The curtain is ready to rise on ‘experiential’ Barton G. The Restaurant
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When restaurateur Barton G. Weiss wants inspiration for a new menu item at his eponymous eatery, he heads to Home Depot.
Let it sink in.
Yes, the home improvement superstore is where Weiss, the artist/actor/entertainment production company CEO/restaurant designer lets his gastronomic imagination run wild. Because that’s where Weiss finds everything he needs — from plumbing pipes, metal screws and garden shears to metallic paint cans, power tools and lightbulbs and just about everything else in between — to bring to life his mind’s designs for his restaurant “vehicles.”
Those “vehicles” are massive (some three to four feet in height), movable feasts/works of art within which your cocktails, lunch, dinner and dessert are served at his Barton G. The Restaurant, opening Feb. 15 in Chicago at 415 N. Dearborn. A Miami transplant, the restaurant is something akin to Disney-meets-Picasso-meets-culinary visual orgy. The eatery has been nicknamed “the most Instagrammed restaurant in America.” And if you’ve not experienced the mealtime extravaganza in Miami (or L.A.), be prepared for the “sensory ride of your life,” Weiss says.
“The entire concept is ‘experiential evening,’ ” Weiss says during a recent chat. “People are not just having dinner, paying the check and heading out the door. We get people who spend the entire evening here because they’re entertained by the spectacle and the food. … I set out to create a restaurant [that would] bring smiles to faces, and [one in which] every dish coming out of kitchen will be photographed. The dining experience here is all about the art of being social, wanting to chat with diners at the table next to you about what they’re having, or taking their photos or [having them] photograph you. Or Instagramming your entire meal. … Our motto is ‘Shock and Ahhh.'”
Chef Erwin Mallet (formerly of Chicago Firehouse and Webster’s Wine Bar) is heading up the 2,500-square-foot main kitchen (all ingredients are locally sourced and organic) in Chicago. The 11,000-square-foot, two-level eatery (the second floor is reserved for private parties, groups and large gatherings) will boast a staff of nearly 100, to cover lunch (starting Feb. 18), brunch (starting Feb. 23) and dinner, which inaugurates the tony venue on Friday.
All of the culinary theatrics on the a la carte menu come at steakhouse prices. Consider: Rare Torched Tuna (wonton escargot, peppered Bordelaise, root vegetable salad, nori ash, $38), or Whole Duck for 2 (slow-roasted Hudson Valley duck, carrots and leeks crudite, au jus, scallion buns, $85) served in a giant birdcage featuring a video of dancing ducks. Perhaps orange salmon (pan-seared salmon loin, roots ratatouille and saffron paint, $26) is more to your liking?
Or how about the Whole Grilled Bronzini (the Mediterranean fish is served with Asian profiteroles, with Thai coconut shrimp fillings, $43), served in a garden of glass flowers accented by a watering can and garden shears? Or Kobe Meatloaf (Kobe beef meatloaf baked in clay, house-made ketchup, whipped Yukon golds, quick-fire green beans, $35) served piping-hot amid glowing firewood and wheat stalks? Popcorn rock shrimp ($27) is served in an old-fashioned, working popcorn machine. The restaurant’s signature Mouse Trap Mac & Cheese (Weiss’ grandmother’s recipe, $12) is served amid a giant mouse trap.
For dessert, perhaps the Marie Antoinette’s Head — Let Them Eat cake tableau will satisfy your sweet tooth (a towering cotton candy Pompadour atop a mannequin head, accompanied with bombolini ‘cupcakes’ filled with blackberry jam and topped with a roasted almond buttercream, $29).
The bar menu is equally engaging — and pricey. Drinks average $25-$30 apiece, and the cocktails are poised to be as intoxicating as their names: The Stairway to Heaven (Ciroc vanilla, Remy V, cashew milk, Frangelico, ginger beer) or the Diamonds Are Forever (Grey Goose Citron, Cointreau, lemon, vodka popsicle). Then there’s the BG Moonshine (Ocucaje Pisco, Grey Goose peach vodka, mezcal, Cointreau) dispensed at your leisure from a working metal still.
“The cocktails were an invention of mine even before the first restaurant opened,” Weiss says, referring to his days as a party/event organizer. “It’s all about freezing alcohol with liquid nitrogen. In fact, we don’t use ice because as the cubes melt the drinks become watered down. We use liquid nitro, because as it melts [the drink] only gets stronger.”
Weiss describes the decor as soothing, with turquoise, gray, white and neutrals complementing exquisite leathers and the finest fabrics and handpainted imagery by world-class artisans. Stone accents are a blend of quartzite and marble from Italy.
For those who would dismiss all of this as “gimmick dining” amid Chicago’s seriously world-class and Michelin-starred culinary scene, Weiss says he’s more than up to the challenge.
“The culinary scene in Chicago is strong. But what I do, nobody else in the world is doing or can do successfully … The drama of my restaurant is what makes it work on every level. Chicago will be a little challenging until people come in and really see what we’re doing, how it makes you smile and laugh and talk to the table next to you. If you come in with the right mindset you’ll walk out on Cloud 9.”
One Zagat review of the Miami locale called Barton G. “an outlandish South Beach fantasyland … with spot-on food and service and a beautiful garden atmosphere that make [it] the perfect place to wow someone.” Weiss says his greatest accomplishment in life has always been the ability to wow, whether it’s creating/catering a private party for an A-List celebrity or the most-over-the-top wedding imaginable or the U.S. Open, or a dinner for two at his restaurant.
“I’m inspired by life and what people do and gravitate to,” Weiss adds. “Bigger is better. The things you don’t think can be done, that’s what I do. [Laughing] … If you don’t want creativity don’t come to me.”