Vermilion, the fabled Indian and Latin American fusion restaurant in River North, has hit a crossroads. Final week, the restaurant unveiled a brand new look and menu because the venue approaches its 17th birthday. Throughout that point, proprietor Rohini Dey noticed America’s urge for food for Indian meals remodel, together with Hubbard Road — the as soon as quiet hall the place the restaurant sits. The strip is now residence to a boisterous set of bars that draws vacationers and partiers close to Downtown Chicago.
Vacationers aren’t one thing River North eating places should issue into current buyer bases, because the novel coronavirus has worn out tourism. However Vermilion has supplied takeout in the course of the pandemic, displaying a willingness to adapt to the instances. The restaurant additionally provides an out of doors patio alongside Hubbard. Chicago now has a scant 4 choices in the event that they need to eat South Asian meals outside (Rooh, Eggoholic, Chiya Chai on the Chicago Riverwalk).
This isn’t the primary time Dey, who holds a doctorate in worldwide enterprise, has made modifications. She additionally refreshed the interiors and menus in 2015. Dey had deliberate the modifications to the restaurant earlier than the pandemic pressured the state to shut eating places in mid-March. Dey noticed two paths for Vermilion. It may finish a future on Hubbard Road and never trouble reopening in the course of the pandemic. The opposite alternative was to make some modifications. Vermilion now even serves spirit-free drinks.
“We weren’t going to do the established order,” Dey says.
Vermilion gained nationwide acclaim after it opened in 2004. That led to a New York spin off with writer Salman Rushdie as an investor. Dey professed that she’s a fan of literature, together with the works of the Satanic Verses writer. Rushdie was additionally married to Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi. Huge Apple critics, together with those at Eater, didn’t obtain Vermillion with open arms. Vermilion New York closed in 2018.
Final 12 months noticed an explosion of recent Indian meals in Chicago. Rooh arrived in West Loop. Different large openings included Superkhana International in Logan Sq. and Vajra (which additionally serves Nepalese delicacies) in West City. Dey sat on a panel with lots of Chicago’s outstanding South Asian cooks final 12 months at Chicago Gourmand. Indian meals was inflicting some buzz in Chicago, and Vermillion had an opportunity to be a part of it.
The area obtained a couple of beauty modifications that Dey says brings extra gentle into the room. The menu has been streamlined so clients can eat heavy or gentle. Gone are the gaudy tasting menus; Vermilion’s signature lobster dish was additionally reduce. Every month, the menu may even spotlight a distinct worldwide delicacies, hoping to present a voice to the marginalized. For August, Vermilion’s providing a rijstafel, paying homage to Indonesia that includes beef or jackfruit rendang. Chicago solely has one Indonesian restaurant, the ghost kitchen run by Bumbo Roux.
Different new menu additions embody an emphasis on Indian avenue meals. A curry leaf tamarind paneer is a spotlight. There are additionally pakoras (fritters), and charred chile en mole.
Dey, additional embracing social justice cues, additionally consulted along with her workers on objects designed to maintain urgent points in focus. Some restaurant homeowners really feel they’ve a accountability to verify clients aren’t in a bubble. Alinea tried this at its rooftop pop-up, however the now notorious coronavirus canapé drew varied criticism.
At Vermilion, Dey and firm added a drink known as the Black Fist, which pays homage to Black Lives Matter. There’s additionally a dessert known as “Black, Brown & White Dissolution.” Dey is OK if critics needs to accuse her of pandering. It’s wouldn’t be the primary time.
“We had a drink known as ‘Impeachment,” she says, referring to her views on the White Home administration.
For years, Dey has raised her voice on quite a lot of subjects, together with girls’s points. She’s the founding father of the James Beard Foundation’s Women in Culinary Leadership Program and has made a number of TV appearances to debate points affecting the restaurant business. She wrote a May column for CNN the place she painted a bleak pandemic image for eating places.
Dey chuckled on the reception she obtained for the work. She’ll proceed to train that voice, and he or she’ll do this whereas working a reinvented restaurant. Stroll via the area beneath.