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Turning Tables: Rick Tramonto Opens Nisos Prime in Chicago

Who’s behind it: For years, chef and restaurateur Rick Tramonto impressed Chicagoans and visitors at Tru, which earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award in 2004. Tramonto left in 2010, and the restaurant’s owner, the Lettuce Entertain You hospitality group, closed Tru in 2017. Since 2022, Tramonto, the author of several books and cookbooks, including 2011’s Scars of a Chef, has been executive chef and director of food and beverage for Chicago’s Parker Hospitality, overseeing restaurants such as the Hampton Social and Costera.

When it opened: Nisos Prime opened in November 2023, with Tramonto and Parker Hospitality breathing new life into the location that formerly housed Nisos, a Mediterranean-influenced restaurant that closed earlier last year.

[article-img-container][src=2024-01/restaurant-news-nisos-prime-seafood-tower-012425_1600.jpg] [credit= (Wade Hall for Parker Hospitality)] [alt= A tower of lobster, crab, oysters and shrimps at Nisos Prime][end: article-img-container]

The culinary approach: “What was exciting about the project was the fact that I could take all of this Mediterranean influence from Italy and France, Greece and Spain and drive it through a steak-house lens,” Tramonto told Wine Spectator via email. Nisos Prime offers choice cuts of beef, such as an 8-ounce hanger steak with frites, a 16-ounce bone-in strip, a 4-ounce Japanese A5 Wagyu and a 32-ounce dry-aged Porterhouse. Other menu items include an 8-ounce Campo Grande Ibérico tenderloin and prosciutto and other cured meats served from their own cart with optional Champagne pairings.

What’s on the wine list: Wine director Evie Olson assembled nearly 225 selections representing a 1,400-bottle inventory. The program primarily features France, Italy and California, along with Austria, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Oregon, Portugal and Spain. “We want to take our guests on a personalized journey where picking a bottle of wine is fun, never daunting, and hopefully elevates their dining experience to one that’s truly memorable” said Olson. There are well-known names like Burgundy’s Méo-Camuzet, Bordeaux’s Château Margaux, California’s Turley Wine Cellars and Tuscany’s Sassicia, from Tenuta San Guido. “It’s exciting to share wines I’ve come to love because I get to help our guests discover something new they’ll love too,” said Olson, noting selections from the Loire Valley’s Domaine Guiberteau, Oregon’s Kelley Fox and California’s Scherer Winery.

[article-img-container][src=2024-01/restaurant-news-nisos-prime-prosciutto-cart-012425_900.jpg] [credit= (Wade Hall for Parker Hospitality)] [alt= A member of Nisos Prime staff using a slicing machine to cut prosciutto slices][end: article-img-container]

As a tribute to the restaurant’s predecessor, Mediterranean regions feature prominently on the list, particularly among by-the-glass options. But there are additions: “Re-concepting into a steak house meant that we were able to add more pronounced, powerful and full-bodied wines that stand up to a porterhouse or tomahawk on the table,” said Olson.

The Design: Located on the second floor, Nisos Prime retains some of the cane design elements of the original Nisos (as seen in the lighting fixtures); leather seats, stone accents and indoor plants feature throughout the space. Hidden behind a bookshelf on the same level is the music-filled Lounge. Below, on the first floor, is the cocktail-focused Prime Bar, with its own dining room.—C.D.

David Kinch and Ritual Revive Manresa with Chef Residencies

In August 2022, news broke that Manresa, one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most celebrated fine restaurants (and a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner), would be closing after 20 years of operation; its owner, acclaimed chef David Kinch, planned to sell the property in Los Gatos, Calif. Since then, wine and food lovers have lamented the loss of the Silicon Valley institution.

But when one door closes, another opens. Not long after the closing, a new plan arose to keep the spirit of Manresa alive: Juan and Luis Caviglia, co-founders of Ritual—a culinary initiative that hosts dinners with celebrated chefs and venues—approached Kinch about using the former Manresa space as a permanent home for their enterprise. “Our biggest challenge has always been the rotating venue aspect,” Juan Caviglia observed. “It’s a lot of hard work and moving parts to set up a fine-dining restaurant every six weeks. We had been looking for a permanent place, but nothing made sense. When we met with David, our two visions merged.” Within a few months, planning began for a new concept: Ritual at Manresa.

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As of Jan. 17, Ritual at Manresa started hosting leading chefs for three-week residencies at the Manresa space. Each chef will transform the restaurant into a provisional home for their signature cooking style while using local and seasonal ingredients.

Juan Caviglia and Kinch acknowledge that including the Manresa name may require clarification, and they want to be clear that Manresa is not reopening its doors. While Kinch is intertwined with it, he acts only as an ambassador. “Me being involved makes it feel even more poignant as a continuation of Manresa’s legacy. Hence the title,” Kinch said. “We couldn’t have asked for a better continuation of [the] space. Another tenant could have come in, but the concept of Ritual makes so much sense [as a] next chapter.”

The space will host 48 guests for dinner, Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets ($450 per person, with optional wine and non-alcoholic beverage pairings) are already sold out for the first two residencies, from seafood-focused chef Ángel León of Spain and chef-restaurateur JP Park of New York Restaurant Award winners Atoboy, Naro and Atomix. Throughout the year, Ritual at Manresa will release tickets for subsequent residencies, such as those from chef Julien Royer of Singapore’s Odette and chef Arnaud Faye of Paris’ Château de la Chèvre d’Or (the final residency, set for December).

[article-img-container][src=2024-01/restaurant-news-ritual-juan-luis-caviglia-012524_1600.jpg] [credit= (Nacho Manzano)] [alt= Juan and Luis Caviglia in front of a piece of modern art depicting flowers][end: article-img-container]

“This will be a stage for chefs to take over,” Juan Caviglia added, noting that the lighting, music, plates, flatware and other specifics will change to represent the restaurant or region of each participating chef. To ensure complete experiences, the chefs are also bringing their own staff, including sous chefs, sommeliers and service captains. “Atomix is essentially bringing the entire team!” said Juan Caviglia.

That idea also extends to the wine program, which will evolve with each incoming chef through the bottles selected as pairings. Kinch believes that, with leftovers from previous dinners, the cellar will be full of exciting and diverse offerings after just a few months: “We’re not building a cellar right out of the gate. But this will allow [each restaurant] to make a contribution on a month-to-month basis and grow [the cellar] organically.”

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But Ritual at Manresa is more than just a venue for dining and wine. With this endeavor, Juan Caviglia has created a membership-based business. “Things like the philharmonic exist through annual contributions … We wondered, ‘Why doesn’t this exist in food?’” he explained. “The same way people would support music or other arts, members, in exchange, will have special nights devoted to them and access to invitation-only events and more.”

“We’re creating room for [experimenting]. Chefs and their teams can take a month off, come to California, make local connections, and play with local ingredients. It’s more of a theater experience,” said Juan Caviglia. “There will be different rooms for different parts of the experience. There will be a lot of surprises.”—A.R.

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