Tag Archives: Nightwood Restaurant

A Closer Look: Warm Tomato Appetizer

The month of September marks the first official day of fall, and even though the cooler months ahead bring a variety of things to be excited about (pumpkin spice lattes?), it can also be a sad time for farm-to-table restaurants, as we bid adieu to some of our favorite summer produce … like tomatoes.


So before it’s too late — and grocery stores will be stocking up on rock-hard, flavorless objects referred to as “tomatoes” — be sure to stop by and order our new Warm Tomato appetizer. JV started the dish by making his own fruit leather, or “fruit roll-up” as he likes to call it. While it was a bit of an experiment, he combined tomato peel and apple puree with some sugar, and then cooked down the mixture until it was super thick. After that, he spread it out on a piece of plastic wrap to set – and voilà! It worked.


To build the dish, JV sliced and layered a perfectly ripe tomato (that was first warmed on a hot plate), and then followed up with a drizzle of sunflower seed yogurt sauce and a few thinly sliced strips of the fruit leather.


He finished it off with fresh dill, lots of rich olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a warm baguette for dipping. All of this can be yours for just $13.


Remember that scary story about the tomatoes at the grocery store? Come eat this while there’s still time.


In the Pipeline: Fall Desserts

Whether or not we’d like to believe it — fall is creeping up on us.  Juicy, ripe tomatoes and summer squash will soon be a thing of the past, but not to worry, as the change in season undoubtedly brings some of our favorite fall ingredients into play … and our pastry chef, Sarah, can’t wait to get her hands on them.

“I’ve been thinking of what to do for fall desserts for a while now. I typically come up with the flavor combinations and garnishes first, and then build the rest of the dessert around that. My brain works backward a lot of the time, but it works for me.”

Sarah’s been impressing diners all summer long with her selection of confections, particularly the cherry pie with coffee ice cream and this standout sweet corn dish:


“It’s a sweet corn-vanilla cake with sweet corn ice cream, plum pudding, semolina shortbread crumble, yellow plums and nectarines held in rosemary simple syrup, and then it’s garnished with fresh blackberries to offset some of the sweetness. Again, this dish started with the ice cream and then everything else just fell into place, which is how I’m approaching my fall menu, too.”


Right now, Sarah plans to create dishes with flavor combinations like watermelon and basil, Mexican chocolate and dulce de leche, apple-cranberry with (most likely) rosemary ice cream, and even mini pears poached in spiced red wine. Yes, please.

“I’ve always loved incorporating herbs into my dishes, like the rosemary and basil. They definitely have their place in desserts, and even though it might freak some people out at first, I try to do it in a way that everyone will like … I have to remind myself that I can’t always make just what I want!”

She hopes to slowly introduce her new dishes to the menu in the next few weeks, so be sure to visit us soon — and don’t forget to leave some room for dessert.

New Friends

Talk about good company! I just wanted to give you guys a link to some websites and Twitter feeds for now. I’m planning on getting all of these guys really drunk in Aspen, and then I’ll have some real dirt to spill (especially on Gaudet, I’m betting he gets something pierced). For now, I hope you enjoy geeking out over their menus and websites as much as I have. They are all incredibly kind and talented, and I’m honored to be associated with them. – JV



Restaurant: Mission Chinese Food

Whereabouts: New York City, NY

“Famous” Dish: Ma po tofu with pork shoulder and Sichuan pepper

Follow Him: @dannybowien



Restaurant: Underbelly

Whereabouts: Houston, TX

“Famous” Dish: Korean braised goat and dumplings

Follow Him: @cshepherd13



Restaurant: Empellón CocinaEmpellón Taqueria

Whereabouts: New York City, NY

“Famous” Dish: Tacos of beer-braised tongue with árbol chile salsa

Follow Him: @alexstupak



Restaurant: Sea Change

Whereabouts: Minneapolis, MN

“Famous” Dish: Scallops with chicken “crumble” (fried chicken skin) and carrots three ways: blackened, as a confit and as a foam

Follow Her: @jamiemone



Restaurant: West Bridge

Whereabouts: Cambridge, MA

“Famous” Dish: “Egg in a jar”: slow-cooked duck eggs, hen-of-the-woods mushrooms, potato puree and crispy duck skin

Follow Him: @GaudetMatthew



Restaurant: Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen

Whereabouts: Memphis, TN

“Famous” Dish: Corn tortellini with duck confit and chanterelle mushrooms

Follow Them: @amitaliancooks



Restaurant: ink

Whereabouts: Los Angeles, CA

“Famous” Dish: Baby turnips and radishes in a coffee-cardamom “soil”

Follow Him: @MVoltaggio



Restaurant: Aubergine

Whereabouts: Carmel, CA

“Famous” Dish: Abalone and oyster with pickled sea beans and wild sea lettuce on a braised pig’s tail cake

Follow Him: @JustinCogley



Restaurant: Jose Enrique

Whereabouts: San Juan, Puerto Rico

“Famous” Dish: Crispy fried yellowtail snapper with mashed batata (sweet potato) and papaya-avocado salsa

Follow Him: @ChefJoseEnrique

Not to mention, it’s been exactly two months since JV was in New York where he met this amazing group of chefs. With video camera in hand, he was able to capture some candid, behind-the-scenes footage at the photo shoot for the July issue of Food & Wine, in which they will all be featured. Take a look, and be sure to pick up the July issue when it hits newsstands!

Meet Our New Pastry Chef: Sarah Mispagel

Last month, we welcomed a new member to the Nightwood family — executive pastry chef, Sarah Mispagel. And now, we’d like to tell you a little bit about her, her desserts … and her tattoos.



Sarah, 27, was born in San Diego and raised in a nearby suburb (Oceanside) by her “California hippie” parents, who encouraged a very organic, vegetarian lifestyle. She later attended culinary school at the Art Institute in Orange County, and after graduation, she took a job at a local vegan, gluten-free bakery. After a year there, she moved to Portland, Oregon, and worked at Delphina’s Bakery (which is considered Portland’s oldest artisanal bakery), where she worked extensively with breads, and croissant and Danish doughs. Then, it was on to Cincinnati; she not only baked for a restaurant group, primarily doing bread production, but she also made wedding cakes part-time at a bakery called SugarPlums.

It wasn’t until 2010 that Sarah and her husband decided to move to Chicago. “We were visiting some of my husband’s family on the North Shore, and I totally fell in love with the city. My husband always knew he wanted to move here at some point, and we needed a change from Cincinnati, so we packed up the U-Haul and drove to Chicago on July 5th.”


 Life in the Windy City:

Though Sarah didn’t immediately jump into the restaurant scene, her husband, who is also a chef, encouraged her to submit her resume to mk, which led to her first stage ever. “Honestly, I had no desire to work at a restaurant, and just never thought about trying it since all of my experience had been in bakeries. The idea of fine dining was just really weird to me!” Needless to say, Sarah staged a second time and was offered a pastry assistant position two months later. “I worked closely with Tony Galzin, the head pastry chef at the time, and he was a wonderful mentor. It was the first place that I had experienced the camaraderie of a kitchen; it was like a second family for me.”

After a year and a half of working with Galzin, learning how to conceive a menu and transition her knowledge as a baker to that of a pastry chef, Galzin left for Nashville, so Sarah applied for — and immediately landed — the pastry sous chef position at Sofitel in September 2012. “I did things there that I never thought I could do, like learning how to properly temper chocolate and make beautiful truffles and macaroons, but it was definitely a different environment; more corporate and sterile.”

Next stop … Nightwood:

Missing that feeling of “family” in the kitchen, Sarah soon began seeking out new opportunities; so when the executive pastry chef position became available at Nightwood, she jumped on it. “Whenever I had a night or Sunday off, I’d come in to Nightwood for dinner or brunch. It had always been one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago, so I applied for the job right away.”

After a tasting and extensive interview process, Sarah was officially offered the job. “I was a little worried at first because JV told me there had been a lot of chefs in and out (applying for the position), who obviously weren’t making the cut. I kept saying to myself during my tasting: “Please don’t let this be a pastry one-night-stand!’.” And lucky for her, it wasn’t.


Her Desserts:

“I like that the menu at Nightwood is focused on seasonality, because it keeps my job really interesting. I’ve been used to menus that only change every few months, so it’ll be fun not having months of preparing the same things.”


Sarah also likes to play with savory elements, as long as they’re thoughtful. “I cook by flavor, not color, so everything on the plate has its purpose.”

Chocolate Bombe - Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

Chocolate Bombe – Mast Brothers 73% Chocolate, Cherries, Bourbon Caramel Ice Cream

And now that she’s landed her first position as a head pastry chef, she knows she’s 100% accountable. “I’ve always held myself to a very high standard, but now it’s really just me. I think the biggest difference is that my name is now attached to every single dish I put out there, and even though I have to be prepared to take any criticisms that come my way, it also makes me really happy, as any successes will be mine, too.”

Apple Upside Down Cake - rhubarb, oat streusel, buttermilk rhubarb ice cream

Apple Upside Down Cake – Rhubarb, Oat Streusel, Buttermilk Rhubarb Ice Cream

Fun Facts about Sarah:

  • An Elvis impersonator married her and her husband in Las Vegas.
  • She has two dogs – a pug named Mochi, and an English bulldog named Bacon Samwiches.
  • Speaking of bacon, the first time she ate bacon was while living in Cincinnati: “We had been out drinking all night, and on our way home from the bar, I told my husband I was ‘bacon curious’ … so he ordered me a BLT. It was great.”
  • She ate her FIRST burger (ever) at Kuma’s Corner when she moved to Chicago in 2010.
  • She has countless tattoos, many of which are food and cooking-inspired. Check out her Kitchen-Aid stand mixer!


Sarah often plates desserts on Friday and Saturday nights, so if you happen to stroll past the counter and see her, be sure to say hello! We are thrilled to have Sarah as a part of the team and can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.

Chicago Chef Week 2013

While you may have spent the weekend drinking green beer and eating corned beef sandwiches in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, this week is all about celebrating great Chicago chefs. We hope you’ll join us for our 3-course dinner menu at $44/person.


Chicago Chef Week 2013 begins today, March 18, and ends Friday, March 22. Please call the restaurant at (312) 526.3385 or make your online reservation here.

We look forward to seeing you soon!

Savory Tart Dough

If you joined us for brunch this past Sunday (1/6), maybe you were one of the lucky guests who ordered our savory tart. It was filled with a custard made from Clock Shadow Creamery quark, which was then topped with Brussels sprouts and a runny egg. Is your mouth watering yet?


The good news is, even if you didn’t have the chance to try it at the restaurant, I stopped by Nightwood on Saturday while JV was rolling out the tart dough for brunch and snagged the recipe from him … so now you can make it at home.



  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. of each: dried dill, ginger, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne pepper
  • 3/4 c. cold, unsalted butter; cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 c. cold water


(Note: This will only yield enough custard base for 1-2 small tarts. Multiply the recipe as necessary.)

  • 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 c. soft/fresh cheese (we used quark)
  • 1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

:: METHOD ::

On a flat, non-stick or floured surface, combine the flour, salt and dried herbs/seasonings. Then, using the “cut-in method,” incorporate the cold butter into the flour mixture (using your fingers or a fork) until it resembles chunks the size of peas. This will ensure a flaky crust. Now, take the cold water and slowly add it to the mixture, carefully incorporating it into the dough. It’s difficult to say whether or not you will need all of the water; you are basically adding it until the dough comes together nicely and isn’t crumbling into dry pieces. Be sure not to over-work the dough. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency, you can either separate it into smaller disks of dough if you’re making individual tarts (yields ~6), or keep it in one large disk if making 1-2 large tarts. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Now …  watch JV finish the tart here:

Also, note that the cooking times are dependent on the size of tart that you’re making. The small tart featured here took about 10-15 minutes to blind-bake, and then an additional 20 minutes or so to bake until the custard was set up. Larger, thicker tarts will obviously take longer.


Please comment below if you have any questions about this recipe! Enjoy!

Potato Talk + Our Tots Recipe

Happy New Year, everyone! We thought we’d kick off 2013 by talking about one of our favorite ingredients: the potato. And if you’ve ever joined us for our Sunday Brunch, chances are you’ve had our tater tots. Customers are constantly stopping at the kitchen counter to ask how the tots are made and what exactly makes them so good compared to others. The secret: cooking the potatoes in a very specific way, which yields a flavorful result and crispy outer crust.


Our executive chef, JV, explains how it’s done:

“The thing that I like the most about potatoes is that they never stop being productive. They’re like the vegetable equivalent of the egg. There are hundreds of known ways to cook them and I still find it exciting to contemplate new ones. Also, as with eggs, the time and temperature at which you cook them greatly affects the outcome. You can cook an egg at 145 degrees fahrenheit for 45 minutes and come out with a completely different result than if you shave off a few degrees and add a few minutes. It’s neither a recipe nor a ratio —  it’s a result. And even if it looks gross and tastes like shit, it’s a building block for something else — I promise.

Same goes for potatoes. You can end up with some gloppy, gluey mess (which is what, hopefully, you’ll be able to avoid after reading this) and understand something about potatoes and how they like to be treated. We figured out a while ago that cooking potatoes a couple of times, each time at a higher temperature, yields the most pleasing results. We always blanched our cut potatoes in hot oil first and then fried them a second time in really hot oil for crispy french fries, but I never really thought about why. The blanching seems to pull out most of the moisture so that the second cooking (the hot frying) could just concentrate on crisping up the exterior without all of that moisture ruining the crust. But what’s really going on is that we are using gentle heat to break down that starch that could eventually cause a problem, and then more aggressive heat to break down the remaining cells without any danger of the starch bunching up on us. Pretty lame and unscientific explanation; these guys can probably explain it way better: Harold McGee and Ideas in Food.

So, we started thinking about all of our potato dishes this way. At this point, almost four years later, there isn’t a potato in our kitchen that doesn’t get cooked at least twice. It’s a huge pain in the ass, taking the temperature of every single potato, but it does yield some tasty results. Like our Nightwood tots. Now, just to clarify, we are talking about your everyday, high-starch, russet potatoes. They are the workhorse in our kitchen. We love our little red-skinned new potatoes and German butterballs, but russets store the best, and they’re also available with consistent quality year round.”


NOTE: please only fry these things if you have a heavy bottomed, deep pot. They cause the oil to bubble up quite a bit, and we don’t want anyone getting hurt!


  • 2-3 large russet potatoes
  • Canola oil
  • Salt


  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  • Roast potatoes until they reach an internal temperature of 155 degrees F.
  • Let them cool to room temperatures and then refrigerate them overnight.
  • The next day, peel them and then grate with a box grater. Season lightly with salt.
  • Use an ice cream scoop to form little balls (you gotta really jam it in there!)
  • Put the balls on a baking sheet and freeze overnight.

:: TO FRY ::

  • Heat a few inches of the canola oil in a REALLY DEEP, BIG POT to 350 degrees F.
  • Using a big slotted spoon, gently lower the balls straight from the freezer into the hot oil.
  • Let them fry for a few minutes until they are golden brown.
  • Carefully remove and place on paper towels to drain the excess oil. Season with salt.
  • Once more — BE CAREFUL!

So, now you know the secret behind our tots. It might be a two-day process, but the end result is definitely worth the extra bit of effort. And if you don’t feel like making them at home, grab a few friends and come in for brunch (we’re open for brunch every Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.)

… And you could even take some tots home with you :)

NYE at Nightwood

Still don’t have plans for New Year’s Eve? Come celebrate at Nightwood. We’re offering a special, 4-course holiday menu for $90/guest:


We still have open tables, but they’re filling up quickly! Make your reservation online, or call us at 1.312.526.3385.

We look forward to seeing you!