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North Pond

North Pond

Diners at North Pond, located in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, can’t help but notice the changing seasons as they walk to the restaurant or look out its windows. Its park setting is most fitting for a restaurant dedicated to serving seasonal foods.

A lagoon, complete with migrating geese, ducks, blue herons and century-old trees, makes visitors keenly aware of the time of year. Also, there is no road or parking lot outside the front or back door, requiring diners to walk on a paved path leading from the valet-parking area.

The 1912 building housing the Arts and Crafts-style restaurant originally was a warming shelter for ice skaters. Later, it was a park concession serving hot dogs.

Richard Mott, founder and quiet financial partner, has a foodservice background in university catering. A decade ago, he spent 18 months talking the Chicago Park District into leasing the building to him for a fine-dining restaurant.

“They eventually were supportive, and it’s been great,” he says.

“The key decision was made when I brought chef Bruce Sherman in as a partner and had the good sense to stay out of his way,” Mott says. “We have quite a talented staff of real professionals who don’t need micro-managing.”

Sherman, who hails from Chicago, switched from an initial career track in economics to the culinary arts while living in London and traveling around Europe and Asia. Learning to cook with foods available daily at the corner market while living in India led to his understanding of the importance of seasonality.

“In India, there was no access to out-of-season products then,” Sherman says. “For me, it was a relearning. You had to go to the market first and then decide what to cook. I do that here—it’s what drives my menus.”

Because of Chicago’s extreme winters, Sherman does not confine himself to local foodstuffs.

“I believe in using as much as I can that’s local, but seasonal is more important,” he says. He also seeks out products that are grown sustainably, rather than organically. “If something happens to be organic, that’s great, but flavor and how it’s grown are more important,” Sherman says.

From spring through fall, Sherman visits Green City Market, a half mile away. He shops there once or twice a week and says he enjoys watching his city neighbors learn about food from the farmers.

“It gets bigger every year,” says Sherman, who is on the market’s board of directors. “People are more conscious about what they are eating and where food comes from.”

WEBSITE:www.northpondcafe.comPER-PERSON CHECK AVERAGE: $75BEST-SELLING DISH: candied beet saladSEATS: 92AVERAGE WEEKLY COVERS: 700CHEF/CO-OWNER: Bruce ShermanCO-OWNER: Richard Mott

Sherman used to list specialty suppliers on his menu, but that grew unwieldy.

“It became more about the farms and less about the food,” he says. Now he lists links to the farms on the restaurant’s website.

Since Sherman favors French technique, learned at L’Ecole Superieure de Cuisine Française in Paris and through jobs at several French restaurants, he is a fan of cream and butter, especially in the winter. “I use a lot of sauces, but lighter in the summer,” he says.

About half of the customers save room for dessert, prepared by pastry chef Erika Masuda, who previously worked in Vienna, Austria, and at some of Chicago’s highly rated restaurants. After joining North Pond a year ago, Masuda says she finds the restaurant to be “an extremely inspirational environment.

“Bruce has enormous respect for the products, and that worked very well for me,” she says. Masuda often incorporates savory ingredients, such as white asparagus, snap peas or tomatoes in season, into her desserts.


Hazelnut-crusted frog legs, asparagus-carrot salad, farro, carrot-ginger syrup $12Warm ramp velouté soup, browned Maine crab cake, pickled watermelon radish $12

Grilled sablefish, bell pepper croqueta, lentils, chorizo, escarole, Marcona almonds $31Seared pastured veal tenderloin, braised breast, browned sweetbreads, caramelized fingerling potatoes, morels, sherry caramel $34 Aromatic-steamed halibut, potato waffle cake, asparagus, smoked caviar, caper relish $33

Warm inside-out rhubarb strudel, yogurt sorbet, pecan-almond streusel $9Dark chocolate soup, toasted brioche, candied kumquat, hazelnut semifreddo, whipped cream $9

While some customers consider North Pond a special-occasion restaurant, Sherman strives to make it a regular dinner destination for a local clientele. There is no dress code.

He describes the service style as “respectfully professional without being intrusive. It’s caring, educated and informative.” He spends up to a half hour in preshift meetings acquainting servers with the evening’s dishes and letting them taste those items.

Steve Dolinsky, WLS-TV food and lifestyle reporter and host of the “Hungry Hound” segment, describes Sherman as “a latter-day Midwest version of Alice Waters. He’s committed to the seasons and local produce. He has been so committed for so long that it’s good to see the trend catch up to him.”

Dolinsky also praises North Pond’s park location. “It’s also a drop-dead-gorgeous view,” he says. “There are few restaurants of that caliber with those kinds of surroundings. Something that’s related to the land really fits there. I like the little stroll afterwards.”

Several of Sherman’s fellow Chicago chef-owners also express their admiration for his work. According to Charlie Trotter, chef-owner of Charlie Trotter’s, “chef Bruce Sherman is one of the standard bearers in our city. He has set the bar in terms of using pristine product and utilizing local farms [and] markets. His contributions could not be more substantial for our gastronomic community.”

Paul Kahan, chef-partner of Chicago’s Blackbird restaurant, calls Sherman’s food “remarkable. His techniques are beautiful. It’s simple food that complements the Arts and Crafts-style space that is the most beautiful dining space in the city.

“North Pond is probably among the top two or three restaurants in Chicago that is really, truly seasonal, and for me that’s a really big deal,” Kahan says. “Bruce is a real perfectionist and has done a ton of really important work with the Green City Market.”

Rick Tramonto, chef-partner at Tru, Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood and Osteria di Tramonto, says of Sherman: “His philosophy of working with farmers markets and sustainable agriculture has always been inspiring. On top of that, he treats Midwestern ingredients and products with complete respect, which is tangible in the very fact of a dining experience at North Pond.”

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