Thursday, November 12, 2009

Boka Bartender Crowned 'King of Mixology'

Boka's Ben Schiller (left) and Zach Friedlander of Relax Lounge face off in an "Iron Chef"-style challenge at Landmark Thursday. (Photo: Chris LaMorte/Urban Daddy Chicago)

It started in May.

The first-ever Sweet 16 of Mixology—created by Kevin Boehm (Boka, Landmark, Perennial)—had the city's most established bartenders competing against one another each week until it came down to two guys: Boka's Ben Schiller and Zach Friedlander of Relax Lounge.

The finals took place Wednesday at Landmark, with the contestants competing in an "Iron Chef"-style challenge for a grand prize of $500. The judges?! Yours truly, plus Chris LaMorte (Urban Daddy), Gary Wiviott (LTHForum, Low & Slow BBQ) and Amanda Puck (XA, The Experiential Agency). Our votes counted for 50 percent of the tabulation, while the audience's comprised of the rest.

Everyone at the party got to sample Friedlander's Autumnal Fire (made of Corzo anejo, Chrysanthemum honey liqueur, Yuzu sour, an egg white and garnished with sugar glazed and cinnamon dusted apple chips) and Schiller's Autumn Air (Bacardi eight-year rum, homemade heirloom apple, autumn spice liqueur, lime and bitters with a walnut emulsion). The judges also had to judge from two additional cocktails the bartenders had to create on the spot from ingredients that were only disclosed moments before in front of the audience.

It was a good thing this additional challenge happened because it turned out the popular vote was dead even at 88 to 88. And at least three out of four of the judges picked Schiller over Friedlander because he ran out of ingredients for his cocktail, which dramatically changed its overall taste.

But Friedlander's got a bright future as he'll be moving over to red-hot Gilt when it opens in January. He'll oversee the mixology program.

Schiller's keeping busy as well, as he'll be in charge of the drinks program at The Drunken Goat—the West Loop spot from Stephanie Izard, Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz.

More Chef-Related Drama (Blind Item!) . . .


This week has had more drama than an entire season of Real Housewives of Atlanta. This missive dropped in the 312DD inbox about a chef who never got paid for his/her services at a very popular Chicago restaurant:

"I want to let you know that [Chef A] left [Restaurant] because he/she wasn't paid for his/her time there. Unlike [Chef B], this chef was not a partner who was paid (or supposed to be) by profits; Instead, he/she was promised a bi-monthly salary that was never met. He/she chose to leave because he did not pay him/her or show any promise of paying him/her. [Owner] has owed [Chef A] a large amount of money for over 5 months. He also owes several purveyors, many cooks, and most of the FOH staff money.

I think people should be aware of what is really going on at [Restaurant], however, please keep me anonymous."

Burgers, Booze and Benefits . . .

DMK Burger Bar's "No. 4" (roasted hatch green chile, fried farm egg, Sonoma Jack cheese, smoked bacon) paired with sweet potato fries. (Photo: Ben Reid/

DMK Burger Bar is now open.

That's the latest collaboration between longtime buddies and biz partners David Morton (Morton's Steakhouse) and Michael Kornick (MK), who're also behind the powerhouse N9NE restaurants in Chicago and Vegas.

On its second night Wednesday, the rockin' burger joint was definitely jammed packed with neighborhood types who are probably grateful to have something like this in close proximity. You'll find 12 grass-fed and naturally raised burgers on the menu, and we tried to order damn near everything because they're all eight bucks.

Big winners were the No. 1 (aged Cheddar, smoked bacon, charred balsamic red onions, Rufus Teague’s BBQ sauce), No. 3 (NY pastrami, Grand Cru Gruyere cheese, sauerkraut, Leroy’s remoulade), No. 4 (roasted hatch green chile, fried farm egg, Sonoma Jack cheese, smoked bacon) and the No. 10 (grass-fed lamb, sheep’s milk feta, olive tapenade, tomato & onion salad, tzatziki)—which came highly recommended by MK exec chef Erick Williams (who was working the line that night).

And then there were the milkshakes.

They were chocolatey, malted and so thick that we had to scoop up all that goodness with spoons . . .

Speaking of scoops, you know 312DD's got you covered when it comes to the weekend:


Get a head start on that holiday shopping with the Women Helping Women benefit hosted by The Chicago Chapter of the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails ("Chicago LUPEC") and Maeve. More than 10 West Loop boutiques participate, where you'll get discounts on merchandise and comped classic cocktails and apps. A portion of proceeds benefits the Greenhouse Shelter for Women, and you can find the complete list of shops here. 5-9pm. Donations/tips.

While the girls will be shopping till they drop in the West Loop, guys will flock to Haberdash (1350 N. Wells St.) in Old Town for the Try Something On Event. Spend at least $100 and get a $50 savings toward purchases, plus you'll be treated to wine, beer and pizza. A portion of the proceeds benefits Big Love, Little Hearts. 6-9pm. No cover.

The third-annual Chill event benefits the Respiratory Health Association of Metropolitan Chicago. Taking place at LuxeHome at Merchandise Mart, the cocktail party includes tastings from some of our fave chefs, including Chris Pandel (The Bristol), Mark Mendez (Carnivale), Randy Zweiban (Province) and Roger Herring (Socca). Get tix here. 6-8:30pm. $85.


A new Greek BYO opened in Lakeview this week, and in addition to classic items, Melanthios Greek Char House will definitely get major props for its weekend roasts of whole pigs and lamb. Yum.

NYC’s DJ Kiss spins at Angels & Kings on Saturday. (Photo: DJ Kiss)


Discounted tix are still available for Pinot Days, occurring at Navy Pier. 1-5pm. $50.

A free wine-focused event goes down at the Goddess and Grocer in Bucktown, where author Jean Iversen will be on hand for a booksigning for BYOB Chicago. Get there early for samplings of her fave wine picks, plus apps. 2-4pm. No cover.

Sniff. Sniff. Tonight's the final night for Sonotheque, as the trendy West Town tavern has been sold to a New York entrepreneur. This last event will include performances by deep-house deejays Torin Edmond, Joe DePresser and Anthony Nicholson. 9pm-3am. Cover TBD.

DJ Kiss—New York's most glamorous spin star—returns for a late-night set at Angels & Kings. Look for her to rock the tables with soul, mashups, funk, hip-hop and of course, mad sex appeal. 11pm-5am. No cover.


If you think weekend nights are nuts over at 33 Club, wait until their new brunch service catches on. Jerry Kleiner's latest sensation in Old Town now serves up heaving plates of whole wheat banana pancakes, Challah French toast and several omelet dishes each Saturday and Sunday. Oh, and since the game's on in the lounge, expect a solid singles scene. 10am-2pm.


Shift Drinks continues one of the city's most popular industry nights at Pops for Champagne. Guest bartenders this week are executive chef Sarah Stegner and mixologist Daniel Sviland from Prairie Grass Cafe. 9pm-2am. Free.