Widely noted as one of the industry’s most celebrated hospitality groups, One Off Hospitality—which has now captured eight James Beard awards for excellence, as well as many more nominations and high profile accolades—officially opened the doors to Café Cancale on Monday, May 13. This entirely new restaurant by Partners Paul Kahan, Donnie Madia, Terry Alexander & Eduard Seitan, is located at 1576 North Milwaukee and joins One Off’s nearby concepts Dove’s Luncheonette, Big Star and The Violet Hour on a historic six-corner block of Chicago’s booming Wicker Park neighborhood. Kahan, who was recognized with the James Beard Foundation’s highest honor of “Outstanding Chef” (tied with David Chang in 2013) will be joined by chef de cuisine AJ Walker (Publican Anker, The Publican, Publican Quality Meats) to present oysters, a dedicated raw bar, fresh seafood and French-ish fare.
“On my 50th birthday, my wife asked me if I could celebrate anywhere in the world, where would it be?” says Kahan. “I picked a small, sleepy town on the Western coast of Brittany, France called Cancale, which also happens to be one of the biggest oyster ports in Europe; it’s often referred to as the ‘oyster capital of France’. So together with my friend and associate, Thomas Schlesser—who also happens to be our designer—and his wife Claire, the four of us drove down the coast and traveled to Cancale. Here, we indulged in lazy afternoons of amazing wine, fresh seafood and the best oysters we’ve ever had. I also had the opportunity to have breakfast with one of my biggest chef inspirations, Olivier Roellinger, who is a native of Cancale. It was a once in a lifetime experience that forever shaped the way I look at food.”
Initially opening to the public for dinner service only, Café Cancale will focus on classic French cuisine prepared with a lighter twist while using ingredients local to Chicago; a trademark stamp that has often earned Kahan the reputation as the face of Midwestern cuisine. Look for hors d’oeuvres from Kahan & Walker such as yellow chicories with smoked eel, poached egg, pancetta and a potato crisp, savory clams with boudin blanc, escargot, chickpeas and ramps, as well as entrées such as Trout Meunière with truffle peach olives, breakfast radish, brown butter vinaigrette and almonds, and the Buttered Lobster Bialy with fromage blanc and poppy seeds. There will also be European coffee service complemented by pastries such as the maple and rye Kouign Amann (a Breton specialty cake), seasonal crepes, and sweet cream sundaes. Finally, fresh baguettes will be baked daily by newly awarded 2019 James Beard winner for Outstanding Baker, Greg Wade, and will be available for walk-in and takeaway sale in Wicker Park.
Partner Eduard Seitan, who has earned his acclaim and the admiration of his peers for avec’s focus on little-known wines, has thoughtfully curated a list of over 60 seafood-friendly, French and coastal wines at Café Cancale with a sparkling, cider and white option on draft. “Look for mostly French wines with interesting exceptions from other ‘poisson’-loving locales like Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal,” says Seitan. “We’re talking light, bright, fresh, chuggable, ‘porch-pounding’ grape juice and natural wines with little to no-oak presence—like the Gamay glass-pour from Beaujolais. Bring on the glou-glou!”
Bar Supervisor Scott Kennedy’s (PUBLIC NYC, Kind Regards, Beatnik) beverage program features French spirits, and classically-driven cocktails, with an array of amari and liqueur hailing from northern France and the Greater Alps. Influenced by French cafés of the 1920s and ‘30s, the drinks at Café Cancale are inspired by those that were popular in expatriate-era Paris, with an emphasis on select Cognac, Armagnac and Calvados brandies, rum/rhum agricoles from historical French Colony islands of the Antilles, as well as aperitif/mistelle, pastis, absinthe and digestifs produced throughout France, Austria, and Italy. Kennedy will also present a small but concise selection of canned and bottled beers, such as the Jenlain Ambrée, a French Bière de Garde style amber ale, and the sole draft pick, the Kronenbourg 1664 pale lager.
Having undergone a full interior overhaul, One Off has created a more design-forward space by working with Thomas Schlesser and his firm Design Bureaux, who have helped the group capture accolades at Blackbird, avec and The Publican. Café Cancale seamlessly incorporates new touch points that give the restaurant a much more distinct feel, using a layered palette of blue and cream hues through Terrazzo and inlay marble floors, as well as a white Carrara marble bar and tables, and plush banquette seating, among several other differentiating design elements.