Erling Wu-Bower, previously of avec and Nico Osteria, is in charge at the Pacific Standard Time restaurant.
"We take inspiration from all over the West Coast, especially with regard to wine - from Oregon from Washington - but the heart and soul of the concept kind of emanates from San Francisco and Los Angeles and goes a little bit South and a large amount North," Wu-Bower said.
Vegetables, not surprisingly, are everywhere, especially on the first page of the menu. A vegan and gluten-free dish presents roasted beets drenched in creme fraiche and studded with various radishes, sprinkled with dill and dukkah, an Egyptian condiment consisting of blended herbs, nuts and spices.
Shima aji, also known as striped jack, is served sashimi-style and topped with tender white asparagus and an oil made from serrano chiles, cilantro and garlic and coated in sesame seeds.
"One of the things we really pride ourselves on, that I've prided myself on throughout my career with One Off is getting our fish from California, from fishermen and vendors right off the docks in San Francisco. Taking that philosophy and applying it to vegetables," said Wu-Bower.
That's why strawberries from Harry's Farm in Oxnard, California are given star billing. The berries are tossed with hazelnuts and snap peas, then served over creamy stracciatella. A bit of fresh mint is scattered across the top, and the dish is served with rustic, nutty toast from Publican Quality Bread.
The restaurant's pair of wood-burning ovens command the most attention. They're workhorses, baking up the addictive, soft pita bread, searing whole chickens and roasting black cod in a matter of minutes.
"We really want the original fire to emanate into service too. It should be casual, it should be family-oriented. You should tear pita apart together," Wu-Bower said.
Save some to dip into the delicious pan juices, Marsala wine, English peas and oyster mushrooms that serve as a bed for the perfectly-cooked chicken anointed with a charred chimichurri and wild arugula.
Even the black cod, served with a salad of mushrooms, endive and jalapeno, feels like something your European relatives would make if they had an oven like this.
"You feel like you're at home when you eat. I don't want to challenge you. I don't want to make you think about what's on the plate. I don't want to put weird stuff on the plate. I don't need to buy really expensive mushrooms. We use creminis here and we use oyster mushrooms here. These are things people use at home," said Wu-Bower.
A taste of the West Coast in the summertime can't be beat. But the really interesting thing is going to be come fall and winter, when all of us here in Chicago are craving a taste of California.
EXTRA COURSE: The fantastic desserts on the Pacific Standard Time menu
Pacific Standard Time
141 W. Erie St., Chicago