The phrase that Mark Salmon has splayed above his maître d’ table at Winnetka’s 501 Local is a perfect summation of the restaurant’s charms. It’s just five words in total—puzzling at first glance, then ultimately prophetic of the dining experience to follow. Salmon’s initial message to his guests reads: “Food is My Favorite Color.”
The restaurant doesn’t simply lean into the old saying “you eat with your eyes first,” it embraces it with a smothering bear hug. Salmon, a former GM at Little Ricky’s, says he wanted guests to feel like they booked a table at a boutique bistro in the Hamptons. A base white color scheme accented with flashes of blacks and tans acts as a blank canvas for verdant green plants and incredibly colorful plates of American classics accented with Asian flavors.
Dining outside on the restaurant’s two-tier patio is a summertime and early fall treat. Potted plants act as centerpieces. Frilly tree branches yawn over every table providing dappled pockets of shade. And rustling leaves crawling up one exterior wall feel like an homage to the iconic ivy spindles that blanket Wrigley Field.
The Hamptons? Maybe. A botanic garden-worthy scene? Without a doubt.
The menu itself delivers clean, simple, and almost spa-like fare. Salmon wanted a menu that would appeal to health-conscious female diners—cucumber gazpachos plus huge Brussels sprout, kale, and spinach salads supplemented with proteins of your choice. But also a place that comfort-food spouses would fall in love with, too: Think Buffalo wings, gruyere-onion burgers, and hearty lamb shoulder with fondant potatoes.
Nevertheless, it’s 501 Local’s lavish use of color—what we all desperately needed after last year—that’s likely to capture people’s hearts. Credit Chef Yoon Jeong for the artistry, which as shown here is masterclass in plating.
The decadent avocado toast sampler is the starter for all avocado toast aficionados. Think of these chive-sprinkled starters as variations of Danish smørrebrød: tiny open-faced sandwiches smeared with a base of avocado and then beloved crostini toppings: Smoked salmon and red onion, balsamic and prosciutto, goat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Adding edamame adds extra texture to the avocado—think the garden version of a chunky peanut butter—while the tanginess of the sourdough bread cuts through the richness, creating great balance.
One of the highlights of the evening were the seared scallops. The defining inspiration here, in both shape and flavor, is the Romanesco: an often criminally underused broccoli. The plating—sharp Parmesan tuiles, yellow beets, and curls of bacon jutting up at the diners—recreates the height and fractal patterns of the Romanesco. Breaking those tiny quail eggs sends yolk into tiny pastel-green pools of pea puree generating creamy Hollandaise notes—a perfect sauce for the well-cooked scallops.
Presentation is paramount at 501 Local, and the filet mignon is an example of plating perfection. Chef Yoon Jeong says he’s a “melting-pot” chef who “likes borrowing flavors from everywhere.” Case in point: His filet, which diners can smear with no less than four sauces: raspberry puree, pistachio cream, black garlic puree, and veal jus. Note the streaks on the plate, which act as samplers, and the mushroom caps caramelized with melted gorgonzola, parmesan, and blue cheese: a technique Jeong says he picked up watching Gordon Ramsay cooking shows.
There aren’t many dessert options, however, there doesn’t have to be as long as the mille-feuille exists. This classic dessert boat composed of sweet creams and puffed pastries is topped with a spiky crown of green grapes, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The use of extra nuts in the folds of the dough—pistachio, walnuts, pine nuts, and peanuts—offers added dimension to an appropriately colorful end to a Crayola-bright dining experience.
501 Local is located at 501 Chestnut Street in Winnetka, 224-255-6480, 501local.com.