James Toland’s return to the Chicago dining scene is almost ready, as The Black Sheep is set to open very soon. The former Lockwood chef has big plans for the West Town restaurant, telling us that he hopes it will bridge the gap between some of the more expensive and innovative restaurants in town, and the more approachable gastropubs that have opened lately. We stopped by yesterday to get a look at the space, and also to sample a few of the dishes that will soon be available.
Toland believes that the food is, “an honest representation of my talents.” There are three different menus, including an à la carte menu, a tasting menu, and a secret late night menu. Toland explained that the different menus allow the restaurant to be approachable, while still giving diners options: “A young artist could come in and have an affordable fine dining experience from the à la carte menu,” he said, “and the really foodie types can come in and experience the full tasting menu.” There are actually two tasting menus. The Grand Tasting Menu is nine courses long, and is projected to only cost $95. Then there is a 10-course Veg Tasting Menu, which is going for $85.
He is adamant that it won’t be the “James Toland show.” “We have built a safe and creative workshop, where people can take risks,” he explained. “I need a place like that.” He called his crew a team of “creative professionals” who are also “misfits and outcasts.” “We called this place The Black Sheep for a reason.”
Part of his crew is general manager and partner, Michael Simon —the former beverage director and general manager of Graham Elliot. He told us that he wanted the drinks to be as exciting as the food. That said, he stressed that the offerings will be avant-garde but still fun, calling it a “playground for adults.” The wine list won’t be presented in the traditional manner, and instead is designed to be flipped through like an old book.
It’s safe to say that both Toland and Simon have definite opinions about just about every detail of the restaurant business, and they aren’t afraid to stand by their convictions. For example, the restaurant won’t serve any Coke products, allowing only Fentimans naturally brewed sodas. And, much like Aviary, don’t expect to find Grey Goose, Kettel One, or Stoli vodkas.
Those opinions also extend to the carefully designed space. It’s dark, but still colorful — thanks to a number of paintings by Vincent Grech, a local Chicago artist. The space is also lightened up by the tables, which are all made from a renewable type of wild reed. But we think it’s best that you just check out the full slideshow below to see this all for yourself.
The Black Sheep, 1132 West Grand Ave, Chicago, IL 60642; 312-997-5134