Critically acclaimed restaurant RIA closing its doors July 27
By MICHAEL NAGRANT Restaurant Critic July 9, 2012 2:28PM
Chef Danny Grant
Updated: August 11, 2012 6:16AM
The Waldorf Astoria Chicago will shutter its Michelin two-star restaurant RIA on July 27. According toa hotel spokesperson, “The Waldorf Astoria Chicago recently completed a review of its existing food and beverage offerings and their compatibility with both local dining trends and the culinary preferences of hotel guests. Based on this review, the hotel decided to undergo a repositioning of its dining options.”
When reached by phone, Chef Danny Grant, who will also be departing on July 27, added, “I really enjoyed the time atRIA. They’ve been generous and it’s been a great ride.”
While Grant would not speak on record about the reasons behind RIA’s closing, it’s hard not to read that the expensive modern restaurant had a hard time keeping up with the value small plates phenomenon sweeping Chicago.
There had been subtle signs of tumult. The pastry chef position was a revolving door and the hotel unexpectedly parted ways with chef Jason McCleod (the chef who garnered the Michelin rating) last February.
The hotel’s issuing of a boilerplate PR statement about the closing is representative of the fundamental problem with RIA: It’s never connected with Chicagoans. To achieve the kind of success that a peer such as Alinea has in a recessionary market requires a very public face and an ability to capture the imagination. Though RIA sommelier Dan Pilkey was one of Chicago’s best wine guys, he was an “outsider” from California. Chef Grant is an incredible talent (recently named a best new chef 2012 by Food and Wine magazine), but no one knew him.
Though it one was one of my favorite restaurants in the last few years, I am an interested professional, not a pleasure-seeking, occasional diner. RIA was acclaimed, but it was never hot. It had no street-level presence; you had to ford a lobby and go up an elevator to find it. It was a special occasion restaurant, but people want to celebrate birthdays or propose marriage amongst friends or in famous venues. As such, RIA was subject to the whims of hotel guests, that variety of creature looking to retire with a room service burger, not rabbit terrine.
Michael Nagrant is a local free-lance writer. Follow @michael nagrant.