Vettel: Pacific Standard Time is ‘the best restaurant to open in 2018 so far’

CHICAGO -- Pacific Standard Time is an odd name for a restaurant that opened in Chicago during Central Daylight Time, but this two-month-old restaurant, headed by chef Erling Wu-Bower, is more about capturing style and the produce of the West Coast, which is where he learned to love food.

You do get a feeling of the outdoors in the dining room, which is filled with light and white shades and furniture that’s casual and comfortable. There’s an open display kitchen, which prominently features twin, wood-fueled hearths that do the bulk of the cooking.

One of the kitchen’s great products is the pita bread, which accompanies several dishes. This light, pull apart bread has a smoky aroma and excellent flavor, and serves as the main support for dishes such as the marinated tuna with green chickpea hummus, tahini and Turkish pepper. A different sort of bread, a sturdy seeded bread from Publican Quality Breads, is a key component of Harry’s Berries, a salad of California strawberries with hazelnuts, snap peas and stracciatella cheese. Pasta dishes shine here, particularly the shrimp-and-pork dumplings, swimming in a pork-rich broth with Napa cabbage and guanciale.

Entrée highlights include beautiful roasted cod, over fennel puree and marinated mushrooms. And you’ll want to recruit a friend or two for Whole-roasted duck, which arrives as a platter of medium-rare breast slices, with an apricot and chile glaze, along with pickled vegetables and herbs. Alongside is a crock, sealed with a thin pita layer, that holds seasoned duck meatballs  (15:08.55), braised white beans and kale, and a sherry-laced duck-stock broth. On the side are muhammara, a pepper and walnut spread, seasoned yogurt, and more of that wonderful pita bread.

All that pita may make you want to skip dessert, but that would be a tragic error; Natalie Saben, formerly at Grace restaurant, is doing excellent work here. I particularly like the huckleberry sundae, a deconstruction featuring huckleberry sherbet, honey ice cream, and shards of spiced meringue and dehydrated cake. Less artsy, but no less delicious, is her burnt olive-oil cake, topped with cara cara orange, lemon curd and crème fraiche ice cream.

I give Pacific Standard Time, 141 West Erie Street, three stars. I think PST is the best restaurant to open in 2018 so far, and I suspect I’ll feel the same way six months from now.