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Pacific Standard Time Review Chicago

The spacious bar and dining room at Pacific Standard Time are flooded with light from LaSalle Drive-facing windows.

FEATURES

California Dream

By Ariel Cheung

Photography by Jason Little

06.26.18

Two locals with stellar pedigrees step out on their own with Pacific Standard Time, a sunny River North eatery with delightful dishes and West Coast vibes.

The way chef Erling Wu-Bower sees it, the intermingling of cuisines found in California has become a veritable cuisine in its own right. Wu-Bower (The Publican, Nico Osteria) first fell for the fresh, vibrant fare during his high school years when his mother, an acclaimed food writer and Chinese immigrant, moved from the Chicago suburbs to San Francisco. As her inventive dishes began to incorporate bountiful California produce and ingredients from Chinese markets, Mexican stands and Thai storefronts, Wu-Bower’s visits were filled with meals that could only be found in such a melting pot. “Really, we’re cooking supremely American food,” he notes.

For Wu-Bower’s own take on this rich mosaic of flavors, step inside Pacific Standard Time, where clever, colorful plates are matched by an intimately casual space where he and partner Joshua Tilden continue to promote the “all are welcome” philosophy held dear by One Off Hospitality. The two spent a combined 15 years there before breaking off to form Underscore Hospitality and partner with One Off to open their first solo venture, where the menu is anchored by soulful dishes straight from two wood-fired hearths. “Dishes roasted in the wood oven get this spirit—this delicious, tangy smoke from the oak we use—and California cuisine refers to that type of spirit,” Wu-Bower says.

Fittingly, start off with the wood oven-baked pita, texturally flawless and an ideal vehicle for accompanying beef tartare and creamy tonnato ($17), eggplant or ahi tuna. Be warned: It will ruin all other pita for you. Each starter is well-constructed with smart, fresh accents, like the burrata’s coupling with English peas and walnuts, which adds a unique nuttiness to the cheese, one of the smoothest in its class ($15). Chicken wings ($14) are tossed in a thick fish sauce that renders the coating to an almost gummy texture in an intensely craveable way.

Pacific Standard Time Review Chicago

Roasted skirt steak ($28) is fired up in the wood-burning oven and served atop salt-baked new potato salad and covered with ramps, pea puree, red onions and salsa macha.

Just as intense, the mushroom pizza ($18) is packed with flavor. Its crust is thin and nicely crisp, while cremini mushrooms and XO sauce play off pungent stracchino cheese. Ham and poblano pizza ($17) is similarly enjoyable, particularly when dipped in ranch, as our server suggested—pedestrian, perhaps, but delicious enough you won’t mind.

Pacific Standard Time is meant to function as a neighborhood restaurant, which, to Wu-Bower, means “it’s not a special-occasions-only restaurant. It’s a place you take your parents on Monday, then go out with your boyfriend on Thursday.” The restaurant feels intimate in a way that’s hard to capture in a photograph. While the crisp white walls and clean lines are indicative of sparse, coastal vibes, there’s decided warmth.

At the center of the dining room, artful bar manager Scott Stroemer plays with tequila and mezcal in his Oaxaca Old Fashioned ($11) and a fun Spring Market Paloma ($10) made with snap pea-infused tequila, honeydew-jalapeno shrub and Cel-Ray soda. Wine director Zach Jones is just as adept—we particularly enjoyed the distinctive Enfield Wine Co. Pretty Horses red blend ($78 per bottle).

Wu-Bower relies upon California’s Monterey Fish Market to steer him toward the best offerings of the season. During a recent visit, that meant roasted black cod with fennel puree and jalapeno ($35), trout with chili-dill vinaigrette and perfectly crisp skin ($27) and buttery swordfish ($32), which featured a nice underlying note of fresno chili. It’s no surprise the roasted ribeye ($65), sourced from Slagel Family Farm, is flavorful, tender and hefty enough for two or three people. But roasted skirt steak ($28) is just as tasty and comes with salt-baked potatoes that are sinfully good.

Pastry chef Natalie Saben delivers with very satisfying desserts, from the sculptural huckleberry sundae ($11) to burnt olive oil cake topped with lemon curd, creme fraiche ice cream and an optional $25 add-on of caviar that feels deliciously indulgent. Harry’s Berries supplies the freshest of strawberries to pair with sunflower seed-laced cotton cake ($14), and I preferred the light dessert to its appetizer counterpart.

It might seem contradictory to declare oneself a neighborhood restaurant while situated a stone’s throw from tourist-laden spots like Hard Rock Cafe. But to Wu-Bower, it’s what’s inside the restaurant—and what you get out of it—that counts.  

Pacific Standard Time Review Chicago

The Rhubarb Spritz ($10) is a bright taste of summer, made with vermouth, rhubarb shrub, celery bitters and sparkling water, and available spirit-free.

PACIFIC STANDARD TIME 
141 W. Erie St., 312.736.1778

Sun.­-Thu., 5-10pm; Fri. and Sat., 5-11pm; Sun. brunch, 10am-2pm

Starters, $12-$19; entrees, $20-$85; desserts, $9-$15; cocktails, $10-$12