LAKEVIEW — It would have been easy to cut his losses and walk away from Lincoln Avenue.
Perhaps not easy, exactly — deciding to close Ani in January was "definitely difficult" for owner Ty Fujimura. He had opened at 3056 N. Lincoln Ave. in March 2014, partnering with his brother on the sibling eatery to West Town's Arami.
But after two years, "the numbers just didn't work out," financially, Fujimura said.
"As a business person, you have to look at points in time, and I've done restaurants long enough to know what those points are and when we need to pivot," he said.
Instead of walking away from the woefully neglected corridor, Fujimura reinvested in his storefront, with its tall glass towers and a "really funky, dramatic vibe."
On Friday, it reopens as Entente, a much-hyped accord between Fujimura and some of Chicago's top chefs. Refined to a seasonally driven a la carte menu that crosses into a breadth of cuisines, Entente (pronounced "ahn-tahnt") is meant to be the place where neighborhood eatery meets Downtown elegance.
Former Schwa chef de cuisine Brian Fisher and Mari Katsumura (pastry chef of Grace and Acadia fame and daughter to the late Yoshi Katsumura) have designed dishes that will be both familiar and exotic.
As Fujimura fine-tuned the restaurant's first menu, his standouts include the chicken liver mousse, topped with concord grape jelly and served with crumpets. He's also very fond of the creamy, risotto-like Carolina Gold rice dusted with black truffle and hard cheese.
Carolina Gold rice dish from Entente, which opens Friday in Lakeview. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
The pork belly is a decadent fall dish flanked with apple, celery root and pecan streusel. While items like the cheeseburger or kale salad might sound commonplace, "you read kale and think something different, and when you get it, it just blows your mind," Fujimura said. In the case of the salad, the Thai herbs, sunflower seeds and crispy black kale are the unexpected kickers.
Desserts include a melon cheesecake almost too pretty to eat and a sassafras and sour cherry profiterole, or cream puff.
The melon and violet cheesecake comes with dainty decoration at Entente, which opens Friday in Lakeview. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Beverage director Angie Silberberg created an extensive program with "inventive" cocktails, Chicago beers, and wines and sakes from around the world.
"If you're a destination diner looking for some place special, you can check this off for sure," Fujimura said. Yet he wanted Entente to be, at its roots, a neighborhood restaurant.
The restaurant will take, at most, 40 reservations each day, allowing room for walk-in diners. The effort to make it accessible is also apparent on the menu, which features a burger with pimento cheese and fries and a chicken meat pie filled with rutabaga and leeks.
The 40-seat restaurant has forgone the creamy coolness of Ani in favor of rich earth tones, a dusty Dutch blue juxtaposed with chocolate browns and pine accents.
Coming from a family of carpenters and hardware storekeeps, Fujimura said "we were doing that same thing as the menu with the look, making it a little more dimensional."
Entente is replacing Ani, a sushi restaurant that opened in 2014. Owner Ty Fujimura said it was time to revamp the struggling eatery after two years in business. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
Currently, Entente's facade is in stark contrast to many of its neighbors, vacant buildings with ripped awnings and expansive home decor storefronts. Except for those dropping off children at Little Marvels or in the market for a new rug, Lincoln Avenue has been a little lacking in recent years, some say.
But that seems to be changing, according to Fujimura and other entrepreneurs along the street. The 41-year-old nods to pioneers like Heritage Bicycles and Waxman Candles — along with the return of the No. 11 bus — as encouraging others to plant roots on Lincoln.
Owner Ty Fujimura discusses the innerworkings of his four restaurants, which include the soon-to-open Entente. [DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung]
"Maybe we'll be part of the reason why this becomes a great corridor," he said. "I'd be really surprised if this time next year, a lot of these empty storefronts weren't full with some sort of retail."
Fujimura (one of Chicago's 50 most beautiful people, according to Chicago magazine) has a good eye for up-and-coming corridors, having settled on Chicago Avenue and Division Street just before they exploded with new business.
"When we opened up Arami on Chicago six years ago, we could tell how crowded it was going to be based on how many cars were in front of our restaurant, because that was it," Fujimura said. "Now I can't find parking."
His three other restaurants include Arami, Small Bar and Heineken Pub97 and generally range between $11-$30 per person.
The Avondale resident was struck by a disastrous setback last week, when a fire closed down Arami, likely until early November.
"There's no good time for this to happen," Fujimura told the Tribune. "But it was certainly unexpected."
"Let's be honest, Starbucks does their research, and so does Whole Foods," he said. "I didn't even have to do my [demographic] research — they did it for me."
Entente will open at 5 p.m. with dinner service at 5:30 p.m. It will be open until 11 p.m.
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