White House connection at Gurnee hotel eatery
By Tina Johansson Special to The News-Sun December 20, 2012 4:22PM
Gurnee Tuesday 12.18.12. Aquelah Robinson (left) of North Chicago and Taylor Gallardo (right) of Lake Villa eat at Spice Restaurant on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012, in Gurnee. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media
6161 W. Grand Ave., inside the Holiday Inn
Visit Spice on Facebook
Updated: December 20, 2012 4:22PM
GURNEE — If you’re looking for a place where you can explore your inner foodie and add a little zing to the new year, why not give Spice Continental & Kebab Khan Cuisine a try?
Located in the Holiday Inn, 6161 W. Grand Ave., Gurnee, the 13,000-square-foot, 220-seat restaurant and lounge, and banquet hall for up to 600, debuted in May after it was reconstructed. The project, including renovation to the 210-room hotel was $15 million.
The menu at Spice features delicious and exotic East Indian fare, vegetarian and vegan dishes, as well as upscale American classics produced by talented Executive Chef Chris Solare, 34, of McHenry.
Start your journey with the $6.99 lunch special Monday through Friday. On one side of the menu are East Indian items featuring choices like Chicken Biriyani in a curry sauce; Dal Mix , lentils cooked in butter and cream; Pakora Chicken with seasoned vegetables dipped in a delicate batter and fried; and Chicken 66, so called because of the 66 spices in this dish. They include aromatic basmati rice, naan bread fresh from the restaurant’s own tandoor and homemade red or green chutney.
If you’re not quite ready to step out of your comfort zone, the American lunch specials are sure to please. There is a spicy, grilled chicken wrap with fresh vegetables; 8-ounce cheeseburger with choice of any of three cheeses; Caesar salad wrap with grilled chicken breast; and Margherita pizza with roma tomatoes, mozzarella, and fresh basil.
Many of the East Indian dishes are family recipes provided by restaurant/hotel owner Ravinder Singh of Wadsworth, who has plans to add more dishes to the menu. Included among them is the oft-ordered Butter Chicken which is both creamy from the dairy and packed with punch from the Serrano peppers.
Singh has high standards when it comes to cooking the Indian dishes properly. He added that Solare’s efforts have paid off. “I’m proud of this guy,” said Singh, leaning over to the chef.
Other entrees on the menu include pork medallions with porcini mushroom sauce, gorgonzola-crusted rib eye, and lobster with mac and cheese.
Solare says his inspiration for cooking came from his mother Victoria and father Joseph. He grew up watching his mom’s “old school Italian cooking,” and his father at work as head chef and club manager of the Lake Barrington Country Club.
Trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago, and a certified nutritionist, Solare has worked in restaurants around the country.
For several years during his mid-20s, Solare worked in the White House kitchen and was a personal chef to Vice President Dick Cheney, preparing many of the veep’s favorite comfort foods, including steaks and lamb chops.
“He (Cheney) was a great individual, super nice,” said Solare, who once cooked a pheasant for a political function. The chef recalls cleaning the shot from the bird which Cheney had bagged.
For good luck, the chef said he still carries the Presidential coins given to him while at the White House.
But being employed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. was not the last time he catered to a VIP. In the fall, while presidential candidate Mitt Romney was in Lake Forest for a fund-raising event, he stopped by the Holiday Inn in Gurnee for the night.
Solare said it was a complete surprise when Romney’s buses pulled into the parking lot.
“Nobody knew,” he said. Though he never caught a glimpse of him, Solare did get to fix the Republican presidential candidate breakfast the next morning. “I made him an omelet with feta cheese and spinach.”
Future plans for Spice include creating a patio garden where the chef can harvest fresh heirloom tomatoes and micro greens. General Manager Stephen McCulley of Lindenhurst said he’s working on having live music in the state-of-the-art lounge.
McCulley sees a rapid increase in people who have never experienced Indian food coming to enjoy it. “People are becoming educated in many types of ingredients, especially because they see new things on TV cooking shows,” he said, as Chef Solare brought an ingredient — black garlic — to try.
When you’re at Spice, be sure to ask for the chef’s special homemade doughnuts, a twist on the East Indian dessert gulab jamum, but with a “pop.”
And also don’t forget about the Friday night seafood buffet, and the Friday and Saturday night barbecue rib special.