Buzz List for August 21, 2017

Brasserie Margeaux is posh and pricy, Proxi satisfies our street food jones, Twin Peaks at Elizabeth is confusing and weird, Buona Beef goes old Chicago on some picketers, and did Michelin give the Tru-th out by accident?

Elizabeth/Facebook
"Laura's Diary," Twin Peaks dinner at Elizabeth
1. SOMEONE'S IN THE KITCHEN WITH MINA

It’s not surprising that Phil Vettel finds the debut Chicago restaurant of celebrity chef Michael Mina in the Waldorf Astoria (in the space where Ria used to be) a strong showing (though only two stars): “Decor-wise, Mina and Bishop Pass Design nail the details. Inspired by 1920s Paris, Brasserie Margeaux has heavy, marble-topped tables, a long, zinc-topped bar and black-and-white patterned tile floors. Walls are done in gold and black, framed by dark wood. Creature comforts abound, including high-back leather chairs, generous spacing and elegant table appointments. A champagne cart patrols the dining room; lighting is subdued and romantic. The 1920s French influence extends to the food, which is to say that it’s delicious, indulgently rich and often over salted.”

And, as he notes later, priced at “Gold Coast-high” levels. No, what’s surprising is how much pushback Vettel got for lavishing praise on a hotel restaurant from an out of town group. On Facebook a reader calls him out: “How disappointing that you use your platform to promote a celebrity ‘chef’ with a restaurant in a chain hotel. Support local!” And friend of Fooditor Kenny Z has a thread on Twitter about reviewing such places: “Hard to imagine food news any less interesting than Michael Mina lending his name to a Hilton hotel restaurant in Chicago.”

2. PROXIMATE CAUSE

“No matter how much the national media dotes on the food in Chicago, we’ll never be considered great on the world stage as long as those in power refuse to allow [street food] to grow. For that reason, Chicago chefs—and food writers—tend to fetishize street food more than their counterparts in other cities,” says Mike Sula, by way of explaining why we have such a thing for street food—as Proxi is the latest to demonstrate: “[Chef Andrew] Zimmerman’s gaze turns most toward southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, which contributes garlic-chile sauce to a pair of halibut collars; they’re dredged in rice flour and delicately fried—and full of collagen-rich flesh. An even more astonishing cobia fillet, at once meaty and delicate, bathes in a mild, gently sweet sauce scented by curry leaf and stained by tumeric that’s offset by crunchy bitter-melon chips—one of the best things I’ve eaten this year. Similarly, a jiggling-tender Wagyu beef short rib luxuriates in a saucier, nuttier version of a Malaysian-style rending.”

3. WRAPPED IN PLASTIC

I know Anthony Todd has long been a fan of Elizabeth, not to mention a booster of local Lincoln Square spots, so when he attends the Twin Peaks dinner, spending close to $500 for two, and says stuff like this, it’s clearly more in sorrow than in any desire to get clicks: “‘Laura’s Diary’ had a beautiful presentation, served inside a hollowed out book with beet juice inside a syringe, an edible orchid, and a tiny bag of powder meant to simulate cocaine. But the dish, even if you could get the lemongrass powder out of the bag and into the dish of tiny gelatinous globules, literally tasted like nothing at all… Throughout the meal, it was like the kitchen had forgotten that food requires seasoning. Nothing had salt, spice or acid (except the ants), and while each dish was beautifully presented, it was like looking at pictures of a fancy meal and then trying to eat the paper.”

4. BON APPETEN

Bon Appetit’s drip-drip of news about the restaurants of the year climaxes with the announcement of its top ten—specifically Elske at #2, and Giant at #6. Check it out here. Also note that one of their stories is called “Cutlets Are the 2017 Dish of the Year.” Mmmkay!

5. LADIES WHO LINGUINI

Chestnut Street ladies who lunch place Pane Caldo seemed unkillable, which is probably why no one noticed that it closed and became Osteria del Pastaio. At Crain’s, Graham Meyer says “the housemade pastas, with their tooth and strength, justify the restaurant’s name, especially in the fully composed dishes. Bigoli e salsiccia ($15) decorates spaghetti hewn thick—the better to glean the texture—with peppery sausage and broccoli in a buttery sauce, a keen crossing of spicy, fatty and veggie. Similarly, strozzapreti del principe ($18) leaves spinach-loaded gnocchi, rich and pillowy, in a cream sauce generously endowed with lobster but maybe an herb or a citrus burst short of excellence.”

6. FLAVOR TOWN

Michael Nagrant finds something like dumpling nirvana at Edgewater’s new Bibim Town, but there’s a twist: “the dumplings are a pre-made and purchased product, though one that was carefully chosen… The accompanying soy dipping sauce isn’t just some store-bought Kikkoman dumped into a bowl. [Chef-owner Sue] Choi has infused a base soy sauce with roasted mushrooms, scallions and toasted seaweed. The result is a savory bomb that explodes with complexity.”

7. BEST BERRRRRGERRR

The Best Burger in Chicago poll at Chicagoist has a winner (I helped pick the contenders) and the winner is… not in Chicago. Berwyn’s Big Guys Sausage Stand, a longtime Fooditor favorite (I wrote about owner Brendan O’Connor here), took the top prize over anything in the city. Which is great, well deserved. Check them out—and others on the list, too.

8. BUONA BEEF DIPPED IN HOT DISPUTE

Buona Beef, a local chain with some suburban and one downtown outlets, was being picketed in Berwyn for allegedly using low-paid labor on construction sites. Then one of the Buonavolanto brothers came out, spraying picketers with a hose and yelling at them, captured on video, per Crain’s: “‘If you worked hard, maybe you’d have a shot at being successful instead of being a f***ing thief. You could have all this one day, if you work hard, instead you try to take it away from people,’ the man says, gesturing at his restaurant and cursing at the protesters as he sprayed the hose at them.”

That got two of the Buona bros. busted for messing with a picket line. They issued a statement of apology: “Members of our family did not uphold our values when responding to a union demonstration that disrupted our business.” It all might be ready to blow over… but now Buona Beef is apparently blocking media folks on Twitter, which is a sure path to getting your side of the story out.

9. GRAZIE

Sarah Grueneberg takes CNN Travel on a tour of the West Loop—dropping in not only on fellow celeb-level chef Stephanie Izard, but Friend of Fooditor J.P. Graziano & Sons.

10. PATEL ME ABOUT IT

Ever shopped at Patel Bros. on Devon? I have when I needed Indian goods (I used to make bhel poori for a class snack for my kids—hey, it doesn’t trigger any kid allergies). Anyway, the Chicago store is the original of the largest Indian grocer in America, and this article at Food 52 tells the story of how it started and is well worth a read.

11. MICHSTAKE

Did Michelin accidentally give a little of November’s news away? A tweet about Tru included the hashtag “#onestar.” Except Tru currently has two stars. The tweet is gone now, which lends support to the idea that it was a blunder. (H/t Friend of Fooditor Erick Neu)

12. GRAMMIT

Here’s an Eater list I have to admit baited me and I’m glad I clicked—it’s a look at 13 frequently Instagrammed dishes around Chicago. Which is to say, 13 wildly over the top dishes that surely can’t taste as good as they look, most of the time, but it’s fun to check them out.

13. YUCAN'T HAVE IT

David Hammond looks at dishes in the Yucatan that you can’t find anywhere in Chicago, and asks why not: “In Yucatán in mid-June, our driver Angel Ku tells us that the chaya plant has tiny thorns that will embed in your skin if you don’t treat the chaya plant politely. So whenever he picks chaya in his backyard, he says to the plant, ‘Excuse me little chaya. With your permission, I would like to take some leaves to eat.’ When he treats the plant with the respect it deserves, he tells us, he gets no thorns in his hands. It’s magic.” (NewCity)

14. PRINT NOT DEAD YET

At the Reader, Aimee Levitt profiles the editor of a new magazine devoted to Asian cooking, called Dill. That is, the 19-year-old editor, who despite limited experience (she edited her high school paper!)  seems to have a good grasp of what she wants to accomplish by featuring serious writing about Asian food in print: “A few years ago, [Shayne] Chammavanijakul began reading lots of food magazines and websites and noticed that writing about Asian food often concentrates on celebrity chefs and famous restaurants. She figured that a niche existed for a magazine that explores Asian cooking in what she calls ‘a detailed and nerdy way.'” Dill is on newsstands now, look for it.

15. BITER BIT

Well, this is a bummer. I tried LTHForum’s biggest recent discovery, A Bite of Szechuan up on north Lincoln Ave., and liked its authentic Szechuan food a lot. But a new chef, a new menu, and there were reports (as from Friend of Fooditor Brian Eng on Twitter) that the good stuff was gone. Now that seems to be the consensus at LTH as well—as if the sudden presence of Thai rolled ice cream wasn’t enough sign that sharks had been jumped.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Went (with PR) to Sal’s Trattoria, in the former Luca space—solid enough neighborhood Italian from Allan Sternweiler (Harvest on Huron, Butcher & the Burger) which makes its own pasta, though the best dish, comfortably, was the one with a beautifully cooked piece of tuna on it. But even just a couple of pretty good Italian restaurants (this and Coda di Volpe) are enough to have radically improved your dining odds on Southport.

Friends had reported mixed things about Split Rail, so I was happy to find the menu of sharable snacks made mostly of hits—the faux chicken McNuggets, baked potato gnocchi and beef skewers with Greek-ish dip were all well-liked. The only thing is, as often happens at small plates places—after I’ve tried everything (and five of us nearly did), is there a reason to go back anytime soon?

I just needed a burrito, and this coming from a guy who basically thinks real Mexican food is tacos and burritos are for gringos, usually overstuffed with lettuce and sour cream and cheese. But son #1 and I needed that comfort food, and we saw an El Taconazo (specifically, El Taconazo El Tio at 3529 W. Fullerton), so we made a quick stop. This is the burrito of your gringo dreams—well seasoned steak, a judicious hand with the gooey stuff. Platonic ideal time. Now you know.

 

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