Fine Dining Establishment And Love Letter To Latin America, Cariño, Opens Doors In Chicago

Executive Chef-Owner Norman Fenton and Owner Karen Young Introduce an Innovative Tasting Menu and Late-Night Taco Omakase Experience to Uptown
Photo: Kelly Sando

Chef Norman Fenton, known for his previous work at MICHELIN-starred Schwa, fine-dining restaurant Brass Heart, and his current menus at Wild Tulum, opened its doors on his debut venture Cariño as chef-owner in partnership with restaurateur and owner of Wild Tulum Karen Young on Thursday, December 28th in the Uptown neighborhood. The duo created the concept with their experience and passion in mind, with Fenton heading conceptual and culinary direction while Young imparts her eye for design and experiential hospitality.

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The intimate 1,700 sq. ft. fine dining haven housed in the former Brass Heart space at 4662 N. Broadway is a love letter from Chef Fenton to his time spent traveling, living, working, and starting a family in Latin America. Cariño features a 12-16 course Latin American-inspired tasting menu showcasing regional cuisines, ingredients, and flavors throughout Mexico and Central and South America. Guests can also look forward to a lively late-night taco omakase on select nights to debut in the coming months, featuring tortillas made via Cariño’s in-house masa program, as well as a Latin wine menu curated by Jean Banchet-nominated sommelier Richie Ribando (Next, Elizabeth, Smyth) and cocktails by trailblazer Denisse Soto (Osito’s Tap).

Beginning with an aguachile course, Cariño’s iteration presents a base of white soy-cured Ora King salmon and kanpachi from Baja California, served in an aromatic cloud of jalapeño and serrano chili vapor. Moving into the ravioli course, Fenton takes the opportunity to celebrate the importance of corn in Latin America using the Mexican delicacy huitlacoche, a fungus specific to corn plants. The fungus’ earthy flavors pair with the dish’s sweet corn and truffle.

Although the order of dishes is akin to a traditional tasting menu, Fenton makes a heartfelt interlude just before moving from savory to sweet by incorporating an after-dinner coffee and cookies tradition he’s grown to enjoy through his wife’s family in Mexico. Paying homage to this experience, Fenton serves a freshly brewed coffee made from a house blend of Latin American coffee beans alongside a fried churro coated in sherry sugar and surrounded by Oaxacan mole negro and raisin puree, with dots of foie gras mousse on top.

“It’s a two-handed, tactile experience that bridges your palette from savory courses into dessert. While you’re eating the churro, the fat from the foie gras washes in your mouth, and the residual texture silkens the acid of the coffee,” explains Fenton in a statement.

Starting in late January or early February, Cariño’s late-night taco omakase will be available Wednesday – Saturday nights at 9:30 pm at the seven-seat chef’s counter. In true omakase fashion, there is no set menu, but guests can expect eight to twelve courses. Inclusive in the $125/person experience is the guest’s choice of three half pours of wine or three half cocktails. With tortillas hand-shaped and cooked over a traditional comal for each course, Cariño is one of few restaurants in the city to grind their own masa on-premises, allowing the chef and his team to add unique flavors to their tortillas by grinding ingredients like shrimp shells and black truffles into the masa.

To pair with Fenton’s menu, Cariño’s beverage program will present one of the Midwest’s most extensive and thoughtful collections of Latin wines in addition to craft cocktails, and beers. Spearheading the wine program is Jean Banchet-nominated sommelier Richie Ribando, known for his work at James Beard Award-winning fine dining restaurant Next, three MICHELIN-starred Smyth, and more. Selections include labels from smaller farmers such as La Casa Viejo out of the Valle de Guadalupe to prominent estates like “Las Notas de Jean-Claude” from Bodega Tapiz out of Mendoza, Argentina, where the consulting winemaker happens to be Jean-Claude Berroet who made wine at Petrus in Pomerol for over 40 years. Denisse Soto draws inspiration from her upbringing in Mexico City to helm cocktail creation at Cariño. Guests can expect inventive takes on classic cocktails like a truffle Manhattan made with Mexican whiskey and huitlacoche-infused Argentinian red vermouth, served tableside from a hickory smoke-filled decanter as well as a pisco sour-inspired drink made with the herbal Patagonian spirit, Trikal, and chicha morada, a fruity purple corn-based Peruvian beverage. On the non-alcoholic side, Cariño will have housemade agua frescas, Mexican sodas, and Sparrow coffee and tea.

The overall space design was spearheaded by Young. Cariño features a slightly more open layout than its predecessor while remaining intimate with saturated dark green walls, plush velvet banquettes, and hanging terracotta light fixtures casting a warm glow around the room. The walls of the 20-seat restaurant are dotted with hand-picked art pieces such as a window pane mural from the Mochoacán and a keen eye may even spot a few members of Chef Fenton’s Funko Pop soccer collection hidden in the corners of the open kitchen – a nod to the chef’s lifelong love of the game. Lively Latin music adds to Cariño’s convivial atmosphere, ranging from classics to modern pop and reggaeton.

Cariño will employ a 25% service charge on all bills in place of traditional gratuity to subsidize the salaried income of all its hourly employees, 5% of which will be split equally amongst the staff as a weekly bonus. A further component of their business model, Cariño will also select one Latin-serving charity per year to share a portion of their profits with. This year, the team has selected Latinos Progresando, the largest Latin-led nonprofit organization in Chicago providing resources and legal counseling on immigration laws and policy – a cause close to Fenton’s heart as he’s been engaged in the years-long process of obtaining U.S. citizenship for his wife and children in Mexico.

The opening tasting menu is priced at $190/guest (12-14 courses) in the dining room and $210 at the Chef’s Counter (14-16 courses) with optional wine pairings for an additional $105/guest or $165/guest for reserve selections. All pricing is before the service charge.

Lisa Hay

Lisa Hay

Lisa is a staff reporter for What Now Media Group. She covers new restaurant, retail, and real estate openings across all of our markets. A true foodie, this Air Force veteran has lived all over the world — from Aviano, Italy to Nairobi, Kenya — but her favorite spot is NOLA for its rich history, architecture, culture, and of course, its good eats.
Lisa Hay

Lisa Hay

Lisa is a staff reporter for What Now Media Group. She covers new restaurant, retail, and real estate openings across all of our markets. A true foodie, this Air Force veteran has lived all over the world — from Aviano, Italy to Nairobi, Kenya — but her favorite spot is NOLA for its rich history, architecture, culture, and of course, its good eats.

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