By now, you've probably heard a few of the details trickling out about Nellcôte. For one, it is huge; in fact, gargantuan might be the better word for this still-in-construction restaurant in the West Loop by the Element Collective—which includes Chris Dexter, Chris Freeman, John Warken, and chef Jared Van Camp. With seating for over 250 and a truly ornate design, it's not a place that can be easily ignored. But it is easy to get confused about the concept, which aims to mix fine dining with an irreverent attitude.
Luckily, I was given a quick tour by and came away with a much better sense of the plans. Here are a few basics:
Old School Luxury and Rock Debauchery
To understand the concept you need to know two about things: Villa Nellcôte and The Rolling Stones circa 1971. Nellcôte is a mansion located in the Côte d'Azur region of southern France, and that's where The Rolling Stones decamped to record the bulk of their 1972 masterpiece, Exile on Mainstreet. At the time the band was dealing with tax issues in England, while also handling a notorious drug problem (at the very least, Keith Richards was). The resulting album was grimy and deeply bluesy, which couldn't have been more at odds with the opulent location they recorded it in.
It's that dichotomy that initially attracted Jared Van Camp to the name. "The setting was so luxurious, but they were literally exiles at the time," said Van Camp. "I mean, they'd be up all night playing, and then take a speed boat over to Italy, just because they liked the eggs over there more." Van Camp admits that he and Dexter "went down the rabbit hole" with the concept.
Composed and Unkempt
That same tension between high and low will be apparent on the menu. Chris Dexter hopes that the restaurant will "make a statement about fine dining." Currently, the menu is split between pizza, pastas, and what Dexter calls "very composed dishes." It's hard to know for sure what is going on until the restaurant finally opens, but I did get a preview copy of the menu, which includes such items as escargot, foie gras torchon, and a frog leg raviolini.
Nellcote Preview Menu (PDF)
Flour From Scratch
One of the main things that will set Nellcôte apart is that the restaurant will mill its own flour. Van Camp admits that it is as much out of necessity as anything else. "Locally produced flour is too coarse," he said. "I'm looking to replicate the Tipo '00' flour that you get in Italy."
Better Than Christmas
Considering the care that is going into the flour, it's not too surprising that the crew went all out for kitchen. "Getting all the equipment was better than Christmas," said Van Camp. That includes a wood-burning Valoriani Vesuvio pizza oven, which was actually made in Tuscany and shipped here. Though the oven is impressive, Van Camp is equally proud of the pasta station, where the cooks will be able to cook and assemble the pasta and sauce in one compact space. Using the same freshly milled flour, the crew will make all the pasta in house and will even use a pasta extruder to make some dried varieties.
Just Like Grace Kelly
As big as Nellcôte is, there is actually room in the back for a completely different concept called RM. What's the difference? According Chris Dexter, there is "nothing subtle" about Nellcôte, while "RM will be like Grace Kelly." The champagne lounge will have a separate entrance, and a massive outdoor patio. The food will be more refined, and will include a "hyper focused" cheese program, pastry cart, macaroons, and a selection of soufflés.
Nellcôte is hoping to officially open in late February, with RM to follow.
833 W. Randolph St., Chicago, IL 60607 (map)
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