Avgolemono Ramen Gives a Celebrated Bucktown Space a Fresh Start

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Avgeria Stapaki aims to make that first impression a memorable one as the Greek chef tonight — Friday, March 29 — opens Tama, a Bucktown restaurant where inventive Mediterranean-style cuisine stars.

Stapaki and co-owner Adalberto Olaez (Lao Peng You, Boeufhaus) have created an ambitious menu that stands apart from Chicago’s crowded and competitive Mediterranean dining scene. They view the regional genre as more of a guideline than a rule and apply an international lens to singular creations like avgolemono ramen, a Greek-Japanese mashup featuring ramen noodles made in-house, swiss chard “nori,” and crispy chicken; dolma with tabbouleh and beurre blanc; and unctuous short rib orzo. In keeping with the theme of freedom, patrons can expect menu changes multiple times per year, leaving room for seasonal switches and sparks of inspiration.

Stapaki and Olaez have painted, sanded, and sculpted for months to reshape the 80-seat restaurant that sits on two levels at 1952 N. Damen Avenue. On the first floor, Tama will offer counter service and a bar where patrons can find six signature cocktails and a selection of moderately priced wines by the glass. The second floor is devoted entirely to dining and will be available for private events. An outdoor patio is also in the works, as Stapaki navigates the city’s licensing process.

A round white plate holds dolma.
Dolma (tabbouleh, beurre blanc).
Tama

Tama marks a fresh chapter for the restaurant space, which previously housed a long line of fine dining restaurants including Michelin-starred Claudia, Stone Flower, Takashi, and Stephanie Izard’s Scylla. A warm and earthy color palette is designed to evoke Greek, North African, and Middle Eastern sensibilities, and the team has installed lush olive trees to lend an organic feel.

The team imported lights from Morocco for the first-floor space and had hoped to bring in even bigger versions for the second floor, but the exorbitant price forced Stapaki to pivot. Instead, she spent a week of eight-hour days sculpting domed fixtures out of cement and plaster. It’s a dramatic departure from the fussy formality of fine dining that’s designed to attract locals with a casual atmosphere and competitive pricing, a place where passers-by can grab a meal and a glass of wine for about $65. “I like that we put our hands on this,” she says. “We painted it, we fixed the lights — we actually worked for it.”

The opening is a liberation day for Stapaki, too, as she is at last free to reintroduce her food to Chicago on her own terms. A veteran chef who began her career at Nobu Matsuhisa’s restaurant in Athens, Stapaki left her native Greece in 2019 and moved to Chicago to lead the kitchen at Nisos, a flamboyant Mediterranean restaurant that was among 2022’s most hotly anticipated openings. In spring 2023, however, Nisos’ owners at Parker Hospitality decided to close and revamp the venue, which has since reopened as a steakhouse. In the end, Stapaki says the split came down to compatibility, and she felt more at home working alongside Olaez, Nisos’ former chef de cuisine.

The thrill of independence, however, is often accompanied by significant pressure, at least in the hospitality industry. Stapaki is acutely aware of the weight of her responsibilities, particularly as Tama has no investors or corporate backing. When the stress feels overwhelming, she says she’s found solace in her friendship with R.J. Melman, president of Chicago restaurant behemoth Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises.

She credits him as a steadfast supporter following her mother’s death after a heart attack in Greece during the early pandemic, and a shoulder to lean on when her hopes for Nisos went awry. They’d even considered a collaboration, “But he was like, ‘You don’t need me. I want you to shine on your own,’” Stapaki says. “I liked that.”

Read Tama’s opening menu below.

Tama, 1952 N. Damen Avenue, Scheduled to open Friday, March 29.

Tama

1952 N. Damen Avenue, Chicago, IL 60647 (312) 955-0212 Visit Website

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