Time Out Market Chicago, a lively food hall in the Fulton Market District, has debuted its first full-service restaurant, Valhalla, on the second floor overlooking its wide array of high-end walk-up dining options. It might not fit the strict definition of a food-hall eatery, but maybe it’s best to think of it as a premium channel add-on to your basic streaming package: It’s not a kiosk, it’s Valhalla.
Chef Stephen Gillanders (S,K.Y. and Apolonia) walked the assembled critics and influencers at a Nov. 15 media preview through the concept’s evolution as he doped out how to make a fine-dining, tasting-menu focused restaurant complementary to a destination dedicated to diners sampling dishes in an expansive room full of stalls serving up disparate dishes from a variety of cuisine types.
Should Valhalla separate itself from the hubub with a glass wall? No, Gillanders said, they decided instead to lean into the connection with some tables placed up against the railing overlooking the main floor, as well as a long counter with kitchen-view seats and additional tables set back for a more intimate experience.
After starting out service with the staff in formal fine-dining attire, Gillanders ditched the checked pants and toques, instead telling everyone to dress presentably but with their own sense of comfort and style. The decision made Valhalla more approachable to food-hall patrons intrigued by the restaurant on two, and, the chef said, it actually improved the output of the crew when they could be themselves instead of adhering to an outmoded fine-dining aesthetic.
The decision to offer a la carte options for diners without the time or bankroll to partake in the tasting menu not only makes Valhalla more compatible with the food-hall vibe, Gillanders said, it also encourages diners in a sampling mood to try a few dishes just like they would downstairs and then later commit to a full 11-course tasting-menu reservation for $195 per diner if they like what they ordered.
The chef told the story of one would-be diner dressed in shorts and toting an array of shopping bags who asked if he’d need to go home and change to eat there—or could he perhaps order some dishes to go and eat them at the communal tables in the market? Instead, Gillanders welcomed the guy in for a relaxing meal.
“Why should you have to wear pants to eat at a restaurant?” the chef asked in a way that suggested a serious mission statement was tucked inside his playful delivery.
If the food hits the mark, Valhalla could be on to something. Judging by the eight mini bites served up during the preview–including a stellar steak tartare with mussel aioli, a fun deconstructed oyster and a pleasantly complex silken egg tofu with black truffle ponzu served in the shell–Valhalla has a shot at becoming a destination restaurant hiding in plain sight above Time Out Market’s traditional food-hall offerings.
Photo of Chef Stephen Gillanders courtesy of Valhalla.