As we were touring the huge Nellcote space last week, and thinking of all the other things that are about to open along Randolph Street, we couldn’t help thinking— they can’t all be hits. Somewhere, there’s one whose concept doesn’t make sense and which won’t draw the crowds. Now, we’re not saying that it’s Brendan Sodikoff’s about-to-open Au Cheval. Sodikoff’s had a pretty golden touch so far opening places, and it could be that Au’s going to be the brilliant melding of Maude’s Frenchiness and diner food that everyone’s apparently waiting for but didn’t know it yet. But after reading Eater’s preview, we’re just not getting what this place is about and who it’s for. On the one hand, the diner concept is still apparently valid— the article contains phrases such as “24 hour diner” (down the road), “chopped chicken liver with salted butter and toast (a nod to Jewish delis),” and “a patty melt and cheeseburger.” But then it also contains “vintage French bordello vibe with large hanging pendants over a zinc-topped bar,” “foie gras- and pork-stuffed cabbage,” and “a very-curated wine list.” Which we’re pretty sure don’t come with hash browns well done, a cup of joe, and a secondhand Sun-Times to look at.
Throw in smoked whitefish pasta, coq au vin, a patty melt and chilaquiles, and to us it sounds like neither a French menu nor a classic diner one— more like 2012 American shopping mall dining, a little of everything to make sure every member of the family goes home happy. We hope that’s not an apt comparison, given the training of chef Jason Vaughan (who’s coming over from Gilt Bar), which reportedly includes time under Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse. In any case, if it meets the right crowd’s drinking-time expectations for rich comfort food with show-off-in-front-of-your-date class, it’ll be a huge hit regardless of whether it confuses us or not. We’ll be curious to see what diners think when it opens, reportedly in about two to three weeks.