Buzz List For April 23, 2018

Nailing the Gibsons more than the Italia, Old Habits could become one, Nagrant gets static at Radio Anago, and Bill Murray stopped by to charm the press

Gibsons Italia/Facebook
Steak at Gibsons Italia

1. INTER ITALIA

Friend of Fooditor Karl Klockars pointed out on Twitter how Jeff Ruby’s fairly favorable review of Gibsons Italia buried its lede: three years after C Chicago gave away Ruby’s table to ex-governor Ryan, fresh out of stir, they’re still doing it to the no-longer anonymous reviewer: “An officious hostess waved us to the bar and commanded us to wait for a text regarding our table… But the text never came.” No word on which felonious governor got his table this time, but are they not teaching Ruby’s C Chicago review in High Roller Restaurant School any more?

Anyway, “The steaks are top-notch in the way I’ve always longed for the ones at the original Gibsons to be,” and he gets exactly the waiter you’d hope for in a place like this: “When my tablemate asked Mauro which of the menu’s five homemade ‘sauces’—which include black truffle butter and foie gras butter—he would pair with this steak, the waiter raised an eyebrow. ‘Why would you put a sauce on a steak?’ he asked.”

Too bad the Italia part of the name doesn’t compare: “It’s shocking how uninspired the noodles turn out to be: oily spaghettini al pomodoro; gummy fusilli with pasty Neapolitan beef and onion sugo; gorgeous but gloppy casarecce (a sort of twisted almost-fusilli) with torn-up asparagus and blunt dabs of ricotta. All the fancy bona fides in the world won’t make these pastas good.”

2. HABIT-FORMING

At Old Habits inside Ludlow Liquors, the menu “reads like a ransom note from a desperately famished kidnapper: rib tips, egg rolls, mostaccioli, french fries,” says Mike Sula. That’s the outlook of chef Nick Jirasek, whose “menu pays homage to the chef’s Chicago upbringing, and in an act of audaciousness that wouldn’t be possible were he not a native, he’s smoking rib tips (the city’s barbecue signature) and chunks of belly meat, glazed in a reduction of their drippings, and serving them not with cottony, grease-absorbent white bread but on flour tortillas with melted SarVecchio and cotija cheese. These chewy, fatty, charred nuggets of porky goodness are at once a paean to masters of the form such as Honey 1 and Lem’s and a so-crazy-it-just-might-work inspiration that are in a class by themselves.”

3. ANAGONISM

Michael Nagrant talks about being wowed by Brendan Sodikoff’s conceptual restaurants, but Radio Anago, his new sushi place best known for gold-leafed chicken, doesn’t tune to his frequency: “The $25 Houji fried chicken of Radio Anago delights no one. It is a plate where curation usurps degustation, where the cooks somehow forget to dust the bird with salt, but make time to shower it with tasteless edible gold leaf… They really double down on matcha at Anago, putting it in the soft serve and the dessert shots, shots which boast monikers like ‘woo woo’ and ‘matcha gogo’ (it will be very hard for you not to hum the Queen lyrics ‘radio goo goo, radio gaga’ at some point during your meal).” But in the end he decides, “At worst, I’m a dedicated fan, who just doesn’t like the newest album.”

4. BAR BACK

Big openings have been slow, so Phil Vettel takes a look at two cocktail-driven restaurants aiming for a second chance at the spotlight. “Sable Kitchen remains a good neighborhood spot, but if it’s to become anything more, [chef Amber] Lancaster’s menu is going to have to take some chances,” he says, while praising “very good mussels in chorizo broth and more of that excellent ciabatta toast… Ricotta gnudi are as pillowy as you’d want, aided by a soothing onion broth and chanterelle mushrooms.”

Meanwhile, G.E.B. has been reincarnated as Gideon Sweet and Vettel is wowed: “Roasted heirloom cauliflower, with smoked dates and Marcona almonds, is a triumph of crunchy textures; warm king crab with sea urchin and smoked trout roe excites with soft textures. A crispy potato spiral, doused with sour cream, green-onion threads and micro-shredded bottarga, was inspired by street food but strikes me as elevated-beyond-belief ballpark food.” One star for Sable, two for Gideon Sweet.

5. BIBIM-BURG

Bibimbap is all over the Loop and Graham Meyer is checking it out at Crain’s, finding it rarely has ambience (it’s in the Thompson Center!) but makes for reasonably tasty lunch. At City Rock, “If you choose fish, the result resembles poké, and if you choose beef, it careers toward bibimbap,” but it’s all good. While “H Mart’s large-portioned, well-balanced bibimbap makes for a choice tidbit of insider food-world knowledge to tuck away.”

6. ELITE BEAT

In case your copy of Elite Traveler, the magazine for private jet flyers, hasn’t come yet, I’m able to inform you that Alinea has taken the #1 spot on their list of the best restaurants in the world (“From taffy balloons to edible tablecloths and cinnamon bark chopsticks, the zany to the sublime, dinner at Alinea is always a distinctly modern and painstakingly curated experience”), with Next at #41 and Smyth+The Loyalist at #96. While Smyth’s John Shields gets Rising Star of the Year, accompanied by a nice interview.

7. LONGMAN & DORITO

Who’s been the chef at Longman & Eagle for the last… few years? No one, including Michelin who keeps giving it a star, has asked that question, but now it has an answer—and a theory of food. The chef is Maxwell Robbins, and as Anthony Todd explains, “Many chefs talk endlessly about cooking ‘simple’ food, but Robbins may have my favorite way to describe what that means. He calls it the ‘Cool Ranch Dorito’ theory: ‘When you make food, why would I charge $18 for a dish if it doesn’t taste as good as a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos?’”

8. CINDERELLA STORY OUTTA NOWHERE

This is one time that newspaper video really fails to capture the excitement of a large squirrel opening a restaurant near O’Hare (wrong movie, I know), but Nick Kindelsperger explains why everyone was out seeing Bill Murray introducing a Caddyshack-themed chain restaurant the other day.

9. HIGH TIMES

“I lurked around in the background trying to look inconspicuous with my pen and notebook. One guy approached and genially asked if I was a narc,” says Mike Sula. I’m sure many restaurateurs have felt that way, but this is a medical marijuana pop-up dinner by California chef Manny Mendoza, in the Reader’s weed issue: “Mendoza prefers to make his own infusions from flower, but particularly in Chicago, where supply and higher prices make that inconvenient, he uses precisely dosed and commercially available tinctures and oils. Typically his method is to finish off uninfused food with low-dosage sauces and seasonings. He’s made a name. Last November he reached the final round of the High Times Cooking Competition at the annual SoCal Harvest Cup.”

10. MR. FIVE BY FIVE

Five Loaves Eatery is one of my favorite places, the Chatham soul food place is maybe one of my sons’ absolute favorite in the whole city, so glad to see Steve Dolinsky paying another visit for ABC 7 to capture the liveliness of this sweet, homey place.

11. SUPERIOR DONUTS

…is just a TV show (and a play before that), but Patty Wetli has the story on a real doughnut shop that has opened in Uptown, Uptown Donuts. (Sun-Times)

12. YARDS BARD

Back of the Yard’s Cafeteria Yesenia had me at “a Cuban sandwich ($5.50) with tangles of juicy shredded pork bound together by melted Swiss cheese; three flaky empanadas ($7) stuffed with tender ham; and an order of french fries ($3) topped with a stoner-friendly combo of ketchup, mayo, hot sauce, and grated cheese.” (Chicago)

13. WHO IS THE INFATUATION?

The Infatuation has a Chicago site and it made headlines buying Zagat from Google… but who or what is it? It’s been kind of opaque, at least here. The Infatuation CEO Chris Stang talks to the Good Food podcast about what they’re up to—trying to give you recommendations that are more tailored to you and your lifestyle (a tough nut to crack when it involves both reading your mind and evaluating restaurants on very intangible properties), while at the same time carrying on some of the things that Zagat did successfully (surprisingly for an internet guy, he says they plan to bring the printed guidebooks back). It sounds reasonably smart—I’m just not sure how it’s all that different from anything else and if, based on the attention their modest Chicago content has captured so far, they’re willing to commit the resources needed to make a splash on the Chicago scene.

14. MAGGIE AND OMA

Maggie Hennessy talks to the blog The Hungry Genealogist about pursuing a career as a food writer and reviewer, and the family inspiration that got her into food… recipe, for Oma’s cabbage rolls, included.

15. INDIAN SUMMER

Thrillist includes two Chicago-area places on a list of the best Indian food in the country—Cumin in Wicker Park and Bombay Chopsticks, the Chinese-Indian place in Schaumburg. I’m always glad to see a reminder that the real action in Indian food is happening out in the burbs, and to point you to Michael Nagrant’s 2011 piece singing that place’s praises.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I had a vague idea that Mable’s Table was kind of soul-foody—not actually a soul food spot, or African American necessarily, but southern-ish, in the footsteps of Mama Mable. Well, no, it’s pretty middle-American supper club-ish—chops and chopped salads, basically; it seems like it should be named The Brampton or Town Social Club House or something. It’s perfectly good of that kind, a useful place to take the ‘rents when they visit and don’t want anything too out there that won’t hit you with downtown prices, but maybe not as memorable or distinctive as the place I imagined in my head before I got there…

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