Close Range

Sepia mas­ter­mind An­drew Zim­mer­man opens his new hotspot next door, Proxi

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What’s caus­ing the renowned chef’s in­som­nia? Af­ter eight years helm­ing the Miche­lin-starred Sepia, a foodie in­sti­tu­tion, Zim­mer­man is open­ing his sec­ond res­tau­rant, aptly named Proxi, im­me­di­ately next door. “It’s the sopho­more al­bum and I think peo­ple will have jus­ti­fi­ably high ex­pec­ta­tions,” he says. “We don’t want to dis­ap­point.”

He’s cer­tainly got the city buzzing: Din­ing web­site dubbed Proxi one of the most an­tic­i­pated open­ings of 2017. Chicago mag­a­zine’s fa­mous critic Penny Pol­lack has been re­port­ing on its ru­mors since March 2016. Now, af­ter two years in the works, the res­tau­rant is fi­nally open­ing its doors—and a win­dow into Zim­mer­man’s mind. He’s pre­vi­ously de­scribed the cui­sine as glob­ally in­flu­enced street food, but the chef would like to clar­ify: “I’m re­fus­ing to be bound by ‘it’s only ac­cept­able if it’s street food.’ [That was] a way of giv­ing peo­ple some­thing they could un­der­stand,” he ex­plains. “I want it to be only things that I think are tasty and they can be from any­where. There’s no name for a res­tau­rant like that—other than con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can, which doesn’t tell you very much.”

Ex­pect fla­vor-filled share­able dishes, like tan­doori veal sweet­breads with burnt egg­plant, pre­served lemon and mint rel­ish, grilled lamb ribs with mango bar­beque or coal-roasted mus­sels with nduja but­ter. Un­like its more for­mal neigh­bor, Proxi is de­signed to be ca­sual and con­vivial. “You can’t make a mis­take. You can roll up your sleeves and dig in. You can eat with your hands,” says Zim­mer­man. “It’s not sup­posed to be any­thing but a good time.”

The dé­cor (done by New York firm Meyer Davis) is char­ac­ter­ized as an Amer­i­can brasserie—think blackened steel, black wood, leather and brass. An open kitchen will keep the vibe en­er­getic and let the cooks en­gage with guests while they char dishes over the large, cus­tom, wood-burn­ing hearth. “Cook­ing over fire is one of the things that ties my mul­ti­cul­tural sen­si­bil­i­ties to­gether,” Zim­mer­man says. “Whether you’re grilling fish on a beach in Mex­ico or get­ting satay from a lit­tle char­coal grill in Bangkok, ev­ery­body is cook­ing some­thing over wood or char­coal.”

While Zim­mer­man is cer­tainly feel­ing the heat in and out of the kitchen, he’s try­ing to keep a cool head and isn’t mak­ing any prom­ises. “If one works un­der the as­sump­tion that I am above av­er­age as a cook,” he starts mod­estly, “then at least you’re go­ing to some­one who has a lit­tle ex­per­tise in this depart­ment who’s say­ing, ‘I cu­rated this thing for you, it’s de­li­cious, come and try it.’ It’s not go­ing to al­ways be for ev­ery­body. But what is?”

565 W. Randolph St., 312.441.1920, prox­i­

Bone-in rib-eye with ssam­jang but­ter and smoked salt

Coal-roasted mus­sels

Fresh in­gre­di­ents used at Proxi

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