Chef Shack-ers Lisa Carlson and Carrie Hanson, who popped open a weekend daytripping destination in Bay City, Wis. Then there was the lines-out-the-door debut of the Wadi brothers' World Street Kitchen (do not miss the Korean-style short ribs-kimchee rice bowl). Look for more curbsides-to-dining room transitions, starting with Smack Shack and Sushi Fix.
Partnering with chef Tim McKee (of La Belle Vie and James Beard award fame) was a wise move on the part of Parasole Restaurant Holdings, because his efforts really paid off in 2012. Whether it's a contemporary version of oysters Rockefeller for Salut Bar Americain, a deep-dish pizza formula for Mozza Mia, an olive oil-poached tuna melt at Uptown Cafeteria, bone marrow at Manny's Steakhouse, a Korean-style roast pork-fest at Chino Latino or a wild rice-edamame salad at the Good Earth, McKee's culinary prowess is making profound menu improvements all across an enterprise that routinely feeds thousands daily.
One encouraging trend is the growing number of women-run (and often women-owned) kitchens, including Lisa Hanson of Mona Restaurant & Bar, Erica Strait of Foxy Falafel, Carrie McCabe-Johnston of Nightingale, Jes Werkmeister of Birdhouse, Stephanie Cochlin of Pig & Fiddle and Elizabeth Olson of Ward 6.
SO LONG, FAREWELL
The past 12 months saw their share of closings, including Amici Pizza and Bistro, Aura, Cowboy Slim's, El Meson, Jack's, Kikugawa, the King & I Thai, Marcello's Pizza and Pasta, Nick and Eddie, Pierre's Bistro, the Public House, Sopranos Italian Kitchen and Thom Pham's Wondrous Azian Kitchen.