Buzz List for August 14, 2017

Bon Appetit likes us, really likes us, hot dogs are everywhere (but chorizo is where it's at), who invented our restaurant scene, Trotter or Schwa?, and reviews of Proxi, HaiSous and more

Michael Gebert
Black pepper pork at Proxi
1. APPETIZING CHICAGO

Hey, did you hear that Bon Appetit named Chicago the restaurant city of the year? Yeah, I know, everybody spread the word on that, it’s almost like saying something like that is good for free publicity… well anyway, at least it was someone who knows the city who said it, Julia Kramer, formerly of Time Out Chicago, back in the day. Besides the main piece, there’s a piece on Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya Antojeria) talking about her desire to find something in between family Mexican restaurants and places with “fishbowl margaritas.” (One thing though: the piece says “when you run a Google search for Mexican food in Chicago, not a single one of the top results is a place run by someone of Mexican descent.” I don’t know the exact search phrase, but there’s all kinds of authentic Mexican-owned Mexican that comes up when I search “Mexican food in Chicago.” Almost like people in Chicago kind of know their Mexican food already!)

2. CHEFS OF INFLUENCE

Ironic that two pieces talking about Chicago chefs and their influences came out side by side last week. One is by Carrie Schedler at Chicago magazine, looking at Charlie Trotter and finding that there are Trotter descendants all over town: “The chef’s temperament aside, many members of the vast Trotter diaspora consider their time working at the restaurant to be the most formative culinary experience of their lives. Some got to see the world for the first time by accompanying Trotter on his numerous overseas jaunts, and all got to be part of something big.” True—though to me the real thing to note is how one way or another, they’ve opened restaurants that reject key parts of what working for Trotter was like, whether by being more casual (Bill Kim, Matthias Merges, Beverly Kim) or setting out to have less stressful kitchens (Smyth).

The other is, well, by me, on Schwa, at the Reader, and it too finds influence all over the city: “Alinea may be the one that got the global acclaim, but it’s tiny Schwa that’s changed the restaurant experiences we’ve become accustomed to in Chicago—whether it’s cooks carrying the food to the table, the dissolution of the barriers between dining room and kitchen, or the wider acceptance of the idea that accomplished, highly conceptual food can be gotten in neighborhoods like Avondale (Parachute) or Douglas Park (El Ideas) or Humboldt Park (Kai Zan) or Uptown (42 Grams, which closed in June). Carlson declared a vast, community-wide ‘who needs that shit’ on many of the tenets of fine dining.”

3. INTERNATIONAL RESTAURANT OF MYSTERY

Phil Vettel says “There’s a bit of a disconnect between [Proxi’s] physical space and the kitchen’s mission; nothing about the gleaming glazed walls, wood floors, suspended warehouse lights and arched ceilings suggests the playful randomness of global street food.” Then he notes that the audience doesn’t seem to care, because they’re eating it up: “Lamb ribs are a hit; the meaty ribs get a garam masala rub and simmer in coconut milk before being glazed with a mango-pickle barbecue sauce and stacked, Jenga-style, with crumbled cashews. Almonds grace the merguez sausage, presented in a coil ringed with sliced grapes and dots of eggplant aioli.” (Tribune)

4. SOUS CHEF

Mike Sula thinks HaiSous is not only a return for the duo from Embeya, Thai and Danielle Dang, it’s an improvement in less fussy food: “Finely shredded papaya salad carries none of the blistering heat or funk of a Thai-style som tam, but its bits of shredded beef jerky play nicely with its appropriately gentle sweetness. A duck salad is light on the meat but doesn’t slack on chewy cracklings, crunchy brassicas, and snappy banana blossom. Large fried chicken wings are sticky with the burnt-caramel depth you might otherwise be missing from this menu, while an octopus salad with perilla leaf, confit eggplant, and shaved radishes, underscored by reduced coconut cream infused with lemongrass and ginger, is a study in loveliness that shows Dang hasn’t put Embeya completely behind him.” (Reader)

5. HOT DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

I ought to be mildly irked that we still have to have a hot dog piece in the middle of Bon Appetit’s restaurant city of the year coverage—hey, New York isn’t just Papaya King any more, they have real restaurants with forks and everything now too—but this video tour at least is fun and well made, as Julia Kramer sends first-time-Chicago-visitor Alex Delany out to try 14 iconic hot dog places and pick the best… from the bottom of his pure beef heart.

6. EAT FIELDS

It’s not enough to just fill a space with a food court any more, as the Merchandise Mart did for years. Now they have a fancy space with a view and restaurants and, it sounds like, an attempt at a Soho House-like make-yourself-at-home vibe from DMK group called Marshall’s Landing. Joanne Trestrail says “Everything we sampled from chef Michael Kornick’s (DMK Burger Bar, Ada Street) menu went at least a little, sometimes more, beyond the call of duty. From the snack category, we went with deviled eggs ($7 for four halves), and liked the morsel of tuna buried under the rich deviling. His popcorn with truffle butter and Parmesan ($5) and housemade potato chips with caramelized onion dip ($6) are perfect for sharing with drinks.” (Crain’s)

7. CHORIZO PLEASE-O

It’s hot dog month at the Tribune, which honestly seems a bit rote (but then I did all the hot dogs a few years ago), but the theme of encased meats leads to something far more interesting—Nick Kindelsperger on chorizo, the Mexican sausage (very different from the Spanish dried sausage of the same name) which, as Nick puts it, is “a red chili-tinged, vinegar-spiked pork sausage accented with spices like cumin, oregano and cinnamon. It’s about as subtle as a fistful of bacon, and much like the bacon, just about everything tastes better when Mexican chorizo is around.” He identifies eight standout chorizos around town, from Martinez Supermarket in Bridgeport to an assortment of restaurants around town from high (Cruz Blanca and Quiote) to you-never-heard-of (Guapo Taco in Brighton Park). It’s important work that opens up unknown areas of our food scene. (Tribune)

8. VINE FOR ATTENTION

Anthony Todd visits MightyVine, high tech tomato growers an hour from Chicago: “‘Coming in to the marketplace, being something totally different, it was a process,’ laughs [VP Danny] Murphy. ‘I had to come in and talk to produce buyers that have been in the business for 30 years, and they’re telling me my tomatoes are going to go bad faster because they’re too red. That was the number one complaint I got – they’re too red.'”

9. BEST'S KOSHER

What’s the best kosher dog in Chicago? I’ve never asked myself that question, but Tablet did, and they find an answer I never would have found, either.

10. TOUGH CUSTOMER

Thrillist had a sponsored post about barbecue cuts. The Butcher and Larder’s Rob Levitt answers it.

11. VIRTUALLY SOUSED

Would you pay $95 for a cocktail that came with a virtual reality experience (via headset)? You can do that at Baptiste & Bottle, but I’d watch Chicago mag’s video on the novel experience from The Macallan first, it’s free.

12. JAPANTOWN

Curious City asks what happened to Chicago’s 1960s era Japantown. Part of it is what happens to any ethnic enclave when immigration dries up—it basically assimilated and disappeared (though it also moved to the burbs—there’s Japanese out by Arlington Heights/Mount Prospect now). But it’s also true that—like Germans—historical events made it harder to have that ethnic identity in America. An interesting exploration, check it out.

13. CATASTROPHE WAITRESS

Cartoonist Mimi Pond wrote the first episode of The Simpsons to be aired. (And then wasn’t hired as a staff writer because the progressive-minded show was a boys’ club.) She also worked as a waitress in the wild 70s and her new comic, The Customer is Always Wrong, is all about that. Good interview with her at Jezebel’s The Muse: “I think I learned a lot about human nature. I think anyone who has ever worked a restaurant job learns a lot about human nature. You kind of learn how to suss out people pretty quickly, and you learn that you have to give them some kind of immediate gratification because people when they’re hungry are like small children. [laughs] You kind of have to like feel out every table individually and feel out very quickly what it is they want from you besides just their food, and tailor your behaviour accordingly, you know? Also it was a great opportunity just to study people and their behavior.”

14. BONCI BALL

With Rome’s Bonci Pizzeria (aka Pizzarium) coming to Chicago this week, here’s a blast from the past: when Tony Mantuano cited Pizzarium as one of the models for Bar Toma, I went there (well, I happened to be going to Rome at the time) and reported on it for Grub Street.

15. CONDOLENCES

George Bannos, brother of Jimmy Sr. and one of the crew behind Heaven on Seven, died at 65 last week. And an electrical fire significantly damaged Old Town’s Balena during service, closing it for some months.

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