Buzz List for April 17, 2017
Chicago mag's ten best game is strong, Entente is rated E for everybody, Mango Pickle is artisanal farm to table Indian, how the Shieldses got here, and telling homestyle Thai from the restaurant kind.
1. PERFECT TEN
Chicago magazine puts out its (that is, Jeff Ruby’s) best new restaurants list and… what’s there to argue with? Number one is Oriole, which everybody loves. Number two is Giant, which everybody loves. Number three is Smyth, which even if you don’t quite love it yet, already seems the most intellectually challenging and thoughtful restaurant since Alinea and truest heir to Trotter to come along. Hanbun is number seven, a remarkable showing for a stall in a suburban strip mall, yet as undeniably worthy for the list as last year’s second floor office cafeteria spot Arbor. And so on.
Me, I’d work more casual places into it—Animale would be on mine (and is)—but whatever; their list, their rules, and you are advised to start working your way through it if you aren’t already (since eating at Kitsune last week, I only have one to go). Who didn’t make it? The biggest surprise omission is Elske, but also no Entente, no Duck Duck Goat, no Publican Anker, no GT Prime.
2. MANGO JUST PAWN IN BIG GAME OF LIFE
“The ghee that chef Marisa Paolillo uses at her five-month-old restaurant Mango Pickle comes from a cow sanctuary in Gujarat where the residents feast on organic sugarcane and retire peacefully to the fields when they stop giving milk.” Honestly, I’m ready to check out Mango Pickle, previously hymned by Penny Pollack, just after Mike Sula’s first sentence.
3. PITCH ENTENTE
Three stars from Phil Vettel for Entente: “Entente sits on a stretch of Lincoln Avenue not generally sought out by the fine-dining crowd, but every lover of food should lock this address into his or her GPS. Entente is the complete package, presenting downright delicious food, a robust wine-beer-cocktail program (tip of the hat to bar director Meghan Konecny) and whip-smart, engaging service.” (Tribune)
4. THE SHIELDS OF OLD VIRGINIA
Turns out Whet Moser of Chicago magazine actually ate at Town House, the restaurant in Chilhowie, VA (aka the middle of nowhere) where John and Karen Shields went when they turned down running Trotter Vegas, and before they opened Smyth and The Loyalist. He chats with them about how they got there, and brought its spirit here. A great quote (from John): “It’s a purity, seeking out incredible product and letting it show as much as possible. That was a lot of what we did at Charlie Trotter’s. I remember a group of ladies eating fish, with greens on them, and they said, it tastes like you just went and picked these today. Well actually, I just got back an hour ago.”
5. MOM'S THAI
What’s homestyle Thai food, versus restaurant Thai? Steve Dolinsky explores that question and offers some ideas of where to get the stuff like Mom made.
6. MY BIG TRENCH-INCH
I have to quote this paragraph because it’s so true, although it makes it sound like Mike Sula didn’t like Trench, when he did (and seems to be suggesting that the new Trench took off right where pickled tater-tots at Trenchermen left off): “Pastrami-spiced pig head is one of those menu items that a certain type of diner will never fail to order. One of my dining pals refers to this kind of food (and its adherents) as ‘rich, big-dick man food,’ and specifically with regard to this dish, an ‘unnecessarily large portion of rich, big-dick man food topped with an egg.’ It’s a puck of unquestionably lush, fatty pork resting on a bed of sauerkraut (quenching your palate’s desperate thirst for acidity), with a deconstructionist’s plating of ‘rye powder’ and Thousand Island. Get it? It’s a reuben!”
7. RYUU GOOD
Just checked out Ryun Asian BBQ and liked it, and the same is true for Julia Thiel: “the menu is so wide-ranging that it’s hard to know what to order. From a broad array of appetizers we chose savory, tender seafood pancakes stuffed to the gills with ocean dwellers… The restaurant also boasts one of the best collections of Asian beer and spirits I’ve seen lately.” (Reader)
8. NO PEPSI... ACTUALLY, NO CHEEZBORGER
“How does the new frozen Billy Goat ‘cheezborger’ compare to the original?” The Trib asks that: “The consensus was still that the restaurant burger had a better texture and deeper beef flavor, even cooked totally through.” Personally, my feeling is that there is no more overrated cheeseburger in all of Chicagoland, and while the original location is full of period charm that makes it worth a once-a-decade visit, the others are just generic and sad—so eating a frozen version is that much sadder.
9. TAX DAY
Elizabeth Atkinson audits Income Tax and finds little to deduct: “From a shared board of bottles in progress to attentive and ridiculously on-point servers, Income Tax feels like a bar every neighborhood should have: a comforting place that’s dependable and delicious. Plus, you can take your learnings home with you—if you happen to leave on time to hit up the small-batch liquor store favorite.” (Time Out)
10. LOVE IS TACO SPELLED BACKWARDS
Love Taco is a new south side taco joint… run by an African-American hiphop artist (and former writer for Key & Peele). Nick Kindelsperger rips the lid off this shocking example of cultural appropriation! (Tribune)
11. SHAW'S CRIB NOTES
The last place you need to review in Chicago is Shaw’s, the 33-year-old seafood business dinner spot that feels at least twice as old. Graham Meyer looks at it anyway: “Variations are conservative. Lobster tacos ($18 for three small ones) wrap lobster chunks, avocado, cherry tomatoes and cilantro in a wonton shell rather than the expected tortilla. Tuna tartare ($14 on the menu, $16 on our bill) layers smooth sashimi-quality tuna pebbles on avocado in a wading pool of yuzu, to scoop onto tortilla chips like ceviche. The crabcake—on the menu since 1984—fills the hull of a crabcake BLT ($17), an idea so natural CCBLT should be a thing.” (Crain’s)
12.THE NEW AMERICAN CHURCH
If you saw The Founder (recommended), you saw that one source of contention between Ray Kroc and the McDonald brothers is that his deal with them didn’t feed enough cash to the head office to handle all the responsibilities of servicing the franchisees. Fighting over that division of the pie is at the heart of Mickey D’s trying to turn itself around and its franchisees today, says Peter Frost at Crain’s: “The company wants concessions from its owner-operators, who run more than 90 percent of McDonald’s 14,000-plus U.S. restaurants… At the center of the chasm is McDonald’s goal to transform 85 percent of its U.S. restaurants into ‘Experience of the Future’ stores by 2020. It is asking franchisees to pony up half the cost of renovation, which includes remodeling dining rooms, installing digital self-order kiosks, new kitchen and cafe equipment, and modern registers.”
13. CSA THE USA
Chicagoist has a guide to CSAs, farm shares which deliver produce to you (well, usually to a pickup point near you). Now’s the time! (Chicagoist)
14. COCKTAIL SUMMIT UP
Podcast Bartender At Large did a live (and video’d) version from the recent Chicago Cocktail Summit, with author David Wondrich and bartender Christine DeLucca (The Aviary)—and other Chicago cocktail names posing questions form the audience.
15. TO STARBUCKS OR NOT TO STARBUCKS
The fight over what to encourage in a neighborhood—local businesses or chains—is at issue at the corner of Irving and Central. DNA Info’s piece sums up the issues without easy answers.
WHAT MIKE ATE
The only things on Chicago mag’s list I hadn’t been to were Kitsune and The Barn—until Wednesday, that is. Kitsune’s midwestern Japanese turned out to be more of the former than the latter, and the more fanciful it got imagining a midwest animated by Hayao Miyazaki, the more interesting I found it—I loved the green, piney nettle noodles in the mushroom ramen, and the porridge bread with its side of pickled things; a seared scallop dish with a soy hollandaise was lush and transporting. Pick those over the chawanmushi with crab (pretty but bland) or the okonomiyaki—which was okonomiyaki, a nice example but not something new to me, at least.
I ordered takeout from D-Men Tap, the Doner Men’s bar, and while there’s basically only one thing to get—chicken shawarma with curry fries—damn, it was tasty. It goes in the delivery rotation, for sure (though damn, Caviar tacks on a lot of service fees).