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Just One Drink: Chef Ryan Poli

Veteran Chicago chef discusses new Spanish-inspired River North restaurant

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Tavernita's executive chef/partner discusses the concept behind one of the most highly-anticipated openings of the year.

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In a Chicago food scene that loves to buzz about its new restaurants, perhaps the most buzzed-about opening is Tavernita -- a Spanish-inspired concept that's set up shop in the former Martini Park space at the corner of Lasalle and Erie.

And at the center of the storm is Ryan Poli, who takes the reins as executive chef and partner.

Poli's up-and-down journey has been well-documented, but after working with the BOKA Restaurant Group at Lincoln Park's Perennial, this gig is what could be considered his big shot.

The Sandoval brothers, known for their successful Mercadito restaurants in New York and Chicago, are the brains, muscle and money behind Tavernita, leaving Poli to concentrate on what he does best -- cook.

"Years from now, Alfredo Sandoval, I would credit him as one of my mentors," Poli says. "He's teaching me on a minute-to-minute basis so much about the restaurant business that I didn't know. He's got me looking at the dishes, of the way I cook now, from the guest point of view and not from the chef point of view."

Which is reflected in Tavernita's menu -- no more of those complicated molecular, foamy dishes that had become Poli's calling card, and perhaps a reflection of a trend where many high-end chefs are creating more approachable food.

"We haven't completely abandoned it, but for this concept we just wanted to do really, really great food that's going to cater to a lot of different people and have them be surprised when they taste something with little elements of attention to details in each dish that pop or sing with elements of little attention to detail that you wouldn't expect," Poli says.

And since this is a "Just One Drink" segment, we have to talk about the cocktail menu -- which Poli also doesn't have to waste brain power on. The Tippling Brothers are in charge of the beverage program, and have created a unique keg system in Tavernita's basement that wouldn't look out of place in a scene from Breaking Bad.

"It's a high-energy restaurant, so there's going to be a vibe to it and a buzz when you walk in that hopefully is going to keep people coming back," Poli said.

Video shot by Cam Be and Summer Nettles, edited by Marcus Riley.

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