Buzz List for August 6, 2018

Take me out to the mall park, Nagrant knocks Doc's, Vettel on Next on Alinea, an unknown pastry queen, and Titus has road trip ideas for you

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Dutch and Doc's

BREAKING: CHEF JOEL ROBUCHON DIES

Not a Chicago story per se, but one about influence everywhere: Joel Robuchon, whose cuisine moderne was the response to nouvelle cuisine and brought some of the richness of traditional French cuisine back into modern French dining, has died at 73. His acolytes in Chicago included several chefs at fine dining restaurants (most now gone), including Thomas Lents of Sixteen, who had been his first American-born chef de cuisine at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, Matt Kirkley (L2O), Anthony Martin (Tru) and Ryan LaRoche (NoMI). (Jean Joho, of course, knew him personally as a fellow Vegas French chef, and appeared with him on Top Chef in 2009.) When Lents first came to Chicago, I spoke with him about Robuchon.

1. NEVER PLAY CARDS WITH A MAN NAMED DOC

“I always found the neighborhood desperate and sticky, as if it were always last call somewhere. And yet Wrigleyville long retained a specific kind of tackiness—I always knew that I was there. The new Wrigleyville is an assemblage of hard edges and smooth surfaces, offices, condos and storefronts, ice cream shops and sports bars and thoughtful hotels, arranged into gray and beige blocks, impersonal and dull alongside the remaining rowhouses…”

Christopher Borrelli takes the Rickettsville development to task for being a soulless new anti-neighborhood, and honestly, it’s shooting fish in a barrel; as someone who moved out of that neighborhood ages ago and has almost never gone back except for baseball, the idea that anything lively and Algrenesque in that area was still there even a decade before Rickettsville is pretty dubious, as Borrelli admits.

The bigger question is, can anything in Schaumburg-on-Clark be any good? Mordecai has gotten good reviews, but Michael Nagrant went to Dutch & Doc’s and found Boka Group slipping into Lettuce something-for-everyone territory: “Though Boka group is a burgeoning corporation, their restaurants have never felt like a product or a franchise. The menu here, however, which includes quinoa and kale, hummus, avocado toast, chicken wings, expense account-depleting hunks of meat, fried chicken, burgers, and pasta, has gone full Cheesecake Factory… Chris Pandel, the capable mastermind behind Balena and The Bristol and others, is the named chef here, but the way nothing coheres, it feels like the Boka team got the whole corporate chef crew, Steph Izard, Lee Wolen, Jimmy P, and GT, together in a conference room and said, ‘Hey, throw out your best idea for a dish and we’ll put it all together!’”

2. TIME REGAINED

Maggie Hennessy gets at the reality under the slogan at Pacific Standard Time: “I might have rolled my eyes the first time I read PST’s tagline pledging Californian warmth and authenticity. But visiting cemented how maddenly short this descriptor falls of conveying the enterprising dishes that mingle pristine West Coast bounty with Mediterranean influences and Wu-Bower’s sensory memories of cooking with his mother, a Chinese immigrant and food writer. Then again, maybe not. ‘People have always cooked that way out west, no boundaries between cuisines,’ Wu-Bower told me. Perhaps we should call it assimilation cooking.” (Time Out)

3. ALINEA THINKING

Next does Alinea’s early days and Phil Vettel eats it—gee, do you think he liked it? “My first impression was that the dishes I remembered seemed as fresh as yesterday… My second was that delving into this 18-course menu was like a sort of culinary reunion. Me — older, grayer, chunkier — looking at old friends and saying, quite sincerely, ‘Wow, you haven’t changed a bit!'” Four stars.

4. SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM

It’s a pleasure whenever Crain’s business lunch beat turns up a place with actual charm and personality—hey, it doesn’t happen very often—and I was charmed as soon as I read Joanne Trestrail’s description of Sapori Antichi in River North: “Michael and Mary Meranda’s 48-seat space (12 more outside), covers all the bases—liquor, espresso, gelato and food—and suavely evokes a feeling you may remember from your last trip to Rome. For our taste, it does so more convincingly than gigantic Eataly, just down the street. It’s not about grabbing-and-going or noisy crowds but about sitting down to a real meal and unhurried conversation at midday, possibly with soccer on TV in the background. If smoking were still allowed in restaurants, it would definitely be happening here.”

5. CROSSTOWN CLASSIC

So, speaking of dining around ballparks, a guy from a site called Barstool Sports wrangled an invite to the 1914 Club, the fancy club underground at Wrigley Field, and wrote a (humorous but basically accurate) account of the corporate guy good life: “It’s pretty magnificent. Made me feel like I was stumbling upon a place I did not belong and boy was I right. Corporate America guys were everywhere slinging deals and closing business and making moves like you read about in the Wall Street Journal you subscribe to after syllabus day in Econ 102. If you’re into stuff like leveraged buyouts and private equity mezzanine debt then let me tell you something – the 1914 Club has a very stiff boner it would like to give you.”

Not to be outdone, another writer writes a parody of the original piece for Comiskey/Guaranteed Rate’s Patio: “When walking into the patio you feel a rush of excitement; the people all share a common thought, and that’s to get as fucked up as humanly possible, while still acting with the class and sophistication you’d expect out of 1700 people attending an all you can eat/drink buffet deal at a baseball game.”

6. AGE OF AQUARIUM

Nick Kindelsperger has found a new south side aquarium smoker Chicago BBQ spot called Slab Bar-B-Que, and he says “Though the restaurant has been open for only 60 days, it’s already setting a new standard for barbecue in the area.” (We’ll assume that the “area” he has in mind stops just short of Lem’s at 311 E. 75th, which is the standard.) Owner James Trice had the business once before in Chatham, but closed it in 2004. Check it out!

7. KING T

I had corresponded with Titus Ruscitti of Smokin’ Chokin and Chowing With the King for years before I ever met him—at, as it happens, Nick Kindelsperger’s house. (We were both writing for Serious Eats Chicago, which Nick edited.) Back then he was a bit of a mysterious figure, so it’s fun to read Nick’s interview with him, as the Trib’s monthly theme for August is devoted to exactly the kinds of midwestern foods that Titus champions. Sample insight, on the difference between Iowa and Indiana pork tenderloin sandwiches: “Iowa is better. Or the better ones in Iowa are better than the best ones in Indiana. In Iowa, they are so juicy. It’s not as much about being the biggest one; it’s more about the juiciness. They use great pork, and it’s thicker. That said, it’s still only a once- or twice-a-year thing for me.”

8. GRACE OF CAKES

I knew that the pastries at the late Kingsbury Street Cafe outshone breakfast, but I didn’t begin to know the whole story, which Ina Pinkney tells, of Vietnamese-born pastry chef Hoa Tuy Dong, who (completely under the radar of food media, except for the time the Trib named hers the best croissant in Chicago) variously supplied Harpo Studios, Starbucks and Ina herself with baked goodies of very high standards. Read the whole thing.

9. ALOHA-OH-NO

First Emma Stone got in trouble for playing half-Hawaiian in a movie no one saw called Aloha, and now Chicago’s Aloha Poké is facing a backlash and boycott for coming down legally on anybody using those two words together… like actual Hawaiians: “The Aloha Poke representative said the company did not send cease-and-desist letters to owners of native Hawaiian background. However, Tasha Kahele, owner of the former Aloha Poke Stop in Anchorage, Alaska, said she made clear she was of native Hawaiian descent when responding to the letter she received in May; she even used Hawaiian language.”

10. CELEBRITY RECOMMENDATIONS

Apparently it’s celebrity recommendations week. First up it’s Cat De Orio, ex of Check, Please!, in the New York Times: “What I love most now is that high-quality chefs that could bank money with locations near downtown’s convention and tourist-friendly hotels are opening their restaurants in outlying residential neighborhoods instead, like Giant and Daisies in Logan Square, Acadia in the South Loop or Band of Bohemia in Ravenswood, where the great majority of diners can walk to the restaurant from their homes.”

Then it’s Carla Hall at Mic: “Picking just one favorite restaurant is nearly impossible for the former Top Chef contestant, so she’ll just tell you the last place she booked a table: Roister, the Alinea Group’s new-ish open-kitchen casual spot on Fulton Market.” While for pizza, “Hall forgoes deep-dish and instead opts for the rustic, wood-fired Neopolitan offerings at Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood.”

And RedEye asked a bunch of acts at Lollapalooza last weekend where they like to go. The most detailed report comes (not surprisingly) from Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand, who says this about Mr. Zee’s on West Irving: “Get some chicken at Mr Zee’s on W. Irving Park Road near Merrimac Park. Just like the city of Chicago, a great part of my make-up is of Greek heritage and this is some of the best Greek chicken you can ever eat. Man, I am salivating just thinking about it.”

11. RIGHT TO TACO

This conversation between L.A. Times columnist Gustavo Arellano and Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine starts out as a tribute to the late Jonathan Gold—and nothing is a clearer legacy of Gold’s effect on L.A. than the ultrastarchy L.A. Times employing a Mexican food and culture columnist—but morphs into a passionate defense of cultural appropriation, cross-pollination, Trump eating taco salads, and even Taco Bell.

12. PIZZA-DO

There’s an internet challenge to do data visualizations in Play-Do, and so a woman named Amy Cesal started doing the Chicago pizza styles as enumerated by Steve Dolinsky. So far, here’s tavern cut, and here’s stuffed.

13. RIDE OUT

Speaking of Titus, as I was above, there’s still time for summer road trips and he has one for you: the burger at Ridott Corners Tavern, a little west of Rockford, named one of the 5 best in the state by the Illinois Beef Council: “As far as the burgers go each one is a 1/2 lb of fresh local beef. You get your choice of cheese and toppings all of which are the standards. Like the taverns in Wisconsin the burgers are cooked on a well seasoned flattop behind the bar. I tried one with American cheese and pickles, onion, mustard. Boy did it hit the spot.”

14. AN INSPECTOR CALLS

Yelp is adding health ratings to its reviews. Good idea or more room for squeezing people to advertise? Monica Eng and I were among the guests talking about that on Illinois Public Media’s The 21st last Thursday.

LAST CHANCE FOR THE FOOD-I-TOUR

At the moment there are just nine seats left for the second Fooditor South Side Food-I-Tour on Saturday August 25 (the first one is long since sold out), so if you want to go, act now! Who knows if we’ll ever do this again, so don’t miss this one.  And check out the other Chicago Food Bowl events here.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I hadn’t been to Elizabeth in a few years, trying new places instead including Iliana Regan’s Kitsune, but I heard good things about the Pagan Fire menu—and they were right! I went with a friend so we tried both the God (veg) and Goddess (omni) menus; particular standouts included a wonderful plate with the makings of teeny tiny uni tacos, something accurately described as “clams, cherries, begonias,” and a dessert of honey sorbet with a kouign-amann. At $80 for six-plus courses, service included, it was the right amount of food and imagination for the price—and the season.

Buzz List will be off next week and return for August 20th.

 

 

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