Buzz List for August 27, 2018

Arrivederci Sabatino's, Maple Tree Inn burns, first of the fancy sushi openings wows Sula, Tikka-walloped Kindelsperger, and do chefs judge diners' politics?

Omakase Yume/Facebook

1. YEAR OF WOE

Sad news about a trio of beloved restaurants:

Sabatino’s, Dean Martin-era Italian in Old Irving, announced on Facebook that they would be retiring and closing at the end of the year—giving customers six months to have baked Alaska one last time. To be honest, Sabatino’s was never quite one of my places, but it’s the kind of place I always hoped would be around, for the decor if nothing else, and our scene is just a little less exciting for the disappearance of a beloved, busy and consistently solid 1960s Italian joint like this. Anthony Todd has a nice remembrance on the theme that much of foodie Facebook took: “Oh no, where will my parents eat?”

Sadder for me is the closing, at least for now, of Maple Tree Inn in Blue Island. Decades ago, one of my first jaunts to the south side was for Cajun food—back when that was trendy—to this authentic spot on far south Ashland (Beverly? I didn’t even know where I was then, just waaaay south). In the intervening decades I assumed it was long gone, but it turned out that though founder Charlie Orr had passed away, his daughter and her husband were carrying it on in an historic building in this small-town-feeling suburb, and it proved to be a wonderful getaway from the city when we tried it again a few years ago. A fire destroyed the restaurant Thursday night, and though the owners tell the Daily Southtown they will rebuild, parts of it, like the century-old bar, were irreplaceable.

And this is just depresssing—for the third time, the wonderful 5 Loaves Eatery in Grand Crossing, which we wrote about here, found itself closed by the theft of copper wiring from its building. If there’s any news about fundraising, I will post it on social media; this is one that Chicago absolutely must not lose. UPDATE: Power was restored Sunday night (after the newsletter version of this went out). Go support them and have some fantastic food soon!

2. BAD NEWS

And a couple of unhappy stories about places we like, or liked

Canton Regio is the successor to Pilsen’s longtime favorite Nuevo Leon, which burned a couple of years ago. But in an article from Hoy picked up by the Tribune, an employee alleges that owner Danny Gutierrez Jr. beat him badly during a cleanup shift and that this kind of incident has happened before among the staff, many of whom are undocumented. The article indicates that the victim, Guadalupe Vera, plans to file charges but there are no reports yet if Gutierrez has been charged.

And a former busser at The Purple Pig alleges that management ignored his reports of sexual harassment from three male managers. Eater includes this priceless aside: “Jimmy Bannos Jr., was not mentioned in this most recent complaint… Last year, People named him one of the magazine’s sexiest male chefs in the country.”

3. YUME BOTH

We’ve got two upscale sushi places opening, and who knows which will win, but so far Mike Sula seems pretty delighted with Omakase Yume: “[Chef Sangtae] Park, who slices, molds, and paints his nigiri with the decisive fluidity of a croupier at a craps table, follows his signature fluke with a tuna trio of the three main cuts of bluefin belly meat—the ever-precious poster fish of overfishing—in increasing order of fattiness: relatively lean akami topped with a farce of scraped belly meat, egg yolk, and miso; then medium-fatty chutoro, a bit more lush and lightly brushed with a blended soy sauce; and finally the prized otoro. At this point the only reason you’re not drunk on its exquisite fattiness is the sprinkle of black sea salt and tuft of sharkskin-grated wasabi on top that tweaks the sinuses and brings you back to your senses.”

4. HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE

“Most incredible rooftop deck!” “Amazing vibe!” This is what eating at Aba has done to Mike Nagrant and Penny Pollack, turned them into River North scenesters. Pollack says “It just feels so alive without being overwhelming,” while Nagrant says “This is a place that is so enjoyable, that you could get together with your worst enemy on the veranda and just drink and be happy.”

5. SHAKESHACK WALLAH

Nick Kindelsperger is high on fast-casual Indian at Tikkawala, from two guys behind Naansense: “At Tikkawala, the new project by friends Hiran Patel and Sahil Singh in the West Loop, the saag paneer is bright green, with discernible leaves of spinach and, unexpectedly, kale in the mix. ‘Traditionally, restaurants blanch and boil the spinach and then puree it,’ Patel says. ‘I don’t like that texture. So I decided to fold in spinach and kale at the end.’ A topping of pickled onion provides a shock of yellow and a hit of acid, while kachumber, a mixture of tomato and cucumber, looks and tastes like finely chopped pico de gallo. So, it looks less like a puppet hanging out in a trash can, and more like Kermit singing ‘Rainbow Connection’ at the end of the Muppet Movie.”

6. FARVERGNUDLES

If you’ve been wondering what the Germanglish-sounding Funkenhausen is all about, Anthony Todd is here to help you versteh’: “There’s a little bit of German, a little bit of Italian, some French, and some southern BBQ, a combination that [chef-owner Mark] Steuer credits to ‘a mishmash of where I grew up and what my family fed me.’”

7. CHE FUHGEDDABOUTIT

One star from Phil Vettel is fairly damning, and that’s what Che Figata in Naperville gets: “Porchetta, served as a single slice almost as wide as the plate that delivers it, was disappointingly dry; the accompanying duck-fat potatoes and smooth salsa verde helped, but not enough. Swordfish, another victim of over-sustained heat, was beyond rescue; the astringent capers on top served only to underscore the fish’s bone-dry, grainy-textured flesh. [Chef Mark] Grimes’ take on carciofi alla giudia presented five artichokes with an appealing herbed-mascarpone fonduta, but the leaves had been fried so long they were positively brittle, and the hearts, once unearthed, had almost no flavor.”

8. THE FUTURE LIES AHEAD

If you ask me, they could do a whole season on this topic, but Steve Dolinsky and Rick Bayless talk where food journalism is going with Chris Ying, ex of Lucky Peach and now of David Chang’s Majordomo Media, Kevin Pang, trying to figure out how to do national food content at The Takeout, and Chris Nuttall-Smith, trying to figure out how to do local food content at Toronto’s The Taster.  (I wish they’d put somebody like The Infatuation on, though—and made ’em squirm.)

9. CRAZY RICH ASIAN FOOD

Okay, it’s a hot movie tie-in article for Crazy Rich Asians, but there’s never a bad time to offer a guide to some Asian food around town. Joseph Hernandez and Grace Wong tell you where to get food like what’s shown in the current box office champ.

10. GUAC ON BY

At the Reader, Anna White gives it to the Guaclandia truck that recently passed through: “Guaclandia was a sad example of an Instagram trap, otherwise known as any vapid installation or experience being marketed as a millennial playground. Ultimately these traps cater to social-media profiles and feature built-in photo ops but not much else.”

11. LAMAR!

A nice profile of Lamar Moore (formerly Currency Exchange Cafe, soon to be Bar Harvest) at Voyage Chicago.

12. TOM HANKS BUTTON

Rosebud pressed it!

13. DEPT. OF UNINTENTIONAL HILARITY

Neil Steinberg goes to a Mexican ice cream place to confront “the belly of the beast, the heart of darkness, the nightmare haunting Republican America.” Was it on 26th street, where Fooditor South Side Food-I-Tour just went on Saturday? Was it Hermosa on the west side? No, it was… on the north shore! Lucky he survived! Not since Bob Greene wrote about his hotel room for the 417th time has a columnist left his comfort zone so far behind to tell you a story…

Okay, we’re all for covering ethnic enclaves in the burbs, and it was Highwood, which is more diverse than, say, Winnetka, but… sheesh. There’s a whole city of Mexican food south of you, Neil, grab your flak jacket and I’ll show ya sometime.

14. TO SERVE MAN

David Hammond poses this question to some (anonymous) chefs: “What would you do if Sarah Sanders or another member of the Trump Administration—or perhaps a member of the American Nazi Party or the KKK—walked into your restaurant?” Well, that was rather a quick jump to full Godwin’s Law, but it’d be nice to know who the chefs are because their answers are pretty sensible (also, it’d make it easier to round them up for reeducation). One example:

“As concerned as I am about how their policies undermine our values, I’m even more concerned about how divided we, as a people, have become. I believe that this division and politicization of virtually every aspect of our lives is what got someone like Trump elected and that longer-term this a greater threat to our nation than any administration or set of policies… So as much as I despise these people and what they are doing, and as much as I would take pleasure in tossing them out the door, I would serve them. I opened a restaurant to cook for people. If I wanted to only cook for those I liked, I’d have thrown a dinner party.”

Whoever that was, I hope I’ve spent my money in your restaurant.

15. FOOD-I-TOUR NOTES

So the Fooditor South Side Food-I-Tour is over, two sold-out buses over two weekends; a collection of photos from one of this week’s participants is here. I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again, but it was fun to take mostly strangers to see parts of the south side that most don’t but everyone who likes food should, and talk about how industry, ethnicity and street gangs shaped the south side. Thanks to Bridgeport Bakery, A Place by Damao, Filbert’s Old Time Root Beer, Honey 1 BBQ, and all our stops on 26th street including La Cremeria Ordena and La Michoakana (not the one in Highwood), and to Megan Marshall at the Tribune and Chicago Food Bowl, to Stephanie, our bus driver, and to Pontarelli Limo for taking us around.

WHAT MIKE ATE

As it happens, I went to two pop-up dinners in the past week. Dylan Maysick (who wrote this piece for Fooditor) did a vegan Israeli dinner in his Diaspora Dinners series. I find tasting menus often run together when they use the same luxe ingredients in roughly the same order—if this is a langoustine, A5 Miyazaki beef must be next—so this was completely different, vegetables in new ways and no particular order (eggplant schnitzel was a standout, as were desserts). I’d love to see more pop-ups which aim not to do what the fancy restaurants do, but show a whole different food culture you couldn’t do in a restaurant. He’s got one more vegan one coming up, watch his Facebook page for the announcement.

A little closer to typical for a tasting menu, but still distinctively original, was Chicago-Washington, former Schwa chef de cuisine Wilson Bauer’s series in the very nice kitchen-dining space of a coach house. A relaxed setting and pace delivered a meal full of intricate surprises—a dish of pata negra with different kinds of melon, each compressed with a different spice profile, was almost candy-like in its flavors and colors; the main meat course wrapped ribeye around cordyceps mushrooms stewed in a profoundly deep broth of their own scraps. I just wrote about how good post-Bauer Schwa is, but post-Schwa Bauer is equally one of the most thoughtful and impressive dining experiences in town.

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