It all started in Paris, just under two decades ago, when a culinary movement known as bistronomie began to take shape. Tired of the fine-dining’s rules and limitations, chef’s were itching for new creative outlets and wanting to open places where their friends could come to eat, drink, and hang out. And so they ditched Michelin-starred kitchens to helm lively, casual destinations with food that was both accessible and light. These restaurants were small, but they left plenty of room for innovation. They also focussed on wine—specifically, natural wine.
Pioneers of this new type of establishment—neo-bistros, they came to be called—included Daniel Rose of the late Spring, Iñaki Aizpitarte of Le Chateaubriand, and Gregory Marchand of Frenchie. Slowly but surely, the new format caught on, intoxicating chefs from all over the globe and inspiring them to open their own neo-bistros. Destinations opened in London, Copenhagen, and finally, stateside: Contra and The Four Horsemen in New York; Dame in Portland, OR; Verjus in San Francisco; Le Comptoir du Vin in Baltimore. This culinary history is the cloth that Income Tax is cut from.
Located in Edgewater, Income Tax is an ambitious neighborhood locale well-suited to a number of occasions. The dining room, while elegant, is “really built for comfort,” executive chef Ellison Park says. Some nights, regulars will come in for drinks and snacks; on others, they’ll opt for large format dinners. Versatility is key, so the space features plenty of bar stools, a cafe bistro area up front, a few larger tables, and booths for four. The cuisine, which is European in style and composed of Midwestern ingredients, is best described as “wine that works well with food and food that works well with wine.” Park notes Clown Bar, a lauded neo-bistro in Paris known for its duck-and-foie pâté en croûte, as an inspiration. “I think we do a similar thing, but with more of an American approach. Using classic technique, but presenting it in a fresh, lighter way. The restaurant has kind of a lived-in feel, but the food and beverage are curated with a lot of attention to detail and a modern aesthetic,” he explains.
The menu is always in flux, with bits and pieces changing with the seasons. For Park and his team, the focus is on refining and practicing techniques, developing new ways to cook things, and building a larder. The goal is to have “a catalog of recipes that we’ve adapted to suit our creative needs,” he claims. Recently, he’s been playing around with naturally leavened, no-knead bread in the style of Jim Lahey of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery. “I really love the ideology and approach to Italian bread; how it’s about letting the natural elements take their own course, with very little intervention or manipulation,” Park says.
House ferments are a big part of the food program, too: the chefs culture dairy to make butter and yogurt. While the kitchen is limited in terms of equipment, restrictions drive the team to think more creatively in crafting its cuisine. “The food we do is ultimately very simple and straightforward, but we try to color it with something unexpected. That’s kind of our mantra: offer something that feels familiar, but when you receive it at the table, it’s not what you thought it would be,” Park states. In a nod to typical bar snacks of crudité and smoked nuts, Park is currently serving raw radishes with smoked pecan butter.
A signature Income Tax offering is its weekly Bistro Night. Every Thursday evening, they serve a $38 three-course menu comprised of brand-new dishes. This tradition functions as a test-run for Park and his team, and it has attracted a crop of regulars who are enticed by the value and novelty. The meal is formatted in the European style of entree, plat, dessert, and cheese. And Collin Moody, Income Tax’s general manager and beverage director, offers a glass of wine at a good value that lends itself to all of the dishes. That exercise aligns with how he thinks about pairings more generally, which is not in the traditional sense of matching flavors or keeping with themes, but rather, “finding things that work well with the general ideas,” he says. “Ellison and I both think pretty emotionally about changes in weather, how we’re feeling in our bodies, things like that,” Moody adds. “For us, wine is ultimately about pleasure.” They want people to drink what feels good to them.
Like any typical neo-bistro, Income Tax is dynamic at heart. Park receives new ingredients from his network of farmers and purveyors daily, while Moody rotates his wine list constantly due to the nature of the small-batch producers he works with; dishes are developed with spontaneity and evolve in response to wine that is often available at the last moment. That’s why Moody has built his program to be flexible. Almost everything on the list is offered as a half-bottle, which means there’s always something special open, and recommendations from the staff help guide the selection. Sometimes, during pre-service, after Moody has already printed a pairing on the Bistro Night menu, a staff member will think of another bottle while tasting the dishes. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, that would be amazing with this,’” he admits. “Then we end up selling more of [that] than whatever the pairing we intended was.” This spirit is what keeps Moody, Park, and their team energized, and why Off Menu Week is such a natural fit.
With a principled manner of cooking already in practice, Park was excited to utilize Resy’s Off Menu Week as an opportunity to give his sous chef, Carolyn Centofanti, and lead line cook, Omar Nicholas, the chance to develop a menu. The duo created a set of dishes that will be served at the restaurant from October 21st through October 28th in the same format as Bistro Night. There will be a fried sunchoke appetizer with trout roe and blood orange; squid stuffed with loose sausage with a potato puree a la French chef Joël Robuchon; slow-roasted pork coppa with collard greens and clam vinaigrette; and a chocolate ganache tart. And in typical Income Tax manner, Moody will pull a bottle to offer with it on the fly.