Star chef José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup has arrived in Chicago. The group debuted an all-day casual spot, Café by the River, in the West Loop neighborhood in June, followed by the opening of Andrés’ Wine Spectator Restaurant Award–winning concept, Jaleo, in the city’s River North neighborhood on July 15. The group plans to open three additional venues by the year’s end.
Located on the ground floor of the Bank of America Tower, Café by the River is a collaboration with Chicago-based Gibsons Restaurant Group (Andrés’ first partnership with an outside restaurant group). In late 2021, two more restaurants will open in the tower as part of the partnership, Bazaar Meat and Bar Mar. “Bazaar Meat will echo the spirit of its predecessor in Las Vegas, bringing a carnivorous celebration to Chicago, while Bar Mar will offer a dedicated cocktail experience,” a representative from ThinkFoodGroup told Wine Spectator via email. The former holds a Best of Award of Excellence at its Las Vegas location.
Meanwhile, the new Jaleo marks the fifth outpost for the brand. “Jaleo is the very first restaurant we opened, and I love being able to share the flavors and spirit of Spain by bringing this special place to new destinations,” Andrés said in a statement. “In Spanish, ‘jaleo’ means revelry—a lively celebration—and with the bustling excitement of River North, I cannot think of a better neighborhood to be opening in!”
This location sticks to the previous model, offering quintessential Spanish cuisine backed by an exclusively Spanish wine list. Head chef Justin DePhillips crafts dishes like paella (served in three varieties) and endive with goat cheese and orange, plus a selection of tapas.
On the wine list created by sommelier Jordi Paronella, wines are listed by structure and body, featuring a key to help guests make a selection based on their tastes. Many of the 80 selections are also offered by the glass, with white picks ranging from light and crisp to mature and complex, and reds available in all styles. In addition to the selection of still wines, there are also 15 selections of Sherry and two types of sangria. A speakeasy-style bar called Pigtail will open in the basement this summer.—Taylor McBride
Chef Chris Shepherd and his Underbelly Hospitality group debuted Georgia James Tavern this week in downtown Houston’s Market Square Tower. The restaurant is a more laid-back sibling to Shepherd’s Georgia James, a Best of Award of Excellence–winning steak house with a wine list of more than 400 selections.
“I love Georgia James,” Shepherd said in a statement. “But I understand that it’s not a restaurant most people can visit on a daily or even weekly basis. Georgia James Tavern is designed to be a place where our guests want to—and can—eat every day.”
The wine list is more concise than the steak house’s, with wine director Matthew Pridgen presenting 75 selections spanning a range of regions and price points, from Greek Sauvignon Blanc to Oregon Pinot Noir to white Burgundy and beyond. There’s an abundance of bottles under $100 as well as moderately pricier picks, including wines that Pridgen is especially excited about, like the 2016 Cascina delle RoseTre Stelle Barbaresco. “It’s a tiny, family-run organic winery that produces amazingly perfumed and elegant wines,” he said. He also points to the 2019 Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras Cuvée Floureto as a standout offering. “I’ve been serving these wines for almost 20 years, and I feel like they just keep getting better.” Pridgen already has plans to grow the program by at least another 75 selections, adding more vintage and varietal depth.
Georgia James’ former sous chef, Matthew “Tally” Coburn, is now chef de cuisine for the tavern, cooking up an inviting menu of small plates, sandwiches and entrées. The larger dishes include Wagyu rib eye seared in a cast-iron pan and hearth-roasted chicken with coconut sticky rice and green papaya salad. It’s all served in a dark and cozy space that nods to the tavern identity, featuring design elements that evoke an Art Deco aesthetic and Old Hollywood influences.—Julie Harans
Acclaimed Chicago Italian restaurant and longtime Best of Award of Excellence winner Spiaggia will not reopen after closing during the pandemic. The team made the announcement in a statement posted to Twitter on July 9. “Unfortunately, we were unsuccessful in our efforts with the landlord to restructure our soon-to-expire lease, which was necessary to reflect the realities of operating a restaurant in an office building, post-pandemic,” it read.
Levy Restaurants opened Spiaggia 37 years ago on the second floor of a skyscraper with views of Michigan Avenue and Lake Michigan, where Tony Mantuano served as chef and his wife, Cathy, helped run the wine program. At 750 selections, the wine list boasted strengths in Italy (especially Tuscany and Piedmont) and Champagne.
The duo departed the restaurant in 2019 to travel throughout Italy and went on to oversee the food and beverage programs for the Pizzuti Company’s new hotel in Nashville, Tenn., the Joseph. Those concepts now include Best of Award of Excellence winner Yolan.
Tony was replaced by chef Eric Lees, who continued crafting the modern, upscale Italian fare until the restaurant closed. The wine list was most recently overseen by wine director Rachael Lowe and has held a Best of Award of Excellence since 2009.—Jessie Lauck
Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at @wsrestaurantawards.