Buzz List for February 19, 2018

It's good to be George Trois, a Dominican saint, Beard semifinalists, sexual harassment and what the heck is going on at the Reader?

George Trois/Facebook
From the winter truffle menu at George Trois

1. SEMI-TOUGH

The James Beard Foundation Awards issue their list of semifinalists around this time of year, and yes, it’s not the same as being a finalist, which you have to be to actually win, but it still shows who they’re thinking about among the up and coming talents. Chicago has 28 of them this year, and new names on the lists include HaiSous and Mi Tocaya Antojeria among Best New Restaurant semifinalists,  Jennifer Jones Enyart at Dos Urban Cantina for pastry chef, and 13 possible names for the 5 slots in Best Chef Great Lakes, including first-timers Diana Davila (Mi Tocaya), Brian Fisher (Entente), David and Anna Posey (Elske) and Zoe Schor (Split-Rail). Here’s the full list.

2. GOOD TO BE THE KING

Okay, George Trois is no king history knows of, but slowly people are getting the word out about Michael Lachowicz’s intimate French experience back of his Restaurant Michael in Winnetka (Fooditor was one of the first), and the latest is Jeff Ruby at Chicago mag, who crowns it with four stars: “Chef-owner Michael Lachowicz has done something special at George Trois, which opened in the fall of 2015… His ever-changing tasting menus capture the polished charm and attention to detail of the lusty Gallic restaurants of yesteryear (some of which Lachowicz worked at) without giving in to their sense-numbing overkill, creating something precious and beautiful and, most surprising of all, completely fresh. I did not expect to be saying this in the year 2018, but the best restaurant I’ve been to in ages is French.”

3. DOMINICAN SAINT

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned Titus Ruscitti’s find of the Dominican restaurant Morena’s Kitchen, and Mike Sula expands on the story of this tiny charmer at the Reader: “Chef [Mirian] Montes de Oca, who’s mostly a one-woman operation, fries pica pollo to order every day she’s open, and marinates a batch for the next. But not everything on the menu hanging above the register is always available. She doesn’t have the room in the tiny kitchen to make everything, which is why after you walk in the door and she greets you like you’re the most delightful surprise of the day, it’s best just to ask what she has on hand. If you’re lucky she’ll have sancocho, a meaty stew with beef, chicken, dumplings, squash, yuca, carrots, and plantains that, once ingested, turns your gut into an internal furnace that’ll warm your bones long after you’ve returned to the cold outside.”

4. FOR WHOM THE BELLEMORE

“Layering” is the word of the day for Bellemore in Maggie Hennessy’s Time Out review, and not just because she went on a snowy day: “It’s very bold and bright with unique layering” is how Jimmy Papadopolous describes his cooking, and she finds “richly layered, seasonal cooking… Fried razor clams transported my New England-native date back into the clam shacks of his youth—craggy morsels of buttermilk-fried meat mingling with tart clam ceviche, grated celery root slaw and sweet potato tots beneath a refreshing shower of lemon zest and mint leaves. A mind-numbingly busy venison tartare came together like a symphony: mineral, grassy raw meat dressed in also-grassy Spanish olive oil then tossed with pickled anjou pears, seared trumpet mushrooms and pumpernickel crumbs housed beneath shingled raw turnips doused in smoked onion oil.”

5. EMBEYA OWNER INDICTED

It took HaiSous two years and more to open after Thai and Danielle Dang got booted from Embeya, but it took even longer for the Feds to issue an indictment of former Embeya owner Attila Gyulai, charging him with wire fraud in defrauding his partners (including Chef Thai Dang and his brother) of $300,000. Gyulai’s whereabouts are unknown, but his last reported location was Tulum, Mexico. The Trib has more.

6. I CAN’T DRIVE 55

Forum 55 is one of the new food halls in the Loop, and Crain’s takes a look at it to tell you what it likes (the BLT from The Butcher and Larder) and doesn’t (the ordering kiosk system: “Too much clicking to do, and too many opt-outs. The “order now” forms don’t include descriptions of the food. There are menus with descriptions under “Restaurants” and posted at vendors’ stations, but you can’t order there.”)

7. FOOD WITHOUT A TRUCK

This sounds promising: Old Habits will offer food truck-like food with a Filipino bent from chef Nick Jirasek, inside Ludlow Liquors on California. Says Anthony Todd: “Jirasek has come up with one of the most delicious-sounding short menus I’ve seen in a while: homemade fries served with either beef gravy or melted vanilla gelato, smoked Chicago rib tips served with flour tortillas and homemade BBQ sauces.” (Chicago)

8. NOT FUNNY

The Feed has a serious show this week about sexual harassment in the restaurant industry, with Rick Bayless talking personally about how they maintain decorum and a professional atmosphere (one big part of it: don’t only have a kitchen full of young people; have some abuelas to keep everyone in line). Guests include Brett Anderson, who broke the story on John Besh in New Orleans, and Dana Cree, who was still at The Publican as of the time of recording, and who offers a little personal insight into events there.

9. STEAK AND POTATOES

David Hammond looks at why we have so many Italian steakhouses (recently and historically) as opposed to Polish or German ones.

10. TAVERN CUTS

Monica Eng was asking on Facebook about tavern cut pizza recently, but it turns out that was just the beginning—nine key pizza questions get answered in this WBEZ interactive piece, though one of them leaves something hanging—what was the tragedy that ended Marie’s Pizza’s frozen pizza business?

11. MANION’S TOWN

It sounds like a 70s TV show about a crusading prosecutor, but it’s actually chef John Manion’s pick of some favorite places around town, a nice list at Eventbrite’s blog.

12. 32 MILES FOR COFFEE

That’s the subject of a blog post from a couple who drove from the city to Naperville for (Fooditor sponsor) Sparrow Coffee’s cafe.

13. WALLY WORLD

Congratulations to Wally’s Restaurant in Park Ridge on its induction into Vienna Beef’s Hot Dog Hall of Fame!

14. RIP JOSÉ PACHECO

Rick Bayless notes the passing of a 29-year Frontera and Topolobampo vet, José Pacheco, who died of cancer and leaves four family members who work for Xoco. A GoFundMe for his hospital bills is linked.

15. TEN NIGHTS IN A PRESS ROOM

Allow me some media commentary that has something to do with food in the end.

So Mark Konkol, Pulitzer-winning Sun-Times vet who was in as the new Reader editor in last week’s Buzz List, is out as of Saturday night. The immediate cause was the cover of last week’s Reader, featuring J.B. Pritzker sitting on a lawn jockey representing the black politicians who support him, after he was revealed to have insulted former Illinois State Senator Emil Jones on the Blagojevich wiretaps. (According to transit columnist John Greenfield, this represented a more tasteful alternative to Konkol’s original idea, which was Pritzker in blackface. No joke.)

The author of the actual piece, Adeshina Emmanuel, protested vociferously, and at times over the top, as when he said he was basically living through Get Out. (Konkol had not actually proposed transracial brain transplant surgery, so we give this claim Three Pinocchios.) That led to a snowballing protest from Reader staffers about Konkol’s ten days at the top, and by Saturday night Sun Times Media CEO Edwin Eisendrath announced that he was toast.

This is an all too common media story these days. Someone gets the brief to make a publication more vital and edgier! But we live in an age that simultaneously wants edginess—and to inflict the career death penalty on anyone who offends anybody. So we see a steady stream of established media hiring someone to go way out there—and then firing them and sniffing “This does not represent our values.” Well, if it had gotten the clicks without the heat, it sure would have.

This is especially tough for alt-weeklies, which were built on 60s counterculture love for slashing satirical attitudes toward politics—look at the old covers of The Realist in this article, for instance, and imagine the outcry now at their sexual humor alone in our age of sensitivity and instant social media outrage. I think the cover was lame and heavy-handed—but heavy-handed political satire used to be a core value of alt-weekly covers, not something to go on strike over. (As Robert Feder observes, Konkol may have overestimated his Democratically-connected boss’s taste for that stuff, too: “Eisendrath’s move could be interpreted as bowing to pressure from the political establishment.”)

That said, Konkol was nobody’s poster child for any positive core value—Reader social media director Ryan Smith’s tweeted history of The Konkol Days portrays exactly the sort of overbearing Self-Described Genius that I saw wreak damage all over the dot com world c. 2000. What was more worrisome than bad covers is that Konkol seemed to be clumsily gutting other, more substantive parts of the Reader—he apparently kept political writer Ben Joravsky’s last two columns out of the print edition because he didn’t like them, and Leor Galil tweeted about an alleged attempt to get the music department to review… more Taylor Swift, I guess. All of which raised concerns in the wake of the Sun-Times clearing house of some veteran voices (theater critic Hedy Weiss, entertainment columnist Bill Zwecker).

Being more topical isn’t necessarily a bad direction for an alt-weekly—doing so stupidly is. But even with the occasional tweediness they’re prone to, alt-weeklies are where the deepest digging on deadline happens, where the cranks who really love their subjects roost; the alternative (to the alternative) is the bubbly tips-for-the-weekend “journalism” on every subject that you see all around them. That makes them something to nurture and preserve. In the end, I agree completely with what Scott Smith tweeted: “The Reader staff has persevered through ten years of off-on management upheaval and economic hardship. Imagine how much more they could do if they were given even a little stability.”

WHAT MIKE ATE

I went to Band of Bohemia early on and half-liked it, was half-puzzled by it—mainly my complaint was that it was like a whole meal of appetizers; very hard to eat a balanced meal there. Years went by and I knew it drew steady crowds (and had a Michelin star), but it took Friend of Fooditor Ken Zuckerberg to finally drag me back to check out new chef Ian Davis. And it’s good—and there are actually vegetables on the plates! Seriously, very pleasantly impressed by things ranging from smoked swordfish on toast and the caviar omelet, to a really new and different roasted duck dish with a coriander curry on the plate. And the desserts continue a dedication to not being too sweet and, Schwa-like, playing with savory flavors. I should have gone back a long time ago, but I’m especially glad I did now.

Speaking of the Reader, B’El Tavern occupies the space at Belmont and Elston once occupied by Dragonlady Lounge—subject of one of the first things I ever wrote for the Reader. Instead of dive bar vegan Korean, it’s a friendly neighborhood bar with a modest but well-executed menu—next time you’re tempted to wait in line for Au Cheval’s burger, check out their take on a Jucy Lucy instead.

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