Inspired by the countries that hug the Mediterranean Sea, Kostali—“coastal” in Maltese—opens Tuesday, Dec. 10 in the fifth-floor lobby of The Gwen, offering a Mediterranean experience in the heart of Chicago.
The restaurant is a partnership between The Gwen and James Beard Award-winning chef Carrie Nahabedian, who along with her cousin, Michael Nahabedian, bring hospitality experience to the hotel in the McGraw-Hill building on Michigan Avenue. DiamondRock Hospitality Company is the ownership group for Kostali and The Gwen.
“After our renovation two years ago, developing a new high-caliber restaurant was one of the final pieces to complete a true luxury experience for our guests,” says Michael Ditterline, general manager of The Gwen. “Kostali is a destination in itself, adding another layer to our hotel offerings and creating an even more desirable oasis for travelers coming through Chicago.”
Nahabedian, best known for her Chicago restaurants Naha and Brindille, looked to the coastal cuisines of Spain, Italy, France, Greece, Tunisia, Lebanon, Israel and Morocco for inspiration, thoughtfully weaving together ingredients and techniques into dishes.
“Think about when you start planning a beach vacation and how excited you feel about being relaxed, without a care in the world,” says Carrie. “That is how our food will be.”
Spiced pita chips and a variety of tapas such as Pecorino-dusted potato chips and Greek fries with lemony yogurt dip will greet guests at the bar upon arrival.
Menu highlights include Whole Roasted Loup de Mer with fregola sarda; Hummus with spiced lamb, radish and walnuts, a nod to Carrie and Michael’s Armenian and Greek heritage; housemade Garganelli with braised clams, prawns and feta cheese butter; and Tagine of Baby Chicken with carrots, chickpeas, candied citrus and couscous.
Nahabedian is a big fan of bread service, which will feature housemade tahini spiral rolls and rustic loaves from Publican Quality Breads served with Greek extra virgin olive oil, taramasalata, whipped feta and other spreads.
Desserts include a quince and almond Tarte Tatin with Turkish Delight ice cream, caramel and butternut squash; olive oil Basque Cake with mascarpone, pomegranate and Turkish apricots; and Kazandibi “Ottoman” Custard flavored with mastiha and orange blossom.
Michael Nahabedian, who also created the wine programs at Naha and Brindille, follows his cousin’s lead, pulling from the Mediterranean coastal regions, in particular his native Greece, and sourcing from small producers with whom he has developed strong relationships over the decades.
“It’s really beautiful to be able to say you’ve walked in the vineyard of a wine that you feature in your restaurant,” he says.
The wine list is arranged by region rather than varietal, with red, white and sparkling by-the-glass options that encourage guests to explore outside their comfort zone. Posip, a white-wine grape grown almost exclusively on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, is one such example of a lesser-known wine worth discovering on Kostali’s list.
Should guests see a bottle they’re curious to try, a by-the-glass pour is available, “We want Kostali to be interactive and fun,” says Michael.
For the concise cocktail menu, spirits professional Peter Vestinos offers a preview to the dining experience at Kostali. Exploring Mediterranean-centric ingredients, the cocktails will be bright, herbal and citrus-driven.
Regional spirits, ranging from Greece’s ouzo and Italy’s limoncello to the ubiquitous pastis of the South of France, will be paired with more familiar ingredients in the half-dozen or so drinks providing a user-friendly introduction. Vestinos has also sourced a number of rare spirits, including tentura, a cinnamon and clove liqueur, from Greece. “I want these cocktails to open up palates and minds to new flavors,” says Vestinos.
Creating a restaurant inside a hotel with its own identity has its challenges. But BUREAUIAD Principal Tom Nahabedian, cousin to Carrie and brother to Michael, was more than up for it. The designer, who won a James Beard Award for Outstanding Restaurant Design for Brindille and also designed Naha, channels Kostali’s Mediterranean muse, evoking a feeling of relaxation throughout the 2,367-square-foot space, formerly Circa.
Once guests pass through the bronze-toned metal screens inspired by satellite imagery and nautical maps of global coastlines, the transporting experience begins. Atop the nine-seat round bar in the lounge is an ocean-blue enameled lava stone. Underfoot, diagonally cut terrazzo tile, featuring marble from the famed Carrara mountains that hug the Italian Riviera coastline, are reminiscent of Old Italian palazzos.
Color combinations of varying shades of blue and soft browns offset by brass-toned metals pervade the space, most notably in customized wall coverings that flank opposite walls in the 68-seat dining room. Overhead is a custom light fixture composed of alternating panels of illuminated pale blue ribbed glass and stained white oak, all captured by a brass-toned aluminum frame. The thin composition extends the guest’s eye from the entry to the back of the dining room, culminated by a waterfall end that lands at the floor.
“Carrie, Michael and I have a family heritage that goes back to the countries of the Mediterranean and a love of the region. So much that it inspires us on a daily basis,” says Tom. “Personally, I’m excited for the public to experience Carrie’s passion for the flavors of the Riviera that we, as a family, have had the pleasure to personally experience in our homes for years.”