Buzz List for February 26, 2018

Big eating in Chinatown, Grace team file to be free, farewell to Claudia, and Bayless on a clean (living) kitchen

Jade Court/Facebook
Whole fish at Jade Court


Chinatown is big in the media this time! The Tribune’s monthly theme has been Chinese food, and it’s safe to say it’s the been the most far-reaching and interesting one of these they’ve done, digging into all the openings in Chinatown in the last few years. Besides the slideshow, they’ve put out a guide to the best of various familiar dishes (noodles, dim sum, etc.) in the South Side neighborhood, which makes an excellent cheat sheet for visitors to the neighborhood who don’t know where to start.

And speaking of dim sum, Louisa Chu also did this piece about what to order at a dim sum restaurant—and (I haven’t seen this before) what order to order it in: “None of the existing guides explained the progression of the meal. While there are not strict courses (such as appetizer, entree and dessert), one does not follow dumplings willy-nilly with bao.” No more bao faux pas!


Continuing the Chinatown theme, I was a bit skeptical when I saw Phil Vettel declare something the best Chinese food he’s had in years. Probably some place that fancies it all up, not even in Chinatown. And yes, that’s what it is, but Jade Court is a new restaurant in University Village from the father and daughter who ran Phoenix in Chinatown for years, so give it respect: “Absent [Carol] Cheung’s direction, for example, I might never have sampled the roasted cauliflower, tossed with dried chiles, dried shrimp, shallot and garlic. It’s billed as spicy, but it’s only barely so; what you get are intriguing, complexly seasoned florets of still-firm cauliflower. And I certainly wouldn’t have discovered the shrimp and scrambled eggs, a classic Hong Kong dish of slightly crispy shrimp embedded in eggs the texture of custard. There’s really nothing quite like perfectly scrambled eggs, unless it’s perfectly scrambled eggs with stir-fried shrimp.”


Still more Chinatown, this time Chinese restaurant history on Chewing, as Monica Eng (whose family owned assorted Chinese restaurants in Chicago over the years) and Louisa Chu dig into early immigration policies, how restaurants helped Chinese get around the Exclusion Act, and why Chinese food took off as a daringly exotic treat for white kids (Eng compares it to “rave culture,” and includes music by the house jazz band at one of her relatives’ restaurant, The Golden Pumpkin, on Roosevelt Road).


We learn at the end of Mike Sula’s review of Gideon Sweet that chef Michael Shrader has since left, but he has praise for “a menu that’s more Yusho-like… featuring just more than a dozen small plates with a very slight Asian bias, fairly complementary to a beverage program developed by longtime [Matthias] Merges collaborator and Trotter’s vet Alex Bachman.” In the end it’s pastry chef Mari Katsumura who wows him the most: “she’s topped a warm apple tart with a quenelle of cheddar cheese ice cream, embraced citrus season with a palate-scouring red-grapefruit parfait with Meyer lemon sherbet, and constructed an astonishing take on Filipino halo halo, a towering sundae of purple sweet-potato ice cream given abundant texture with fruity jellies and ices.”


Julia Thiel says The Moonlighter, from the Scofflaw folks, is “the rare sports bar that I’m actually looking forward to visiting again… a cozy place to spend a snowy evening, thanks to a fireplace surrounded by bench seating. Flat-screen TVs are plentiful but were mercifully muted during my visit, and warm wood dominates the room.” And, the burgers are good. (Reader)


“Stock & Ledger has invested itself in the aura of the business lunch,” says Graham Meyer of the new spot in the former Rosebud Theater District location on Madison. “Some business audiences expect predictability and a meat-and-potatoes menu with their business ambiance. Quirk, however, peeks into the food at Stock & Ledger, enough to interest the food lover and perhaps disappoint the traditionalist.” (Crain’s)


The next chapter in the Grace saga begins—in court, as GM Michael Muser and chef Curtis Duffy filed for emergency relief last week from the non-compete clause they signed. If a judge grants it (on the grounds that a shuttered restaurant cannot enforce a clause preventing you from working in the Chicago area), Muser and Duffy will be free to begin making plans and courting investors for a new restaurant. If not, well, they’ll be doing a lot of consulting and guest cheffing until 2019.

Owner Michael Olszewski will likely counter that Grace isn’t dead, it’s merely resting, pining for the fjords… reports are that he is looking at bringing in a chef from Europe to launch a new place in the space, as he is likely finding chefs of any stature in the U.S. skittish about taking over from Duffy under these circumstances. (Sun-Times)


Late last year Trevor Teich seemed close to turning his long-running popup series Claudia into a permanent restaurant, but now he’s announced that his upcoming dinners with guest chef Richie Farina will be his last (he’s pursuing jobs in Chicago and Las Vegas). The final Claudia dinners will be March 10 and 11, and a few tickets remain; go here to learn more.


Last week I mentioned the episode of The Feed focused on sexual harassment, and Rick Bayless expands on how he maintains professional kitchens in his empire with an essay at Medium. The most interesting part is where he describes the different historical styles of restaurant kitchens, placing his own kitchens in a 70s kitchen culture that came out of places like Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse:

“It was inspired by a desire to celebrate and share incredible seasonal ingredients, much the way a mom might invite family and friends to share her table at the height of fresh corn season, say, or when a pig had been slaughtered in early fall… many, including me, followed her lead. Many women and male-female couples, a lot of them concentrated around San Francisco, opened restaurants and began to define a different kitchen culture. This newly emerging ’70s kitchen culture was typically less militaristic than the one developed in France. It was the artist’s kitchen. It was a kitchen that made room for feminine sensibilities.”

10. IACP30

Congrats to two Chicagoans who won International Association of Culinary Professionals awards for their cookbooks: Dana Cree (Fooditor interviewed her here) for Hello My Name is Ice Cream and Paul Kahan and Rachel Holtzmann for Cheers to the Publican (I interviewed Kahan and co-author Cosmo Goss here).


The Reader has been snatched back from the precipice this week, so let’s wonder about the future of Eater instead: Vox Media, which has done nothing but grow the last couple of years, had its first layoffs this week, more or less killing off the Racked fashion site and cutting much of its video services unit, saying they were “moving away from producing Facebook-native content.” Eater has not been affected directly, so far as anyone can tell, though some of that video has been food content for the Eater brand.

Though there’s no reason to suspect it’s imminent, plenty of other food sites expanded nationally only to collapse suddenly (Grub Street comes to mind for me), and Eater has been so successful at monopolizing the breaking food news space in recent years that we have to wonder, what would the food media world look like without it? If a chef fell in the forest and Eater wasn’t there to hear it, would it happen? (Hollywood Reporter)


I get the sense that people who were all hot to go after Instagram influencers a year or two ago are cooling off about them, and this Medium piece makes a good case why: because you don’t know how many real people a gazillion followers actually represent, and it’s hard to think mere pictures alone are driving restaurant traffic. This article makes a case instead for “genuine thought leadership,” which sounds like it could just be a different flavor of snake oil, but I tend to think the basic point—that people are more persuaded to spend by a real, critical point of view than just by a picture and some emojis—is hard to argue with.


So I mentioned here that I discovered Minna’s Restaurant because I tried to go to Morena’s Kitchen and it was closed that day, so I tried something else on the same block. Turns out Steve Dolinsky did the same thing, and wound up doing a piece on Minna’s instead, focusing on the stuff made with house-mixed masa at this cheerful Mexican diner.


It’s still wintry enough to want vicarious travel; here’s more from Titus Ruscitti’s Southeast Asia trip, food highlights from Chiang Mai (Thailand) and Hoi An (Vietnam).


Chicago mag takes a video look at Yvolina’s Tamales in Pilsen.


David Hammond explains why no one can eat just one chunk of Filipino pork treat lechon kawali, at Lola Tining’s Cuisine in Oak Park: “What results from this wonderfully uncomplicated process are glistening nuggets of pork, alternating layers of fat and meat, crunchy and soft, oozing glorious juice with every bite.”


Expensive weekend for me, but it had some of my favorite places in it, so I’ll have good memories for a week of cooking at home. First, returned to Oriole, with friends who had never been before, and after an hour or so of Oriole’s typically warm and welcoming service, they asked, “Are they treating us this well because of you?” Ha, I wish I had the pull to make cold restaurants warm—there was one recently that could have used it during our kitchen visit—but no, they make it feel that special for everybody, I feel sure. Of course, it helps that every course was a winner, impeccably well-made and delicious, but just as exceptional is that they make it seem so effortless—you look at that kitchen when the dining room is full, and far from running around in a panic, it hardly even seems like anyone’s even cooking that hard. Such good food, produced in such serenity with such perfect timing, makes it truly exceptional.

Then we were off to Milwaukee for an overnight trip. Started at Bryant’s, the started-in-1938, preserved-in-the-1970s cocktail lounge where there’s no menu—you just tell them what you like, and they think of something off Bryant’s rolodex of 400-some drinks… and they’re never wrong. Then a return trip to Ardent—normally it might seem unfair to put anybody’s tasting menu right after Oriole’s, but besides an equally mellow, welcoming vibe, they have their own Wisconsin take on the tasting menu, full of deep roasted-meat and vegetable flavors. Our companions also felt that Ardent’s wine program has taken a significant step up in sophistication since their last visit (a year for them, two for us). Then, the next morning, we stopped in at Iron Grate BBQ, for a carnally satisfying brunch of brisket, hot links and greens for the trip home.

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