When former Tribune food critic Phil Vettel awarded chef Trevor Teich’s pop-up restaurant Claudia three stars in 2020, he began the review with this line: “Someday Trevor Teich will have a dining space worthy of his immense talent.
That wait is almost over, as Teich plans to open a permanent Claudia location this fall in Bucktown. The charming two-story building housed Takashi for many years, before two short-lived projects, Dixie and Stone Flower, succeeded each other.
Teich is renovating the space, but he’s convinced he’ll be able to finish things soon. Although no official opening date has been set, he plans to release tickets for the restaurant on August 15.
Teich’s dedication to Claudia is mind-blowing. The Chicago native first came up with Claudia’s idea in 2014. But after two rounds of his pop-up, with a brief job in Las Vegas in between, he’s ready to prove why he kept the idea. for so long.
If you’ve had the chance to try Claudia’s pop-up iterations, expect some major differences. The ambitious project will offer three different menus spread over two floors.
The Tribune caught up with Teich to discuss a bit about his ambitious plans for Claudia and if anything will be missing about the pop-up lifestyle. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What inspired you to launch Claudia in 2014?
When I worked at Acadia, I had put a few dishes on the menu and was able to feel more comfortable flexing my muscles. It was then that the urge to do my own thing turned into a creative urge, not just a desire. Watching people enjoy your food is a fundamental reward in itself. There was no going back for me.
Did you try to open your own restaurant back then?
I was very keen to open my own house, but nothing was right, so I went to work at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas.
What did you learn in Las Vegas?
Pierre taught me the flavors. He was super innovative. He was coming out of the new kitchen to use global ingredients. But I was homesick in Las Vegas, and had rejuvenated my feelings about doing the Claudia concept all over again.
Claudia then appeared in the conference room of a West Loop building.
It was the next step towards a permanent restaurant. We were there three days a week. It opened in October 2019 and Phil Vettel was kind enough to spend an evening with us, as was Jeff Ruby (now a former chief critic of Chicago magazine). At that time, we were trying to get a liquor license. We had the honor of obtaining three stars. Then the world changed.
What did you do after the pandemic hit?
In March 2020, we all thought it was going to be two weeks. As weeks three and four rolled in, I saw it was time to reassess. I negotiated my exit from the lease, packed my things and put them in a storage unit. I had been biting my nails for a good month. Then I started to look for a permanent home for Claudia. I knew it took a long time to complete a real estate transaction. I finally had time to pursue a home forever.
Are there any advantages to having a pop-up over a restaurant?
No! (Laughs). Working in a restaurant is difficult. But popping up means you have to convince people to come, not knowing where your next paycheck for rent and food is coming from. Sometimes at 8 am you wonder, “What does all this mean? Then Phil Vettel examines you. It’s an emotional roller coaster. It’s a lot of hard work, but it taught me a ton.
What’s the best part about having a real restaurant?
All the chefs say so, but it will be like welcoming people to my house. Claudia is named after my mother. She always encouraged me to be creative.
Tell me about the building.
The building itself is a gem. It really stands out in Bucktown because it’s been around for so long. I want to honor the space that was Takashi. The bones are fantastic, but we are definitely redoing all the seats. It will be different from previous incarnations.
What will the menu look like?
The menu is designed to tell a story through the food and to be fun. Sometimes it will be interactive. So it will be an evening of not only food, but fun, excitement and fun. I’m going to tap into things from my childhood, things that are specific to Chicago. Now I’m really able to implement my ideas with a full team and design what it looks, sounds, feels and smells like. It is a multisensory experience.
Will there only be a tasting menu?
There are actually three menus. In the upstairs dining room, guests can get the 10-course menu, which will be the menu familiar to those who have been to the pop-up. This will include the bento box, snails in the woods, and other fun dishes.
On the first floor there will be 12 seats with a view of the kitchen. This is where there will be a 15 course chef’s menu, which will take all 10 courses and explain it. It’s going to be filled with lots of fun surprises. Each course has a point of view and leads to the next course.
The third menu will be an à la carte menu at the bar with many French classics. I always wanted to do this. Think pie, dishcloth of foie gras and oysters, but with the Claudia touch. It’s a great opportunity to come have a cocktail or a glass of wine and enjoy the things I love to do so much.
With Le Bouchon next door, are you creating a small crossroads of French cuisine in Bucktown?
It would be very cute. The tasting menu will be less French. Yes, there are snails, which are super French, but also things like passion fruit crab lasagna. The dishes are also going to have some modern touches. The pie can be served with pickled ginger and daikon. We are not forced into French cuisine.
Are you sure Claudia will be ready to open in August?
Once the construction is complete, I am convinced that the walls will rise. We just need a few more Lego pieces. But I am very confident that the post will be released on August 15th.
What to eat. What to watch. What you need to live your best life … now. Sign up for our Eat. Watch. Do. bulletin here.