Alpana Singh, who led the charge to bring the James Beard Awards ceremony to Chicago, is moving out. But not too far.
The master sommelier and restaurateur has made her mark in downtown Chi-Town, first with The Boarding House and then Seven Lions. Now she’s going farther afield with Terra & Vine in Evanston, Illinois—a little over 10 miles north of the Loop.
“First and foremost, I’m an entrepreneur and a businessperson. The landlord presented an opportunity that we couldn’t pass up,” she says.
A national Italian restaurant chain had recently vacated the space and the property owners were eager to replace it with a more local Italian concept. For Singh, whose restaurants have historically been difficult to describe in a single word, it was a chance to create a concept that fell into a clear category. Add to that, the property was already equipped with a 12-foot custom-made brick oven and a kitchen built for Italian fare.
Singh herself used to live in Rogers Park, just a few minutes away from Evanston, and says the diners in those areas aren’t so different from downtown guests—save for a few habits.
“The big difference between Evanston and downtown is that the downtown crowd can be somewhat transient with tourists visiting the Art Institute, etc.,” she says. “In Evanston, it’s more of a neighborhood.”
That community vibe along with its proximity to a theater means that Terra & Vine is less of a special-occasion destination and more of a regular haunt for locals. Within the first dozen days, Singh says, she’s already welcomed repeat customers, including some third timers.
Another difference from the big city is peak timing. Singh says many patrons are requesting reservations at 5 or 5:30 p.m. with even 7:30 being too late for some. Terra & Vine doesn’t serve lunch yet, but Singh is already witnessing a demand for that daypart.
The menu at Terra & Vine features elevated classics but with an adaptable format. Millennials may choose to share an assortment of piatti with their friends; families can find gourmet twists on staples like pizzettes and pasta; and traditionalists will flock to hearty entrées including the slow-roasted pork osso bucco and grilled swordfish.
Given her sommelier roots, Singh relished the opportunity to develop the wine list. With each restaurant she has whittled down the selection: about 500 bottles at Boarding House, 200 at Seven Lions, and now 75 to 80 at Terra & Vine. It may be a smaller list, but it is composed of Singh’s favorites. Plus it allows her to be more nimble within the restaurant.
“It’s kind of like life: If you have fewer things, then if you need to pick up and go, you can pick up and go,” she says.