Wow Bao tweaked the venerable Asian bao bun and took it mainstream. Soft, round and steamed-as opposed to fried, sauteed, or boiled-a traditional bao has a savory filling. But while teriyaki beef and roast pork are still Wow Bao’s best selling bao, the menu, like the chain, is expanding.
As part of market savvy Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (Leye), Wow Bao is well positioned for expansion. Bao’s portability is a major plus in the growing quick serve market, as is the bao’s neutral flavor, which makes it compatible with a wide range of fillings. Depending on the location- bao are available with fillings ranging from chocolate and coconut custard to eggs and sausage. A gluten-free bao made with tapioca and rice flour is available filled with chicken teriyaki made with gluten free tamari sauce.
Keeping up-or even ahead-of trends is key. Bowls, which are designed to be a complete entree, usually build on a base of rice or noodles, both of them carbs. But with more and more people avoiding carbs, Wow Bao has added carb-free bases, such as cauliflower “rice” and “zoodles.” The first is crumbled (or “riced”) cauliflower, while the second is zucchini cut to resemble noodles. Lettuce cups, another carb-free option, are also available.
And then there are the potstickers, dumplings, soups, salads and child-friendly Lil’ Bunz Meal. Whatever the order, Wow Bao’s streamlined delivery system typically completes orders in three minutes or less, and some venues actually have delivery time down to 54 seconds.
On a hot summer night Shore Club is packed. Looking at the crowd, it’s hard to believe that anyone is actually dining at home. And given the diverse menu, the quality of the food and beverages, and the opportunities for socializing, it’s hard to argue for the stay-at-homes.
Shore Club is part of a cluster of restaurants located just north of La Salle Street and only a few steps from the lake itself. There’s a parking lot, but given the crowd, coming on foot or by cab or public transit is a good idea. So is kicking the evening off with one of the restaurant’s cocktails.
Cocktails, as a genre, are a destination item at Shore Club, much like great steaks or burgers or seafood are elsewhere. Check out cocktails like the “Mag Mile Mule,” a blend of Ketel One, cucumber, ginger beer, fresh lime and mint leaves; the “Blackberry Smash” made with Makers Mark, blackberry, Thai basil, Meyer lemon zest, and fresh citrus; or the “I’m in Love with the Coco,” a mix of Captain Morgan rum, coconut, tropical citrus and fresh mint.
Starters, such as the cheese and the charcuterie plates, are designed for sharing, as are the minis, all of which come three to an order. The Crispy Lobster Tacos” include a tropical slaw and crispy corn tortillas, while the mini beef tenderloin sandwiches are topped with red wine braised cipollini onions and horseradish agave mustard.
Entrees can be shared or not. A lot of them are built around fish and seafood, a logical choice given the beachside location and the season. Summer in Chicago is relatively brief, and the Shore Club is all about celebrating it with friends.
Alfredo Capitanini opened the Italian Village restaurant on September 20, 1927. Ninety-two years and several generations later, the restaurant is still open and still owned and operated by members of the Capitanini family.
Over the years, the family has opened two additional restaurants: La Cantina in 1955 and The Florentine Room in 1960. In 1990, The Florentine Room became Vivere, a contemporary Italian restaurant with a new menu and a new decor. While each of the restaurants has their own identity, they all share the building at 71 W. Monroe.
There are a lot of theories as to why one restaurant survives and another doesn’t. Location, food, service, ambience… they’re all important. But so is management that has a passion for what they do and the foresight to keep current.
Gina Capitaniti, Alfredo’s granddaughter, is currently the restaurant’s sole proprietor. She’s been working in the restaurant as long as she can remember, and her daughter, Giovanna Kaminski, a member of the fourth generation, is following her lead.
“It’s a lifestyle,” she observes, “a job that never ends. We’re open for lunch and dinner every day except Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
While some things change, others don’t. Alfredo Capitanini would be surprised by the Loop’s growing residential population and the carryout and delivery (Caviar) services the restaurant has initiated as a response. Still, if he came in for dinner, perused the restaurant’s award winning wine list, and ordered the lasagna as his main course, he’d be pleased to know that the restaurant still uses the same recipe he used when he opened in 1927. Some things are too good to change.
Italian Village Restaurants, 71 W. Monroe