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David Lissner
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Sneak Peek: The Darling Also Has a Little of the, Um, Daring

Lindsey Marks – who performs burlesque as Lady Jack – is chatting in front of a large Alice in Wonderland painting in the downstairs dining room at The Darling, on W. Randolph St.. This new space, owned by Sophie Huterstein, who also owns L.A.’s The Wellesbourne, is next door to J.P. Graziano, purveyor of exceptional Italian sandwiches since long before the Randolph Corridor became the most happening restaurant strip in Chicago.

Lindsey Marks in front of hidden stage

Lindsey Marks in front of hidden stage

Marks is coordinating entertainment at The Darling, including burlesque acts, and as we chatted, the Alice in Wonderland painting scrolled up to reveal a singer doing his rendition of “My Funny Valentine.”

 

Didn’t expect that.

 

A little bit of daring, and doing what isn’t expected, is a big part of what The Darling is all about. Says Huterstein, “The Darling is an elegant hideaway that offers both an intimate dining and cocktail experience on one floor, and a decadent lounge-like social club on the next.”

 

The ground Floor entryway is “hidden” behind a wall of flowers in what appears to be a flower shop.  Currently, all the flowers are paper, but Huterstein says that they plan to sell real flowers from this “shop,” though it seems unlikely that they will be sold before the snow flies in Chicago.

 

Chef James Martin, previously of A10, told us that what sets The Darling apart is “The balance of excellent service, food, cocktails and a wide range of entertainment. People will see right away how beautifully different The Darling is from anything else in the city.”

Darling Buds of May

Darling Buds of May

“We hope,” Huterstein adds, “that guests will get a kick out of the immersive/thematic details and moments of whimsy that serve to compliment delicious food, drink and genuine hospitality.”

 

The first floor is all about the small plates. The real standouts for us were the pork belly, a delicious combination of the belly, poached pear, pumpkin puree and crispy sage, as well as the shrimpiest shrimp toast we’ve had, big boys mounted on brioche smeared with garlic confit crema and dressed in saffron and cherry peppers.

Darling Buds of May

Darling Buds of May

 

Upstairs on the second floor, there’s more performance space and bigger plates, like the Seafood Platter with house-smoked trout dip, crab cakes, and smoked mussels. Huterstein seems especially excited about the Grilled European Sausages, currywurst and bratwurst, with German mustard, pretzels and gherkins.

Some of the cocktails reflect the whimsical tone of The Darling. The drink called The Darling Buds of May,” for instance, features egg foam on top of the drink imprinted with an alarmingly precise image of the flowers. How did they get the lines on those flowers so sharp, the colors so clear? The answer is that they imprinted the images on an edible disk designed to dissolve into the cocktail. Clever.

 

Martin handles food on both floors, and in addition to Marks, entertainment will be managed by DJ/Dr. Victor Nwankow. When he isn’t working on his residency requirements at Stroger/Rush, Nwankow creates playlists for surgeons in the operating theater and guests at The Darling. He also curates other DJs who will be invited in to entertain guests at this trippy, intriguing new place on Randolph.