Buzz List for July 16, 2018

Radio Anago gets zero-star static, not a good year for Rosie's or 3SD, arepas everywhere, and a review makes Bar Biscay mad

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Muffaletta at Rosie's Sidekick

1. TRYING TO ANESTHETIZE THE WAY THAT YOU FEEL

Slams are fun to write, but also cruel—I can’t bring myself to really slash some poor guy who put his dreams and cash into something he wasn’t capable of realizing. Jeff Ruby showed that the proper target of a slam is the well-funded project that is cynical toward its audience, when he wrote his legendary pan of an upscale seafood restaurant that, among other sins, gave his table away to a felonious ex-governor.

He does it again with his review—or evisceration—of Hogsalt’s Radio Anago. He finds the atmosphere merely clichéd: “Under dim orange lamps, couples with tattoo sleeves and Harry Caray glasses sip Negronis and look beautifully bored, adding to the feeling that you’ve stumbled into a Heineken ad set in a Japanese-themed nightclub.” But he finds genuinely “disturbing” the place’s silly signature dish, gold-plated fried chicken: “What arrived was three overbattered, burnt boneless thighs. They resembled something between a trio of burgers left overnight on a grill and decomposing limbs in a serial killer’s basement… The sprinkling of gold flakes lent a top note of bullshit. And that was the good part. ” He doesn’t stop there, but I hate to spoil all his best lines, so just go read it.

2. SIDEKICKED

Mike Sula’s had such a bunch of pretty good restaurants to review lately that it’s a surprise to find him coming down so harshly on sandwich shop Rosie’s Sidekick, which I agree is no Graziano or Tempesta but has served its purpose a couple of times being close to me: “Take the very impressive-looking muffaletta, stacked with mortadella, capicola, Genoa salami, and olive salad, the bottom bun splashed with balsamic vinegar. It’s hard to get past the meats, no more distinctive than anything you could order at the Jewel deli counter. Same goes for the Italian beef, which is underseasoned enough to require an ample dose of giardiniera or sweet peppers to be noticed at all.”

3. SQUARESVILLE

Sula also finds that something called 3 Squares Diner, in the same Lawrence House redevelopment in Uptown as the new bar Larry’s, is one of those places that overthinks everyday food: “Jam chef Ian Voakes dreamed up the pastrami dog, but it isn’t at all as I expected. Instead it’s simply a pastrami sandwich dressed up in a Halloween costume of Chicago-style hot dog toppings… The pastrami itself is sliced thick and seems undercured, halfway between brisket and heaven. The slightly flattened brioche bun I ate it on seemed old and unimpressed with what it had become.”

4. PALMED OFF

“It’s easy to forget about the Palm, marooned up there on the dead end of Upper Wacker Drive near the Chicago Harbor Lock, far from the madding herd of Loop and River North steakhouses,” says Graham Meyer in Crain’s. But he says of the Power Lunch special, “The $26 price, given that steak is an option, feels more than reasonable, especially compared to the overpriced remainder of the menu, where a wan lobster bisque and a dull, underseasoned hamburger cost $27.50, without dessert.” Don’t everybody rush there at once!

5. COMEBACK LITTLE PIZZA

Roberts Pizza, a brief succes d’estime in Streeterville before the eponymous Robert got shafted by partners (who opened a pizza place of their own in the space and saw it close even faster than Roberts had), will reopen in the River East Arts Center. I never got to the old one to try it, so here’s hoping for the new one.

Also in comeback news, I wrote about Greg Laketek’s West Loop Salumi a couple of years ago, but was apparently premature in saying nothing could stop it. Laketek apparently had a falling-out with his then partners, but is coming back as Salumi Chicago, with plans to open a place to eat what he makes in the… West Loop, naturally. (Eater)

6. NOT THAT KIND OF DREAM KITCHEN

“She was humbled by going from a life where she worked as a model and wore Gucci…” okay, you’re already straining my sympathy. But Nicole Benford went to prison for providing a false alibi for a boyfriend, and now she’s started a restaurant on the west side called Dream Chef Kitchen to not only get her life back together but help others do the same: “Some of her six employees are recently out of prison, including on a spring day a man washing restaurant windows and a woman cooking salmon and sauteing vegetables. Benford noticed the woman was good at math, and she began teaching her to calculate food costs. ‘I feel like a leader develops other leaders,’ Benford said.” (Tribune)

7. SLEAZE TO TABLE

Sustainable seafood company Sea To Table was a darling of chefs like Rick Bayless. An AP investigation suggests that it was a con. (Sun-Times)

8. IT’S A TACO’S WORLD

There are always more taco joints to try, even for Titus Ruscitti, and he checks out all three of the places Mike Sula reviewed last week as well as Tata’s Tacos, Disco Taco, Edgewater Tacos and more. Tata’s is the one I most want to check out: “Starting with the lengua – it might’ve been the best taco of all those featured today. The most interesting taco of all those tried might’ve been the ‘Sirena’ which was grilled shrimp wrapped in bacon and served with cabbage, lettuce, chipotle aioli. They also offer a guisado of the day taco which was chicken mole on the day I visited. My only complaint was no rice under the mole.”

9. IT’S AREPA’S WORLD

Arepas, though not new here, are popping up all over Chicago, and we’ve had stories about Rica Arepas, I just visited ArePa George in Humboldt Park which was very good… and Block Club Chicago has a piece on another place, Sweet Pepper, in Albany Park, which gives the background behind the sudden growth of these stuffed discs of corn masa: “Venezuela used to be the ‘U.S. of South America,’ the place people from other countries moved to for a better life, [co-owner Jose] Navea said. ‘That’s one of the reasons this delicious [Venezuelan] food wasn’t known in the U.S.,’ he said — Venezuelans didn’t emigrate. Now, political instability and hyperinflation have forced many Venezuelans to flee their homeland, on foot in many cases, and they’re bringing their culinary traditions with them.” Read the whole story about how Navea and his wife Andrea Andrade started the business—with some help from another couple with some small food businesses in the area.

10. REVIEWER REVIEWED

Most of the time restaurants are better off not responding to reviews—it’s all subjective, the complaints could be just, you’re just going to look like a whiner. But Scott Worsham goes off on a review of Bar Biscay from The Infatuation, and the review—which seems to show little understanding of what Basque food is, and in general sounds more like a Yelp Elitester than Ruth Reichl—comes in for some interesting points from people in the industry.

Here’s my feeling about the original review. The Infatuation is a national site with some money behind it—it acquired Zagat from Google not long ago—and I’ve considered including its reviews in my roundups here at Buzz List. In the end I’ve always decided against it, because I just don’t find them that interestingly written or well-informed—and because of that, the business model of The Infatuation kind of offends me. They come into a market and try to advertise their way to a certain level of readership, but where they do not spend their money is by hiring  talent with a track record of writing about our local scene to review restaurants. (The two primary reviewers they’ve had so far have not, so far as I can tell, ever written anywhere else.)

And, well, it shows in the writing, which doesn’t show any sense of context along the way of trying to get off cute lines. (How do you write about Monteverde and never mention Spiaggia or Tony Mantuano? By being too busy making utterly inexplicable basketball jokes, that’s how.) I’m all for giving new voices a shot, obviously, if they show real promise; but still, think of the splash they could have made giving this expense-accounted pulpit to someone with some real experience and insight into the scene—Michael Nagrant, Anthony Todd, Maggie Hennesssy, Lisa Shames, all of whom have been in search of new gigs in recent months. But that’s obviously not where they want to spend their money, and if they can’t take the actual writing on their slick site seriously, neither will I.

11. VODKA WRITINI

Winner of this week’s headline that sounds like it was written after a lot of vodka is “Why Give Vodka Another Chance? Because It’s a Bouquet of Flavors Just Dancing Under the Surface.” But David Hammond makes a case for everybody’s most useful neutral spirit, especially in the hands of someone like Julia Momose.

12. CATWAUKEE

Fooditor is always a fan of visiting our neighbor Milwaukee for dinner and drinks, and though Vogue is a bit of a surprise as someone to share that view, this is a nice piece with some good tips.

13. YU GET BETTER

Best wishes to the Sun-Times’ Linda Yu, recovering from a broken wrist.

14. CHURCH OF WINE

Best wishes to Whet Moser, frequent online correspondent though we’ve still never met in person, who is leaving Chicago mag for Quartz; thanks for all the mentions of Fooditor stories in The 312, one of Chicago mag’s newsletters. One of his last pieces for Chicago is this look back at an early Tribune writer on wine, Ruth Ellen Church, who was writing many of the same things people are still writing about wine, way back in the 60s.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Arbor, which I wrote about early on in Fooditor’s history, is my primary coffee-shop-with-wifi workspace, and I’ve often spoken at length, and philosophically, with chef Leonard Hollander and manager/coffee guy/somm Chad Little. Which is by way of saying, I am no objective reviewer for their “midwestern omakase” dinner as it stands in 2018.

As much as I enjoyed it a couple of years ago, it seemed a bit pleasantly homemade then—and to mix that, incongruously, with some molecular influences from Hollander’s old boss Graham Elliot. So the first thing I noticed this time is that it’s more refined—more upscale products (the opportunities presented by that Regalis party didn’t go to waste), and a subtle use of Asian flavors—Hawaiian ono in a Thai curry was somehow meaty yet light in flavor, and one of the best things I’ve eaten this year. But the most impressive thing, certainly in summer, was the use of the herbs they grow out back—there was the simplest French potato salad, but when you bit into it, you got spicy greens and floral herbs bursting in your mouth. I don’t know any place in town that uses what it grows on premises with more sophistication or to greater effect.

The flip side was Chad Little’s service—we went with a Chicago couple who know wine (and wine writers) well, and there was extensive conversation about that, which showed off Chad’s geekiness about quirky, natural wines (most via Damien Casten’s Candid Wines). But I was most impressed by something that happened at the end—some weeks back Chad brought out something he had just made for me to try, which was a tea or juice made from cascara, the fruit around the coffee bean. (Apparently common in the middle east but largely unknown here.) This time, to end our meal, he had concocted a digestif of cascara with elderberry liqueur he’d made in house, mixed with a little soda water. Oh, that again! As one of our friends observed on the way out, you go even to a very fine restaurant and ask a question, you’ll get a script, or they’ll say “I’ll get you someone.” But at Arbor, you get Chad, ready to tell you all about how he discovered it and what he thought when he first tasted it, and what he made from it.

I love the Chicago restaurant scene, but there’s no question that it has a mainstream, and we pretty much all like the same (very good) places at the same time. (It’s as if we’re all set to Pacific Standard Time and reaching for the S.K.Y.!) Arbor, even 2-1/2 years after I was the first to really call attention to it along with Chicago mag, seems to be off on its own tangent, half overlooked even as it does miraculous things, the Nikola Tesla of Chicago dining. This is the best time of year to go there, with what’s growing out back, but there is no bad time to fall under the spell of one of Chicago’s genuinely special restaurants.

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