Chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim are no strangers to chaos. Parents to three young kids and now two always-packed Avondale restaurants, the real-life couple seemingly thrives on fumes. It’s fitting, then, that the muse for their latest opening is unpredictability itself.
At Wherewithall, their followup to award-winning Parachute, Clark and Kim serve a set four-course menu for $65. The catch? The lineup changes every night—a breathless trust exercise in which everyone, from cooks to servers to purveyors, assembles the very best of that day’s bounty and makes it shine.
“It’s cooking on a whim,” says Clark. “Every day is an experimentation, but the No. 1 factor is seasonality.”
Before the official first course arrived, a parade of bite-sized morsels was deposited at our table: fried cubes of za’atar-dusted local grits in summery saffron-tomato sauce followed by a pair of singed Chinese broccoli stems dunked in a cool cloud of Pleasant Ridge cream. My date and I chased the nibbles with an icy, lemon-tinged absinthe frappe and a classically bittersweet Americano.
The tasting menu began in earnest with a shallow dish of soft, butter-cooked baby potatoes submerged in crème fraîche flecked with celery, which tasted like posh sour cream and onion chips. A three-bite cut of roasted monkfish draped in thin lemon slices was plated in a glossy, ink-black pool of dried kalamata olives blitzed in olive oil, alongside a dollop of whipped eggplant—a synthesis of pure Mediterranean umami.
Vadouvan, a South Indian curry blend cooked with deeply caramelized shallots and garlic, lent a fragrant, savory backbone to tender slow-roasted lamb and tiny carrots that were topped with a dusting of crumbled pistachios. A simple dessert of strawberry ice cream and macerated late-season berries sprinkled with black lime powder tasted of childhood—only supercharged.
The unfettered preparations had finesse without straying into tweezer territory, and each bite delighted. Despite their considerable nightly information load, servers were breezily knowledgeable, lending a few choice words to describe each bite and sip unless prompted with followup questions.
As the minimalist dining room filled and the energy level rose, I stole glances at Clark as he oversaw the line. Resting one elbow on the counter, he surveyed the spacious, orderly kitchen and quietly issued a directive here, an adjustment there. I couldn’t help but notice how content he looked—at home in the controlled chaos of the night's dinner service, knowing that the clock was already ticking down on tomorrow's tasting menu, with a brand-new edible adventure to dream up.
Atmosphere: Housed in a former auto body shop, this industrial space includes an 18-seat bar adorned with grayscale tile and plywood as well as a cozy dining room with felt-covered banquettes and Dr. Seussian light fixtures.
What to eat: I’m afraid you won’t have much of a choice in the matter—which isn’t a problem in Kim and Clark’s careful hands. The $65 four-course tasting menu is inventive, breathlessly seasonal and decidedly affordable.
Where to drink: Add wine pairings for $45 or choose your own adventure with focused glass and bottle offerings and a tight list of classic cocktails.
Where to sit: Post up at the 12-seat bar or on the roomy back patio (weather permitting) for drinking snacks and sips. Book a week or two in advance for spots in the 50-seat dining room.
Maggie Hennessy is the restaurant and bar critic for Time Out Chicago. She likes (real) dive bars and bread with every meal. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @edible_words.