Slapping a coat of paint on the walls of an old space and setting up unflattering decor seems to be the trend lately for many restaurants/lounges. Stripping the dining space of pretension allows the cuisine to be the focus; at least, that's the way Schwa justifies its mostly unadorned space. The A-listers who eagerly anticipated this Wicker Park spot's reopening (chef/owner Michael Carlson closed his acclaimed restaurant in 2007 to refuel) seem to buy into it, anyway.
On the outside, a cloth-covered door maintains unsuccessfully removed graffiti-war wounds while the restaurant's sign begs for a wash. On the inside, you'll find apple-green walls, white tablecloths and a couple vases of dried out flora and pheasant tails. Two small chandeliers light an entire room that holds less than 30 people, which is why one customer had to make 10 phone calls to get a reservation.
Carlson, one of Food & Wine's best new chefs of 2006, makes the room design an afterthought with his creations. "Part of the ambiance is the food," say the bearded cooks here (they also serve and bus tables), and you're mostly expected to adhere to the fixed menus (though they will accommodate those with special dietary requests).
A Bone Thugs 'N' Harmony soundtrack beats overhead as guests are served three-course meals ($55), which generally include a choice of lamb or Amish chicken. More ambitious eaters might explore the nine-course meal ($105), including uku, cauliflower soup and panzanella. The staff recites a bio of each dish upon presentation and rewards enthusiastic groups with off-the-menu creations like sea urchin ice cream or white truffle topped with buffalo ricotta and stuffed with a quail egg, sunny side up. BYO and expect a corkage fee of $2.50 per person.
Average cost: $31+
Centerstage Reviewer: David-Anthony Gonzalez