Bonsoirée reopened in August with a refresh in chefs, building and, of course, menu. LoganSquarist founder Kate Hamilton and I were lucky enough to stop by for dinner and get the story behind each round of changes.
As you may or may not know, the current iteration of Bonsoirée (@bonsoireechi, 2728 W. Armitage) isn’t the first. Original founder Shin Thompson started the restaurant six years ago and, in the words of Kevin Pang of the Tribune, “elevated Bonsoirée from a secret underground concept to a Michelin-starred brick-and-mortar concept.”
Six years in, Thompson was ready to move on from running the restaurant full time, which is where chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark come into the picture. After competing on Top Chef: Texas, Kim returned to her post as head chef at Aria. Wanting to move on and, ultimately, open a restaurant with husband Clark, (former director of Jane Addams Hull House Soup Kitchen), she turned to veteran Thompson for advice. One thing led to another, and Kim and Clark took over as co-executive chefs; Thompson remained as a partner.
To round out the staff, Kim and Clark reached out to long-time friend and sommelier Matty Colston, who brought his previous experience at Logan Square’s Telegraph (@telegraphwine, 2601 N. Milwaukee Ave.) and Webster’s Wine Bar to the team.
In a former life, back before Thompson’s Bonsoirée 1.0, the building on Armitage housed a Thai eatery (or possibly Indian, some debate on that from the team). Anyway, it was a tiny version of its current self, covered wall-to-wall in bright yellow paint.*
When Kim and Clark moved in, they closed the restaurant’s doors for two weeks to renovate. Kim invited friend and fellow Bravo TV contestant Young Sun Han of Skokie to consult on the design makeover. Now with a fresh coat of paint, the walls are donned with pieces from local artists Lisa Alvarado, Michelle Peterson-Albandoz and Mieke Zuiderweg. The restaurant plans to change the featured art seasonally, allowing for new inspiration and to support the local Logan Square art community.
During the renovation, they also added a back room, enclosed in glass to let natural light in, to expand seating to 44 guests. The perfect spot for after-dinner coffee and tea, they put some much-needed love into the patio; a space that was barely used by predecessors.
For chilly Chicago nights, the softly lit space features a roaring fire pit (also used for cooking some the kitchen’s delicacies) and a shawl on the back of each chair. “Johnny grew up sitting around backyard fire pits in Ohio, so this is the part of the restaurant where he added a piece of his past,” Chef Kim told us.
Bonsoirée’s 12 courses are a spin on traditional Korean cooking with a modern twist and an emphasis on texture and local ingredients. With each dish, Colston pairs the flavors with complimentary spirits from France, Germany and Spain. Throughout the evening, Chef Kim, Chef Clark and Colston took the time to give us the story of each menu item.
Served on a bed of river rocks, the Hama Hama Oyster features roasted elderberry mignonette—elderberries delivered fresh from the back of a truck by local farmer paired with a light foam. Together, the oyster is light, earthy and refreshing, and paired with Emile Beyer’s “Cuvée de l’hostellerie,” a light and sweet pinot gris.
The Okinawan Sweet Potato with toasted nori was sweet, caramelized and slightly chewy, giving it the texture of a piece of candy.
Another ingredient provided by this local hookup is the aged Swan Creek Farm duck, dried for several days to create a rich taste and crunchy texture similar to that of Peking duck. The duck is served two ways: as a breast and a five-spice sausage. Both have a rich, deep flavor reflected by the aging process and paired well with the Olivier Cousin Pur Breton—Kate’s personal pairing favorite.
The Thunder Bay trout featured a fresh green herb that we didn’t recognize. Chef Kim identified it as the herb rue, which actually can be found growing in vacant lots right here in Logan Square.
Dessert brought strong Korean influences, starting with makkoli cake and ice cream with wild ginger and ending with my favorite dish of the night, Chef Kim’s take on pat bing su with sorrel granite, sweet red bean and oxalis. Looking at the dish, I assumed the many flavors and textures would be overwhelming, but they all came together in the right way for a light but flavorful finish. A light and sweet Mönchhof “Ürzig Würzgaten” Riesling Kabinett rounds out the night.
Trying a number of dishes and ingredients for the first time, this was an adventurous night in taste and texture. With a considerable price tag and about a two and half hour total meal time (we had a longer experience, with the staff taking additional time to explain the dishes), Bonsoirée is certainly a special occasion kind of spot. But if you’re feeling bold and have the time and budget to go, it’s worth it not only for the time and effort that clearly goes into each dish, but the personal attention you’ll get from Bonsoirée staff. It’s hard to miss Chef Kim’s passion as she visits each table, sharing stories of eating kimchi as a child, finding herbs in the urban wild and orchestrating elderberry deliveries from eccentric farmer-types.
In addition to offering unique dining experiences, Bonsoirée will host special events that combine food, art and inspiration. As each new season brings new art to the restaurant, friends, family and neighbors will be invited to an Artist Reception. And on Oct. 6, Chef Kim will join the Chicago Artists’ Coalition at Starving Artist. For tickets and information, visit 2012starvingartist.com.
*Correction: Before Bonsoiree the space was occupied by Savoy Truffle, a restaurant with Eastern influences owned by Wendy Gilbert.
*Update: According to an Oct. 3 Eater Chicago report, Chefs Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark have “mutually agreed to part ways” with partner Shin Thompson, and Bonsoiree will temporarily close its doors.