Naming a new restaurant Bardo, for the Buddhist concept of the state between life and death, has been almost too fitting for chef/owner Mike Noll. Sometimes it's been closer to death than life.
Bardo is finally ready, though, at 1508 S. Mint St. Noll shared his first menu with The Observer, and set opening dates: After a dinner for family and friends May 22, look for a soft opening (when the menu is still in transition) on Thursday, May 24, and a grand opening at the end of the month.
The menu will be chef-driven, with a range of influences from Spanish to Japanese, and a tight list of 13 savory dishes and three desserts, and a price range from $8 to $23.
Bardo is one of several food business planned in the Gold District, the lower end of South End along South Mint Street, that have faced delays and struggles, including issues with sewer and water: YUME Bistro is still more than a month away, while Max & Lola's, the planned small market across the street, is finally well under construction. But the enlarged Unknown Brewing is now open the street, and Seoul Food/Let's Meat is just a few blocks away.
Here's how bad the last year has been for Noll and partner Jason Whiteside: They signed the lease a year ago, then did a lot of construction themselves, from painting and tiling down to building the shelves and the wooden frames for greenery on the walls. They were finally close to opening a month ago when disaster struck, Noll said: Thieves backed a truck up to the building and used a chain to pull the entire electrical system off the building to strip and steal the copper.
The building was between owners at that point and it wasn't clear if the damage was even covered. Noll said he and Whiteside had to shell out $27,000 for repairs.
Who is Noll and where did he come from? He's an experienced sous chef from Chicago's very creative restaurant world who worked with Jake Bickelhaupt on Sous Rising, an acclaimed underground dinner series that led to the restaurant 42 Grams, subject of a documentary released last year. (After suddenly closing 42 Grams last year, Bickelhaupt recently pleaded guilty to simple battery in a domestic abuse case with his former partner and ex-wife Alexa Walsh, and is currently working on another underground dinner series called Konro.)
Noll and his wife left Chicago four years ago when they were expecting their first child, because his wife had family here. She got a job in banking and Noll took several years off to be a stay-at-home dad for their two kids, now 4 and 2.
All that time, though, he knew he had to get back into food, so he started putting together the plan for Bardo.
Expect Bardo to stay small and focused on ingredients and execution, with a tight kitchen staff. Pressed to give an example of a dish he's excited about, he described a dry-aged beef tenderloin served with kimchi butter, Carolina Gold rice and wakame, an edible seaweed. Expect the menu to change often based on available ingredients or his own inspiration: "Electic, chef-driven, technique-driven."
Kathleen Purvis; 704-358-5236.