After nearly 35 years on Chicago’s fine-dining summit, Everest restaurant is closing
After more than three decades as one of Chicago’s peak dining experiences, Everest is stepping down. The four-star restaurant will serve its last meal on New Year’s Eve.
“Many times in life, you have to know when it’s time for something to end,” said chef/proprietor Jean Joho. “It feels good, after all this time, to close.”
This year has seen a number of high-profile Chicago restaurants announce their departure. But in the case of Everest, Joho said, the coronavirus pandemic was not a factor.
“It’s all about the lease,” he said. “The lease was up, and I was in negotiations way before COVID. But the building didn’t want to renew the lease. I’ve known for a while we would close — I knew before COVID — but then COVID came and I didn’t want to close then, I wanted to wait. I wanted to be open for my customers, my staff.”
“And we’ve been busy,” Joho said. “Since COVID, we’ve been open three nights a week (Thursday-Saturday), and nearly every night is sold out.” (In large part because of Everest’s private dining rooms, which offer the same city vistas as the main room.)
Everest’s final meal will mark the end of an era. Since opening in 1986, Everest has been counted among the finest dining rooms in Chicago and, indeed, the nation.
The restaurant garnered recognition worldwide, from the James Beard Foundation to the Michelin Guide. Relais & Chateaux, Les Grandes Tables Du Monde — every organization worth mentioning acknowledged the brilliance of the cuisine, the exquisite service, the world-class wine cellar.
“Over the years, I think everybody who worked here can be proud of what happened here,” Joho said. “And after all the years, I can say I succeeded, I can be proud of what I did. This is rare.”
It has been a remarkable run for a restaurant that was difficult to find, tucked into a massive building that houses the Chicago Stock Exchange in the city’s financial district. No sign announced Everest’s presence, let alone offered hints on how to reach it; Everest was a destination restaurant in the heart of the city.
The 40th-floor dining room was a place to which one did not merely arrive; one ascended. From the underground parking garage (free valet, always, for guests), one took an elevator to the lobby, a second elevator to the 39th floor and, finally, one final, private-elevator climb to the culinary summit.
That anticipatory journey always paid off in the masterful cooking by Joho, the only head chef in Everest’s history. Joho’s cuisine paid homage to his Alsatian roots, but did so using Midwestern products exclusively (certain seafood products and Alsatian wines aside). Everest was farm-to-table as a matter of course, long before the term entered the foodie lexicon.
“Today, (Midwest produce) is easy to find, but not then,” said Joho, who would load his car with food and wine, drive to local farms and establish relationships.
Everest was one of the first Chicago restaurants to offer a degustation, or tasting menu, though a la carte options were always available. In the years to come, while other restaurants turned tasting menus into sensory challenges of 15 or more courses, Joho never exceeded eight.
“For me, that was too much,” he said. “Twenty courses, with 20 wines, that’s work. Seven courses, three wines, it’s fine.”
Joho was never much for small plates, either. Not that one felt bloated after a dinner at Everest, but a diner there could spend time with a dish.
“When you really enjoy something,” he often said, “you want to retaste.”
The end of Everest will not mark the end of Joho’s career, the chef emphasized.
“I’m not finished,” he said. “Who knows what comes up? I don’t think I’ll be opening a second restaurant in a high-rise; that I can tell you.”
Everest’s final meal promises to be epic, but Joho said he has nothing planned yet.
“I wasn’t thinking that far ahead,” he said. “I’ve no idea what we’ll do. I’m sure in two, three weeks I’ll know. We’ll do something different, but I don’t know what.”