Buzz List for February 5, 2018

One Off goes off track, Reader loves spicy Chengdu, McDonald's is growing trees and touring Southeast Asia

Michael Gebert
Bell dumplings at A Place by Damao

1. OFF TRACK

In so many ways One Off Hospitality is one of the city’s best-run restaurant groups… but for the second time in a relatively short period, something beyond the food itself has proven to be a major issue.

First it was the Publican sexual harassment issue, for which one former chef/manager took the heat, but in a way that left you wondering what more there could be to the story (some of the local food writers who were very vocally concerned about this on Facebook are no doubt working on that story right now).

Now Crain’s reports that a bookkeeper embezzled $600,000 from Blackbird and Avec over many years. This is embarrassing enough, but even more embarrassing is that the bookkeeper is the sister of Blackbird partner Rick Diarmit. And that is especially sad because Diarmit is someone who had turned his life around at One Off—there’s a 30-year-old Tribune story about him as a young man in trouble, which ends with him hoping to straighten out his life in the restaurant business. Which he has—the Crain’s story assures us that he is ” not involved in the embezzlement scheme”—but, it turns out, trusting family was a terrible mistake.

2. THE COOL AND THE UNCOOL

Cool: Dana Cree is leaving The Publican to open Pretty Cool Ice Cream (I talked to her about her fantastic ice cream book here). It’s a partnership with Bang Bang Pie Shop.

Uncool: the first version of this story at Eater made it sound like it was Bang Bang’s Michael Ciapciak who was opening an ice cream and Cree was the help, basically. Only the revised version still exists, but here’s the Twitter exchange and you can get a sense of how uncool Cree thought this was at her blog.

Separately from the concerns Cree rightly raises, I think this also reflects the nature of so much food journalism today. A writer makes an (in this case unthinkingly sexist, but it could be a lot of things) assumption. There isn’t a chain above him where someone else questions it—and there isn’t time on his deadline (at least so he said) to make all the followup calls he should have, where his assumption would have run into the actual story and hopefully been corrected. And in case you think I’m bagging on Eater… that was me, more than once, on a five-stories-a-day schedule at Grub Street.

3. DAMAO THAT’S TASTY

Happy to see that Fooditor fave A Place By Damao earns the unrestrained love of Mike Sula in the Reader, who writes hymns to dishes like the bell dumplings: “These are slim but stout-walled flat half moons wrapped around tightly molded gobs of gingery ground pork. In terms of dumplings, they’re nearly as satisfying as the wontons in hot soup, fat but relatively thin-skinned, bulging with ground pork and nestled winsomely in a volcanic full-bodied chicken-and-beef broth that’s clear evidence of the compatibility of pleasure and pain.”

4. HARPOONA KATANA

Graham Meyer goes to snazzy Katana, but finds that “a flash-over-flavor philosophy cuts to the core of Katana. The large, swanky room has a nightclubby look, bolstered by celebrity and party-pix photographs of its dinner and late-night scene published online. At lunchtime, the unmobbed dining room fashions its cool-kids tone from the peppy, poppy music, heavily sampling from Japanese bubblegum and forgotten 1980s chart-middlers… Those elements, along with the stylish room and high prices, mean this might be the place to treat that client with all the facial hair who wears his shirt untucked.”

5. GREEN MAC

I crabbed on Twitter about being sick about hearing about what’s replacing River North’s Rock and Roll McDonald’s, but that was before I actually read Whet Moser’s piece at Chicago magazine which captures how exquisitely, earnestly 2018 the new one will be, using architecture to tell a story of urban sustainability: “On top of the restaurant is another such ‘story’: a green roof with apple trees. ‘They’re more symbolic than anything else, but they’re going to be harvestable apple trees. While the food laws are too strict for us to use the apples in the restaurant, they will be harvested and used,’ [architect Carol] Ross Barney says. ‘We just wanted to make the connection of how you get food, while you’re in a restaurant, as well as provide the wonder and delight that makes the space special.'”

6. SLASHIE MASH

At Thrillist, Jay Gentile tells the story of a Chicago neighborhood thing—a slashie, a bar-slash-packaged-goods store, Rite Liquors in Wicker Park: “[Owner Mike Liacopoulos] could sell Rite for millions—it occupies a prime piece of coveted Division Street real estate—but he refuses, due to a mix of family pride, loyalty to his regulars, and a stubborn drive to keep the old-school flavor of the neighborhood alive. It also doesn’t hurt that, despite all the new hip bars and restaurants surrounding it, the place pulls in over $1 million in revenue a year.”

7. SOUL-LY VEGAN

Vegan soul food might seem a contradiction in terms, but there are lots of healthy trends in the African-American food community, often related to religious practices, and as one of the more interesting pieces of last month’s vegetarian focus at the Trib, Louisa Chu talks to the owners of Original Soul Vegetarian (which dates back to 1982), Majani and other vegetarian and vegan businesses on the South Side.

8. KHAO SOI BOOGIE

People who are, sadly, not me have been in Southeast Asia recently, and there’s lots of vicarious tropical travel and food pr0n to be had. On The Feed Steve Dolinsky gives us a look at the different experiences—and values—of four Bangkok food tours; he also made this video about why we should all be eating the Thai dish khao soi instead of pad thai.

And Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti has the first post from his Southeast Asia trip, focusing on the Thai island of Koh Phangan and the Full Moon Parties for which it is apparently famous: “Don’t think that all you can find on Koh Phangan is English assholes on ecstasy. On top of the natural beauty you’ll find great resorts catering to couples, families etc and some real culture from locals.”

9. HELP BRIAN FISHER

Brian Fisher, chef of Michelin-starred Entente, lost all his possessions in an apartment fire. Help him get back on his feet: contribute to the fundraiser here.

10. ON THE RISE

Zagat published this list of up and coming chefs a few weeks ago and I kept forgetting to include it, but check it out and know who’s going to be our next stars.

11. BIN 36.2

I mentioned the closing of Bin 36 last week, but after Alison Bowen wrote a piece about the restaurant just in December for the Tribune, Joseph Hernandez adds to the story here. [CORRECTED]

12. MILLIONS NOW LIVING WILL NEVER FLY

USA Today is having a poll for the best dining in airports. Is there any question who the bold and the brave choice is? Have standards, vote for Tortas Fronteras here.

13. PEPPERMINT PATTY

I have a soft spot for patty melts because they’re an old school thing, nobody under 40 (maybe 50 or 60) eats them, but somehow they hang on menus. Sandwich Tribunal goes looking for the best.

14. RIP JOHN MOODY KAHOUN

Who was, as you might have guessed, the owner of Edgewater’s Moody’s Pub, which at one time often topped city’s best burger lists. (Sun-Times)

WHAT MIKE ATE

Alinea. Read all about it.

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