Buzz List for April 16, 2018

Tied House is fit to be, Bar Biscay is a party, Giant makes a step toward health care and real Mexican in China

Tied House/Facebook

1. FIT TO BE TIED

I’ve been waiting to hear about Tied House, the expensive yet somehow kinda-under-the-radar project with James Beard-winning, Trotter vet chef Debbie Gold—if a restaurant opens somewhere other than West Loop/Logan/River North, did it really open? Mike Sula went and was wowed: “You may not yet be familiar with Gold’s food, but if you ever ate at Trotter’s you’ll recognize the combination of impeccable technique and artful plating with surprising flavors and textures and occasional exotica that so many veterans of that kitchen carried out into the world. Yet more frequently Gold takes simple, elemental ingredients to extraordinary places.”

But he also seems to fear that it might face a tough, Premise-like reception in Lakeview (even just a couple of blocks from Entente): “Restaurants of this unusual ambition don’t frequently open in Lakeview. The last time it happened was four years ago, when Spanish hideaway MFK greatly improved the unpromising options. The locals aren’t used to it.”

2. KEY BISCAY

“Simply put, Bar Biscay is a party — with all the noise that term suggests — with straightforward, delicious, ingredient-driven bites,” says Phil Vettel of the new place from the mfk. folks more or less, giving it two stars. You might expect his emphasis to be on fishy things, but “a couple of the vegetable-focused dishes are real stars. I’m thinking of the spring peas, mixed with bits of squid sausage and served with piperade on toast; it sounds simple, and it is, but it bursts with fresh, bright flavor. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the umami bomb that is the hongos, a dish of sauteed wild mushrooms (brightened with a bit of sherry) crowned with a runny egg.”

3. PIZZA PIZZA

Crain’s Joanne Trestrail looks at two newish, differentish pizza places. At Pizzeria Bebu, “Chef Jeff Lutzow (Nico Osteria, Publican) doesn’t shrink from boldly blackened, puffy perimeters on his pies, giving the crusts an almost caramelized undertone. He’s a virtuoso with the gas-fired brick oven.” At the new Bar Cargo from the Stefani group, Roman pizza (very much like Bonci’s) are “Massive, rectangular and with chewy-tender crust puffed to near-focaccia height… We were especially rocked by the carbonara (pancetta, pecorino, egg yolk, $18) and also by a stealth bomb of lavishly applied, feathery-thin, extra-spicy pepperoni ($18).”

4. MY FAVORITE YEAR

As a food writer you find yourself often writing about the splashy places, and ignoring the places that help you get by, the places of simple pleasures and good fellowship that don’t change. David Hammond has a lovely piece about one of his: “Down the stairs, into the basement, you can see snow caking up against windows, set maybe eight feet above the floor. Religions began in caves for a reason, and in this below-street-level spot, you’re in a cloistered space, a cozy, friendly place where you’re welcome even if you’ve never been there before. On cushioned seating along the wall and a few long tables, everyone seems to be sharing a good time. Sure, the wine helps, and there’s an overall feeling of being cocooned in a subterranean, homey pleasure dome, without a hint of gaudiness or pretension, blanketed in a vague sense of secrecy. You feel almost privileged to sit down. You think to yourself, ‘Who do I love? I want to bring them here.’”

It’s the best-written piece of the week, and it’s about a place Fooditor has written about: The Press Room. Read Hammond on it here.

5. BUY ME SOME PEANUTS AND AKUTAGAWA

As Wrigleyville develops beyond recognition, Titus Ruscitti checks out one of the longtime survivors, sort of, in Rice and Bread, which took over the old Hamburger King location and keeps some of its old school drunk food staples like Akutagawa going. He also visits another location for Dominican fried chicken (besides Morena’s), Tipico Chicken, and an empanadas and ice cream place called Bistro 6050.

6. BAA & COMPANY

When I was recording an upcoming episode of The Feed with Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky, we were talking about new stuff in Chinatown, and one thing I said was that I still don’t really get hot pot. They said I had to go to Little Sheep (which is, surprisingly, the one acquired by Yum Brands, that is, KFC and Taco Bell; but they seem to have cracked the code on making hot pot work for everybody). Anyway, in the new The Feed they talk food in China—and go to Little Sheep. Though the most fascinating segment is at the beginning, in which Bayless talks to a guy in China who’s trying to make Frontera-style Mexican there… and not just the Tex-Mex they normally eat in China (seriously).

7. LUNCHERMAN

About the time he was eating some wan-looking sushi from Macy’s on Instagram, I was feeling for Nick Kindelsperger getting the assignment of compiling a Tribune lunch in the Loop guide (which was a region he’d outsourced to Dennis Lee back in his Serious Eats Chicago days). Let’s just say that you could knock off half the list by just saying “Eat in Revival Food Hall,” and if you’re not looking for a sandwich, you can cross more than that off. That’s just the reality of the Loop, though I’m sorry not to see one of my standbys—Oasis Cafe, the middle eastern place in the Jewelers Building, which was practically the only real food in the area in my 90s Loop heyday. Anyway, it’s more a survival guide than a guide to excellence, but even if you don’t work in the Loop, you could get jury duty or something, so it’s useful.

8. GIANT STEP

Logan Square’s Giant has done a rare thing in the restaurant industry, offering a health plan for all employees, partly paid for by a 2% surcharge on all bills. That’s the most interesting part to me—how has that worked out? “The 2 percent surcharge was mentioned once via a Yelp review, and again on a customer Facebook post. Both mentions were positive, as one customer wrote: ‘The extra 2 percent for health insurance was representative of people who care for each other!’” (Eater)

9. COOP-ER’S TOWN

What is it about Nashville Hot Chicken guys, that they’re full of crazy entrepreneurial energy? First Jared Leonard of The Budlong and now the guy behind Oak Lawn’s Fry the Coop, who started out trying to open a pizza and meatball joint, as The Daily Southtown tells the story.

10. C. 1880-2018

Well, this a bummer: Thomas Hauck, the Milwaukee chef who took over century-old Karl Ratzsch’s, and closed it not long after I wrote about it here, is shutting down his original restaurant, C. 1880, in the continuing fallout from Ratzsch’s and because, he says, the market in Milwaukee is both healthier and more competitive: “Compared to what it was eight years ago to now, it’s light years… All these second market cities, there’s been this huge growth of restaurant talent and small independent restaurants that have sprung up. And that’s a great thing, it obviously benefits the diners but it obviously makes it harder because we’re all competing over the same people.”

11. PASTRY-TEMPS

The new season of Chef’s Table has come in for grief for being 75% male—when it’s focused on the traditionally heavily female craft of pastry. (The lone female is—surprise—Christina Tosi, from producer David Chang’s Momofuku Milk Bar. That the show is 50% New York, also featuring Will Goldfarb, a New Yorker currently working in Indonesia, is as unremarked upon as the gender balance would have been two decades ago.)

Dana Cree is charitable in her appraisal of the show at The Takeout: “Pastry chefs—and I am one myself—rarely share the spotlight with the savory chefs their own work compliments. They often find their own notoriety, as we see this season, in bakeries, gelato cafes, and rare dessert-only dining establishments. Their relative anonymity means Chef’s Table can do what it does best: dive deep into their psyches to help understand their passion and motivation.”

12. A FOODIE’S 99

A guy has eaten at 99 of the World’s 50 Best’s 100 Best. (Which means he’s eaten at all of the 50 Best.) He’s still trying to get into Sushi Saito in Tokyo, but here’s what he’s learned.

13. COIN FOR THE FERRO-MAN

And so the saga of the Tribune’s visionary new owner comes to an ignominious end… well if you don’t count the millions he made off of it. Michael Ferro, whose media empire ended in sexual harassment allegations, has sold it off to… its old old owners the McCormicks. He walks away with millions, and as a cheesy bro punchline who pillaged and weakened a major media institution in the name of some goofy TED talk BS that even he can’t have believed, but which we were all supposed to take seriously because money. (John Oliver’s takedown is well worth an occasional re-watch. Yes, the stock price actually went up after people saw this.)

Very late in the day, the realization that the news reporting operations were being bled dry to pay Ferro and his cronies fat bonuses (for… hiring Lithuanian hookers, I guess) led the Trib staff to unionize. Of many tweeting Trib-olites, home page editor Charlie J. Johnson perhaps summed up the need best: read it here.

WHERE MIKE ATE

Stopped in for the light bites around 4 pm on Saturday at Bar Biscay, and it was my best visit yet, as the unassuming Spanish-style offerings—they do that-day-only pintxo specials at that hour—seem to be reaching an mfk.-like sweet spot of unpretentious deliciousness. Vermouth on tap… ah, I missed you from Bom Bolla.

After meeting chef Lamar Moore at C-CAP (see recent story), son #2 and I went to Currency Exchange Cafe for breakfast—and it’s terrific. I had the soul bowl with turkey sausage, he had pancakes he declared the best he’d ever had.

Went to a preview of Big Jones after its renovation—the bright new open kitchen is really nice. There have been some changes to the menu, honestly I don’t know what’s new and what isn’t, but I really liked the crawfish pie a lot, and the fried chicken, now pressure-cooked (“Just like the Colonel,” chef Paul Fehribach said) is better than ever. The chicken and dumplings need to dial up some seasoning, though.

And I tried Bar Cargo—never been particularly impressed by the Stefani group, more concessionaires than restaurateurs, but they nailed the Bonci-like Roman pizza (actually I never had that kind of pizza anywhere else in Rome, so let’s just call it Bonci-style pizza); and the toppings, though nowhere as varied as Bonci’s, seem to be of good quality. So as middling a category as “River North Italian” is, Bar Cargo is a standout by comparison.

IMAGE: Tied House/Facebook

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