There’s a curveball in this equation, and that’s the restaurant’s location: 3056 N. Lincoln Ave. It is formerly the home of Fujimura’s restaurant Ani, a sister spot to Arami in West Town that lasted two years. There’s a Starbuck’s on the corner and Jimmy John’s across the street. It’s not exactly a fine-dining destination. Hell, it’s not even a regular dining destination. It’s a dead zone between bustling Belmont and the more vibrant block of Lincoln that is home to Delilah’s and Barrelhouse Flat. It means the team must slowly build trust with a clientele that might not know what “natural wine” is (essentially wine made with little interference, artificial ingredients, or chemicals) or want to eat sweetbreads. Fisher toes the line by using familiar ingredients with elevated preparations and presentations, while Fujimura makes sure the staff is educated about every element of every dish as well as every wine on the list.
The words “approachable” and “simple” are apt in describing Fisher’s food at Entente. There’s a burger, but there’s also duck with smoked blackberries and miso yogurt. The wedge salad is a sliced head of lettuce with the center cut out. It looks like a donut. The lettuce round is garnished with a mosaic of bacon, gorgonzola, and croutons with green goddess dressing filling the hole in the middle. A simple bowl of Carolina Gold rice is upgraded with drops of duck egg yolk and truffle shavings, while chicken breasts are brined in chai tea and served alongside curry and coffee. The restraint adds another layer to Fisher’s intrigue. It’s fancy food for not-so-fancy eaters.
Will this delicate balance of high-end food in a casual restaurant with pedestrian ingredients transformed by gourmet techniques translate to the diner, or just leave them in a confused culinary haze? Will they care about food that looks like it should be served on white tablecloths alongside a bottle of wine that costs as much as your rent, but instead is offered a la carte for about $18 dollars per plate? Will they even know who Brian Fisher is? Therein lies the source of the uncertainty that keeps creeping its way into our conversation in between tracks of Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” album. We’re on our second glass of wine and Fisher is still trying to figure out who else is on my imaginary “best new chefs” list. I turn his curiosity on him, asking him how he compares himself to other Chicago chefs.
“I don’t,” Fisher says (although his harping on the other chefs on my radar suggests otherwise). “If I were to do that, I would never do anything. I would be too wrapped up in my own head, too nervous. If I were to sit and compare myself to other people, I’d probably kill myself.” Enter pastry chef Mari Katsumura, quite literally, with a plate of lime green gel that looks like slime but tastes like sesame, soy, and nasturtium. Like Fisher, much of her career has been defined by the household-name chefs she worked for. These names include Curtis Duffy at Grace, Ryan McCaskey at Acadia, and Dana Cree at Blackbird. Their menus, both savory and sweet, were not entirely their own, dictated by the chefs who they reported to, until Entente. Together, her and Fisher are stumbling across the finish line that is having opened their first restaurant.