Friday, August 2, 2013

Michael Kornick's MK gets a makeover

Posted By on 08.02.13 at 01:34 PM

During the long period that Charlie Trotter has been closing and unclosing and selling off and unselling off his namesake restaurant, commenters have danced around what is perhaps the main reason nobody's jumped up to buy the place: By the end it was seriously dated. The white painted wood and jewel tones screamed 80s, the era of Nancy Reagan, Leona Helmsley, and Donald Trump, back when his name came preceded by "short-fingered vulgarian."

Michael Kornick came up through restaurants like Gordon at the same time as Trotter, but he didn't manage to open his own fine dining restaurant, MK, until a decade later, in 1998. As a result, MK's clean, minimalist loft space—in a former paint factory with a two-story-plus ceiling—hasn't aged in the same way. Like Blackbird, it looks more like the model dozens of today's restaurants riffed on.

But Kornick and his wife, Lisa, wanted to change it up anyway.

They nearly did in 2008, before the banking system collapsed. Since then Kornick, along with David Morton (of the steak-house family), has focused on upscale-casual places, building up an empire that stretches to 25 restaurants, including spots such as DMK Burger Bar (soon opening second and third locations), Fish Bar, Ada St, and the new Taylor Street addition County Barbeque.

Coming off the success of projects like those—concepted and systematized and meant to be replicable—he admits that a one-off, everything-by-hand fine dining place like MK "isn't the restaurant I'd tell anybody to open now as a consultant. It's basically a big family restaurant." Nevertheless, he and Lisa have signed a lease for 25 more years, giving MK the potential for stability and longevity unmatched by many high-end ventures.

Hence the revamp. Designwise, the biggest change at MK is up front—the pro forma lounge is now a real bar, with high-tops even. "We had these little short chairs and tables, and then people would want to eat in here, and we had to go through this big production of carrying a real table in and setting it down," Lisa Kornick explains.

Have a seat

To go with the new look there's a more modestly priced bar menu with things like oysters, charcuterie and, well, a burger, topped with sauteed hen of the woods mushrooms. Upscale as the last might sound, it manages to come off like its chef has cooked a few burgers before and knows what normal people like about them.

MKs new burger, trial-size version

Otherwise the changes are more subtle, like the handsome wood glassware-storage piece that replaced an earlier view straight into a couple of large wine coolers. Which, let's admit it, the restaurant, fine as its cellar may be, really didn't need to decorate with (YES, WE REALLY DO HAVE WINE. HERE IS SOME TO LOOK AT WHILE YOU EAT.)

Kornick isn't trying to turn MK into anything like his newer concepts, but having those places seems to have affected his outlook enough that he wants to be able to serve some of their customers at MK, too—younger ones who aren't going to buy a $400 bottle of wine at dinner. At least, not yet.

Michael Kornick and MK chef Erick Williams

MK, 868 N. Franklin, 312-482-9179, mkchicago.com

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