Though he was born in Evanston and famously won an Iron Chef America cooking challenge (in the “Battle Hamburger” episode), Kerry Simon is far better known outside Chicago than here, thanks to his restaurants in Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Atlantic City.
That may change, now that the Hard Rock Hotel has renamed its restaurant (once China Grill, then Chuck’s Manufacturing) Chuck’s: A Kerry Simon Kitchen (224 N. Michigan Ave., 312-334-6700) and put the “Rock n’ Roll Chef” (a nickname Simon got via Rolling Stone magazine in 1991) in charge.
For Chicago Restaurant Week, Simon’s place is offering lunch ($22) and dinner ($33) menus, and either way, there’s only one dessert: The Junk Food Platter, a Proustian collection of unapologetically unhealthy childhood treats.
Along with a huge cloud of pink cotton candy, the platter presents house-made Cracker Jack in a Chinese takeout container, chocolate moon pie, chocolate-chip cookies, brownies, a Hostess-inspired cupcake (right down to the white curlicue topping the chocolate icing) and some Rice Krispies-style treats made with Cocoa Pebbles and Fruity Pebbles. It’s more a visual treat than a gustatory one, but those seeking a sugar rush can’t improve on this.
The rest of the lunch menu features a straightforward Caesar salad (note the pronounced garlic and anchovy presence if you’re headed back to the office) and a slightly overthick “Chicago clam chowder” containing clams, tomato and nubs of spicy Italian sausage. Middle courses include margherita flatbread pizza and the very good “Iron Chef Burger,” a re-creation of Simon’s challenge-winning effort; the burger is an easy choice over the bland pizza. And then there’s that dessert.
The dinner menu is more ambitous, offering chimichurri-accented chicken with farro and barley risotto, and rigatoni with fresh basil and house-made ricotta cheese.
The decor is one of raucous sophistication; the pewter, silver and black color scheme is sedate enough for business lunching, but there are TVs mounted throughout the dining room and bar, as well as a series of ceiling-mounted speakers — silent during lunch, but ready to commit aural mayhem when needed. This is the Hard Rock Hotel, after all.
Chicago Restaurant Week runs through Thursday, and features more than 300 restaurants offering three-course lunches ($22) and three- and four-course dinners ($33 and $44). For participating restaurants, menus and online reservations, go to choosechicago.com.@philvettel