Buzz List for April 9, 2018

Will Boka's next Hotel be California, S.K.Y. is the solution, Bar Biscay is a trip, and lots of cookbooks

Dishalicious

1. DISHY

Will Dishalicious take off like Top Chef or, closer to home, Check, Please? Who can tell, but the new WTTW show, hosted by Sarah Grueneberg (Monteverde), is easy to enjoy and puts its focus on food more than chef soap opera, so I’m looking forward to the rest of its three episode run. You can watch the first one, about Italian food, with guests Tony Mantuano, Giuseppe Tentori and Leigh Omilinsky, here, and Grueneberg talked about it with Justin Kaufman on WGN Radio here.

2. BOKA… RATON?

In January in this Fooditor piece, Boka Group’s Kevin Boehm said, “If you look, we have a board behind our desks, a huge whiteboard, and it lists what we’ve done each year, and for 2020 it says, ‘Another city.’” (And they don’t mean Springfield, even as Boehm just celebrated the 20th anniversary of one of his first, and long since sold off, restaurants, Indigo, in that town.) Crain’s looks at where they might go: “To leverage the advantages of expansion while avoiding outsider mistakes, [Rob] Katz and Boehm have spent serious time in Miami, New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. They’ve contemplated ‘hundreds’ of offers to expand as far away as Paris and Dubai, but haven’t yet leapt. ‘Right now, L.A. has taken the lead,’ Katz says. ‘Nothing’s signed yet, but we’re excited about it.'”

The article turns into a profile of the duo and among other things, shows why they’ve been big on steakhouses in recent years—for all that Girl & the Goat remains a hard reservation to get, their biggest moneymaker is steakhouse Swift & Sons, doing upwards of $15 million a year in sales.

3. MUSTANG MOLLY

Mike Sula says Bar Biscay “attempts to replicate a chic San Sebastián bar where everybody’s drinking red wine and Coke, snacking on pinxtos, and rolling on molly.” That’s a bit harsh on Molly, who should at least get a capital letter for her name, but a reasonable take on the lush 80s color scheme and easygoing vibe of the new pintxos bar from the mfk. folks and chef Johnny Anderes: “Along with appropriate cheeses and cured meats and a few canned conservas, say, high-quality Spanish sardines dressed with pickled fennel and red onion, or briny cockles washed in tart sherry butter, these are among the simplest and most resolutely regional bites on the menu. Anderes also offers fresh oysters, a scallop crudo, and fresh prawns, headless (perhaps these are being served at MFK?) and served curling over avocado halves sprinkled with a paprika-espelette pepper blend and drizzled with apple balsamic vinegar.” (Reader)

4. WRITER IN THE S.K.Y.

Michael Nagrant talks a lot about the history of gentrification and change in Pilsen and the intersection of Chicago real-estate and politics on his way to reviewing S.K.Y., and I wondered if he was really going to bring it back to the food. But he has a thoughtful point to make: “S.K.Y. is not a panacea, but it provides jobs to the community, tax dollars to provide that supportive and inclusive infrastructure, and is a focal point for hope and progress. The building that houses S.K.Y. was once condemned and crumbling, and is now reborn… The high ceiling dining room, a combination of industrial touches like exposed cement and brick that channels a West Loop loft, is a true gathering place. The only other restaurant I’ve dined in with such diversity, a mix of old and young, black, white, Latino, gay and straight, in the last five years, is the nearby Del Toro run by the Garcia brothers on Halsted.”

He’s thoughtful about the food, too—like the lobster dumplings: “When I had this dish at Intro Dim Sum, a temporary Lettuce Entertain You restaurant that Gillanders created, I liked it, but felt something was missing… when you’re part of a corporate restaurant group with many hands in the pie, a chef’s vision can be diluted in many ways. At S.K.Y. where Gillanders is the final arbiter, he can execute his vision exactly how he wants without interference and that shows in comparable presentations.”

5. NOTHIN COULD BE FINER THAN MINNA IN HER DINER

Well, my “best eating block in Chicago piece” (touting one of  Titus Ruscitti’s discoveries) continues to win converts, and Nick Kindelsperger has the latest ode to Minna’s Restaurant, the Mexican diner just a few doors down from Dominican restaurant Morena’s Kitchen: “I’ve never witnessed a harder-working kitchen staff than the all-female crew at Minna’s Restaurant. Cooks rush back and forth at breakneck speed in the tiny space, while the one waitress valiantly takes as many orders as possible before high-tailing it back to the register to swipe a customer’s credit card… And these cooks aren’t just slinging tacos, but traditional, made-from-scratch Mexican dishes like huaraches, gorditas and quesadillas.”

6. FAST CAUSAL

Graham Meyer in Crain’s looks at two chains with plans for invading the Loop. First, “Taylor Gourmet constructs well-conceived sandwiches presented on the menu as complete, composed dishes, shunning the customization trend of fancier fast food… A sample ranged from good (the South Deux chicken-cutlet sandwich, $6.99) to excellent (the Federal, one of two Italian hoagies, $6.99).” Dos Toros, on the other hand, “steers customers into an assembly line familiar to Chipotle habitués… It nearly duplicates Chipotle, but as with a photocopy, the quality decreases.”

7. GOOD MORNING, ELSKE

Bon Appetit does a morning in the life of Anna Posey of Elske, and like the chef herself, it’s sweet and relaxing, if dotted with odd humor (she offers a spirulina shake with the words “Watch this be the worst smoothie ever. You’re gonna have great poops!”)

8. COOKBOOKS, CAN’T TELL THE CHEFS WITHOUT A COOKBOOK

The Trib looks at two new cookbooks. Bill Daley talks to Stephanie Izard about Gather & Graze: 120 Favorite Recipes for Tasty Good Times: “As an example of Izard’s approach to flavor, she points to the crumpets with chorizo maple syrup in her brunch chapter. The crumpet is not ‘super sweet,” she said, but more savory. That’s countered by the sweetness of the maple syrup, which is spiked by the spiciness of chorizo sausage and the addition of one teaspoon of Dijon mustard that gives ‘that little bit of different spice and layer of flavor.'”

Then Nick Kindelsperger talks to Bill Kim about his new book Korean BBQ: Master Your Grill in Seven Sauces, whose approach, surprisingly, comes from French cuisine: “Kim got the idea of structuring this book from his fine-dining experience. ‘In traditional French cooking, it’s embedded into your head that there are five mother sauces,’ says Kim. ‘In Asian food, there are foundational cooking techniques, but I wanted accessibility.'”

9. RISOTTO ENCORE

After I mentioned Mike Sula’s piece about his book Risotto and Beyond, chef John Coletta (Quartino) gave me a phone call to thank me for mentioning it—a first in Buzz List history. Such graciousness deserves to be repaid in turn, so here’s another chance to hear from chef Coletta on the subject—he talks risotto on The Feed with Steve Dolinsky and Rick Bayless.

10. FAMILY TRUCKSTER

Recently I mentioned a roman à chef featuring a bad boy chef suspiciously reminiscent of Brandon Baltzley—and this week, the long-ago Chicago chef (apparently doing well in Cape Cod) has his own short memoir in Food & Wine, about a drive out to eat at Single Thread in California… and what could tell you how life has changed for him better than this passage, about his one-year-old daughter: “The journey first took us through Chicago, where we visited chefs David and Anna Posey’s restaurant, Elske. It’s a 
complicated thing to eat in a nice restaurant with a kid, but David and Anna made it fun, and Faunus surprised us by 
really digging the chicken liver tartlet. By the end of the meal, she was walking around the dining room like she was running for mayor.”

11. MOTO RE-MOTO’D

“Between 2004 and 2016, the most inventive food on the planet, possibly in history, came out of a small restaurant in downtown Chicago,” begins a long read in The Guardian on the innovation and sad premature demise of Homaro Cantu of Moto. Much of it is familiar, but there are new quotes from some of his proteges like Richie Farina and Ben Roche, as well as a thoughtful exploration of where Cantu’s profligacy with ideas was leading—and how they’re being carried on in California high tech circles.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Lots of eclectic things! I went back to Mi Tocaya Antojeria on a Sunday night when they have a shorter communal menu including… fried chicken. Curious, and nothing particularly Mexican about it, but it was nicely made; the standout, though, was a plate of earthy enfrijoladas, followed by tangy, spicy elotes arranged like Cornhenge on the plate.

I recorded an upcoming episode of The Feed (briefly talking about The Fooditor 99, but mainly the three of us just traded Things We Like Now for 20-some minutes; listen for it just before the Beards). I got out right at 5 pm, so rather than head home on the rush hour CTA, I wandered through River North, looking for something new, and kind of didn’t find anything. Eventually I found myself in the Viagra Triangle, and I thought, I never go to those places, so I should try one of them. Not really dressed for Gibson’s or even Hugo’s, I went in the bar in Tavern on Rush, and seemingly went back 40 years to an era of men in suits and waitresses with cleavage. A ribeye steak sandwich was very well made, service was completely friendly, but these Mad Men places are just not my scene… the best moment was when two older regulars, pretty clearly Jewish, were greeted by a waitress with “Did you have a nice Easter?”

Speaking of not my scene, the massive Orlando-style dining-and-entertainment center being built near Wrigley Field is very much that, even as the whole area aims to meet every possible demographic, from Boka to Big Star to McD’s. But as Matthias Merges said at the preview event for Mordecai, there’s only 81 days of baseball in the year, and the other 284, Mordecai seems very pleasant, and the sort-of-secret upstairs bar, Hush Money, would be a cool hangout.

Finally, I had not been back to North Park’s Bryn Mawr Breakfast Club since it moved from one side of the street to the other, into an 1920s mock-Gothic building. The inside—imagine Wishbone with a little Cinderella’s Castle thrown in—is fun, not like any other space in town, and the food is solidly imaginative but not too weird for breakfast (one of the best things remains the pajun, a Korean rice crepe pancake). Keep this one in your pocket for when you have someone visiting and you want to show them a place for Sunday breakfast they’d never ever have found on their own.

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