Premise Makes Menu More Accessible. Should It?

Time Out Chicago set out the case against: nothing they had at Premise seemed as good as what they had lost when comfy, Italianish In Fine Spirits went away and reconcepted into a chicer, loungier upscale restaurant under Graham Elliot vet Brian Runge. It seems other people may agree: Premise just announced that it was introducing a new “neighborhood menu” (served only in the second-floor salon and outdoor patio) of somewhat more accessible items. Which, since it was announced in Time Out Chicago, seems to be a tacit admission that locals just wandering in for a drink, at least, weren’t buying the much more modernist or conceptual Graham Elliot-style menu that Runge started off with. Which in turn led to Time Out’s second, much more arguable point— that this sort of thing doesn’t belong in Andersonville at all.

Having tried a little of the menu at a preview, we can see that why it might baffle the neighborhood at first— we thought most of what we had was interesting and impressively crafted, but it was the kind of stuff that isn’t quite food, in the have-a-drink-at-a-bar sense. It was ingenious, sometimes downright beautiful tastes of delicate things like fluke tartare with seabeans or compressed melon with buttermilk; the kinds of things that work well on a tasting menu precisely because they won’t fill you up too early (or ever). But does that really mean they shouldn’t exist in Andersonville at all?

David Tamarkin at TOC:

I won’t pretend to know anything about IFS’s finances. It always seemed busy to me, but who knows what money pits hid under the surface? What I will speak to is IFS’s charm… The wine list was always interesting. The food, by Marianne Sundquist, was rustic and seasonal and craveable… So why the owners would reconcept to try fine dining in a neighborhood that time and time again rejects it (please see Acre) is a question not just for food writers but for everybody in the neighborhood.

First off, we’re not sure Acre was ever anything near a fine dining restaurant (comfort food of some artistic pretension, maybe) but more importantly, what is a fine dining neighborhood? The South Loop (Acadia)? Lawrence Avenue (Goosefoot?) It just takes one sometimes and you suddenly have a Randolph Street, or at least a plausible destination for foodies.

The bigger problem, it seems to us, is that Premise stepped right into a popular place’s shoes, making it all too easy to look at the new and miss the old. If In Fine Spirits had died a slow death and Premise had taken a few months to open, people would be less inclined to walk in with expectations shaped by In Fine Spirits’ rustic wine-friendly food that Premise’s arty food isn’t built to satisfy. They walk in what looks like a neighborhood bar and find something more like Alinea, or at least Arami.

For our part, we found what Runge is doing at Premise interesting enough at the preview (with all due caveats that a preview is not the real restaurant) that we hope he gets the time to find a happy medium with his audience. But we also have to admit that after trying it all, we went a few doors down and found a bar serving highly imaginative bar food and filled up on it happily. It’s called Bar Ombra, and it’s what they did with half of Acre when it failed to find the audience they’d quite hoped for… in Andersonville.

Premise Makes Menu More Accessible. Should It?