The Reader reports that Premise, the Andersonville modernist restaurant in the former In Fine Spirits location, closed last night. Chef Brian Runge told Mike Sula that he was called into a meeting at 3:00 yesterday and told that the restaurant had been sold to the fast-expanding LM Bistro group. (The LM group refused to comment, saying that they had given the exclusive to some other publication— which means that all the stories will be written before then, completely without their having any ability to present their point of view or ensure that actual facts are involved. And that's much nicer than Sula put it.) Premise had one of the more difficult launches out of the gate, inasmuch as it was replacing a neighborhood spot with a more conceptual spot and there seemed to be instant consensus that despite being a prominent restaurant row, Andersonville wasn't ready for Runge's Graham Elliot-style food. (Never mind that many people there surely had eaten it when Runge was actually making it at Graham Elliot.)
This never made a great deal of sense to us when the same people were talking up equally conceptual spots in less inviting neighborhoods like Acadia and Goosefoot, but it was reinforced by the first review, David Tamarkin's in Time Out Chicago:
Why the owners would reconcept to try fine dining in a neighborhood that time and time again rejects it (please see Acre) is a question not just for food writers but for everybody in the neighborhood.
This is not just the greatest cocktail lounge north of Armitage Avenue; it's among the best in the city, somewhat in the vein of the Aviary's basement Office, with its hidden, dark, and clubby feel, but with better drinks and none of the exclusivity.
And from Michael Nagrant, who praised the Southern touch in Runge's modernist food:
What’s cool about Runge is that where most modernist cuisine is still often rooted in familiar gourmet paradigms, riffs on Caprese or Nicoise salad, and creme brulee bubbles or whatever, Runge is mining the deep American South and Latin America like no modernist really has.
We would generally share in this praise for Runge's food and looked forward to seeing where he was going with it. But after a full visit around the time of these later reviews, we could see why people were having some trouble with what Premise was meaning to be, mostly rooted in the fact that the physical layout, which fairly screamed neighborhood bar, didn't set you up for a Graham Elliot-type experience. As we said to the friend we went with, "Goosefoot's in an ordinary storefront but the moment you walk in, you know you're in a temple of gastronomy. You don't know what you're in at Premise." It was a neighborhood bar, it was a restaurant with chichi white leather chairs, there was a lounge upstairs if you knew it existed at all, there was artful cutting-edge food but almost folksy service— if the management didn't seem to have a firm hold on what they were, the customers never would.
Since the LM team are barred from speaking to reporters who are actually interested in helping publicize their restaurant in a timely fashion, we can only speculate on what's next for the space. And we understand Sula's exasperation that LM Bistros are popping up so fast that what started as a sign of new life for a neighborhood in Lincoln Square now comes off like a McBistro chain killing neighborhood diversity. (Again, we put it nicer than he did.) As for Runge, we can do no better than Michael Nagrant, who tweeted:
Brian Runge is an incredible talent. If you're looking for a chef, you should snatch him up now that he's on the market.