Dale Levitski and Chuy Valencia (Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune )
They both made Chicago proud on Bravo reality TV show “Top Chef.” They both became known on said show for saying exactly what was on their minds. And now Dale Levitski and Chuy Valencia are both bringing their colorful personalities and inventive food to a stretch of North Broadway in Lakeview that’s ready for a breath of fresh air.
Last week, Sprout executive chef Levitski opened French-American bistro Frog N Snail (3124 N. Broadway) with partner Mike Causevic. Valencia, who until recently was the chef at Chilam Balam (3023 N. Broadway), said he’s in talks with coffeehouse entrepreneur Philip Tadros (Dollop, Kickstand) to team up on a new cafeteria/coffee shop/microbrewery concept. He wants to stay on Broadway and is in the process of securing a location just south of Belmont, but hopes to eventually franchise.
Both chefs live in Lakeview, have dined at each other’s restaurants and occasionally run into each other on the street, but they were quick to dismiss questions about whether some friendly competition is brewing on Broadway.
“I think if anything, it’s, ‘Let’s get some more people in here,’” Levitski said. “The more, the merrier. Randolph [Street] is just stacked with big name after big name, and I think this neighborhood is ripe for the picking.”
“Top Chef” chops: On Season 3, Levitski was runner-up to Hung Huynh along with fellow cheftestant Casey Thompson. He also returned for Season 8’s “Top Chef All-Stars.”
Best known for: Being competitive and outspoken. Perhaps his most memorable quote: “I’m a big gay chef, and I’m gonna out-cook your ass.”
Frog N Snail in one sentence: “A French-American neighborhood bistro.”
What’s in a name? “I think ‘frog’ and ‘snail’ are two things that automatically make you think French food.” Levitski also wanted the name to reflect that this is the first restaurant he’s taken from conception to launch (at Sprout, he stepped in after opening). “It’s about little boys made of frogs and snails and puppy dog tails,” he said. “So it’s kind of like, little guy got all grown up.”
The food: Whereas Sprout is “all about pushing our boundaries creatively, this restaurant is about pulling back, so I’m doing much more simple food here,” he explained. Expect modern bistro staples such as steak frites and French onion soup, as well as inventive twists on the classics; Levitski is especially excited about his “beef on beef” take on beef stroganoff: braised short ribs with homemade pappardelle, mushrooms, tarragon and madeira cream, all topped with a pepper-crusted petite filet. And don’t forget the frogs and snails. Levitski considers it a “good omen” that his appetizer of crispy frog legs, snails, and kale, leek and green peppercorn ragout was the first dish ordered on opening day.
What’s next: While Levitski is currently focused on getting Frog up and running, he said a dream project would be to open a restaurant on New York’s Union Square. “The farmers’ market is right there, and if I ever ventured out of Chicago, that would be the one that I would want.”
What people say when they recognize him on the street: “We filmed Season 3 almost five years ago, and I still always get, ‘You should’ve won!’ The funny thing is, ironically enough, there was a rerun of the Season 3 finale on our opening day that I didn’t know about, and my Facebook page kind of blew up, like, ‘You should’ve won!’ I think I just did – I just opened my second restaurant.”
“Top Chef” chops: Valencia was one of six Chicago chefs to compete on Season 9.
Best known for: Telling stories about his dad. “My dad’s a jack of all trades, master of all,” he explained. “He has a lot of wisdom. My favorite thing that he always told me was, ‘Son, I don’t care if you’re a janitor, but be the best one.’ Stuff like that always motivated me.”
The new restaurant in one sentence: A “really hearty, kind of Midwest, but sort of modern-day Chicago take on diner classics and cafeteria food.”
What’s in a name? Valencia said he’s in the process of trade-marking the name of his new company, Ursa – as in the constellations Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, to signify “minor projects, major projects and everything in between.” No word yet on the name of the restaurant.