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California Dream

Ariel Cheung | June 26, 2018 | Feature Features

Two locals with stellar pedigrees step out on their own with Pacific Standard Time, a sunny River North eatery with delightful dishes and West Coast vibes.
The spacious bar and dining room at Pacific Standard Time are flooded with light from LaSalle Drive-facing windows.

The way chef Erling Wu-Bower sees it, the intermingling of cuisines found in California has become a veritable cuisine in its own right. Wu-Bower (The Publican, Nico Osteria) first fell for the fresh, vibrant fare during his high school years when his mother, an acclaimed food writer and Chinese immigrant, moved from the Chicago suburbs to San Francisco. As her inventive dishes began to incorporate bountiful California produce and ingredients from Chinese markets, Mexican stands and Thai storefronts, Wu-Bower’s visits were filled with meals that could only be found in such a melting pot. “Really, we’re cooking supremely American food,” he notes.

For Wu-Bower’s own take on this rich mosaic of flavors, step inside Pacific Standard Time, where clever, colorful plates are matched by an intimately casual space where he and partner Joshua Tilden continue to promote the “all are welcome” philosophy held dear by One Off Hospitality. The two spent a combined 15 years there before breaking off to form Underscore Hospitality and partner with One Off to open their first solo venture, where the menu is anchored by soulful dishes straight from two wood-fired hearths. “Dishes roasted in the wood oven get this spirit—this delicious, tangy smoke from the oak we use—and California cuisine refers to that type of spirit,” Wu-Bower says.

Fittingly, start off with the wood oven-baked pita, texturally flawless and an ideal vehicle for accompanying beef tartare and creamy tonnato ($17), eggplant or ahi tuna. Be warned: It will ruin all other pita for you. Each starter is well-constructed with smart, fresh accents, like the burrata’s coupling with English peas and walnuts, which adds a unique nuttiness to the cheese, one of the smoothest in its class ($15). Chicken wings ($14) are tossed in a thick fish sauce that renders the coating to an almost gummy texture in an intensely craveable way.


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