It would have been easy for Alpana Singh to rest on her laurels after her accomplishments as a master sommelier and as the host of WTTW-Channel 11’s restaurant show “Check, Please!” for more than a decade. But as she celebrates 20 years in the industry, Singh has taken on yet another role: owner of River North restaurant Boarding House.
“It was a combination of finding the right partners and the right space,” says Singh. “I was inspired to take a leap and see if I’ve learned enough lessons to apply them in my own space.”
And what a space it is. The three-level Boarding House is composed of multiple areas: a first-floor bar, a second-floor dining room and the cellar, a subterranean lounge that’s open late (and according to Singh, has already seen its share of late-night shenanigans). While each space has its own vibe, they all evoke an elegant living room, with dark wood, patterned wallpaper and pops of teal. The bar and dining room both boast jaw-dropping art: dozens of wine glasses and large wine bottles hang from each ceiling.
There’s plenty of wine to top the tables, as well: Singh describes Boarding House’s rotating wine list as “globally well-represented,” but admits that crafting the list was a challenge. “You’re trying to create a global list and offer a spectrum, but still keep it under 500 bottles. And you don’t know your clientele yet.”
Creating the menu was simpler for Singh — she brought in executive chef Christian Gosselin, who most recently helmed the kitchen at the Sofitel Hotel Water Tower. “The food is a return to the classics and rooted in European traditions,” says Singh. The menu, divided into small, medium and large plates, offers dishes like chicken liver mousse with fig jam and cognac aspic ($10), a hazelnut-crusted short rib ($26) and a poutine with chunks of lobster served on cheese curds and covered in an armoricaine sauce ($16). Similar, more sharable dishes are available in the bar and cellar, such as mini sandwiches and pizzas. Nostalgia features heavily in pastry chef Julia Fitting’s desserts, which include a chocolate-dipped oatmeal cookie sandwich ($8) and a s’mores bomb ($9).
There’s no looking back for Singh, who is working on adjusting to her new role. “Nothing will ever prepare you for opening a restaurant, no matter how much experience you have,” she says. (She recently tweeted: “I never thought I could curse this much.”) But watching her walk through the room, opening bottles and chatting with guests, it’s clear she’s having a ball.
720 N. Wells, (312) 280-0720, Boardinghousechicago.com
Story by Molly Each | Photos by Anthony Tahlier