As any entertainer knows, the show must go on, even if the show’s a little different. Despite the uncertainty of America’s hospitality industry in the wake of Covid-19, and the looming question of whether dining out is back in, at least one chef has begun to fill in the blanks.
Earlier this month when Chicago’s three Michelin-starred, James Beard Award-winning hometown hero Curtis Duffy announced that Ever, his hotly-anticipated fine dining boîte, would debut on July 28, eager diners snapped up all opening week reservations within hours. As of now, only a few group-friendly tables remain through September. “[W]e just think that’s a function of Covid, and people understandably unsure about dining in larger parties,” explains Duffy’s longtime business partner Michael Muser.
After three years of planning, Duffy and Muser had initially intended on introducing Ever––the follow-up to Duffy’s three-Michelin-starred but now-shuttered Grace––the first week of May, in the Windy City’s Fulton Market District. But finalizing the haute haunt slowed with the pandemic. “The supply chain disappeared,” says Muser.
JL Coquet, the French porcelain producer responsible for Ever’s herringbone china, closed their factories and initially had no reopening date. They’ve since reopened, but orders are delayed. Further, the Chicago-based hardware company producing Ever’s door handles stopped returning calls at one point, causing a bit of a panic. “You can’t go into the health department and ask for an inspection without handles on your bathroom doors,” explains Muser. Luckily, the handles arrived last week.
Meanwhile, over the last few months, while finalizing construction details such as millwork, builders had to work in shifts with only two to three people in a room at a time, causing a delay of at least a month. If all goes well, Illinois expects to enter its fourth phase of pandemic recovery around July 1, and local restaurants will have the opportunity to open for indoor dining, albeit at 25-percent capacity. Under those restrictions, Ever’s dining room will hold 14 tables spaced at least six feet apart, in addition to a separate 12-seat private dining room. Upon entering, diners will encounter a modern space defined by natural materials, with “worn, cave-like walls” that Muser says are inspired by the auburn-hued canyons around Moab, Utah.
As far as safety precautions, employees will adhere to state-mandated guidelines, and undergo Covid-19 safety training that addresses cleanliness standards specific to all facets of the restaurant. All employees will also wear masks, as will guests who are not eating.
Though they’d planned on offering two eight- to 10-course tasting menus, reduced staff in the kitchen means they’ll launch with just one, priced at $285 (a European-focused wine pairing is $165 extra). “It’s going to be a more customized, choreographed experience,” continues Muser.
Duffy’s menu is still a work in progress, but those familiar with the meticulousness and elegance that earned him global recognition at Grace can expect a similar artistic approach. According to Muser, Ever is where Duffy plans “to jam-pack all of his best evers––all of his best experiences––in one box.” Stay tuned.