Buzz List For July 23, 2018

A cruel year takes Jonathan Gold, Passerotto is on its way to stardom, Flight Club hits its target, Vettel unmasked, Aba is no Waterloo, and tickets available for Fooditor's South Side Food-I-Tour

Michael Gebert

1. GOLDEN AGE

There are two writers who I look at as my models for what I do—and no, Bourdain, admired as he was, is not one of them. One is Calvin Trillin, still going at 82, whose pieces on ethnic, joint food in the 70s and 80s (Alice, Let’s Eat) were the first to take that kind of food seriously for a wide audience. (True fact: in college I bought an old issue of Playboy for the articles… specifically Roy Andries de Groot saying Les Fréres Troisgros was the best restaurant in the world, and Calvin Trillin’s counter that no, it was Arthur Bryant’s barbecue in Kansas City.)

The other was Jonathan Gold, who did much the same as Trillin a generation later, and died this weekend at 57, of pancreatic cancer discovered only days before. My sympathies to his wife and family.

Starting at the L.A. Weekly and then for the Los Angeles Times, Gold was the peerless chronicler of immigrant food in L.A.—which meant that he was one of the primary chroniclers of the city as a whole, not just its wealthy elites. Ever since I started writing about food with any level of seriousness he has been the exemplar of how to use food as an entry into culture, of how to get to know your city by walking into restaurants, and seeing what the locals eat—and why. I’ve stolen from him enthusiastically—the idea of The Fooditor 99 is obviously taken from his annual Jonathan Gold’s 101 (should have called it the 90/94, I guess)—though not to the point of daring to copy his ingratiating second person style of writing, that drew you into the conspiracy of eating Chengdu food or lamb testicles. And I don’t think anything about the night I won a Beard award sticks in my mind as much as Gold telling me he knew my Sky Full of Bacon videos. That was a second prize that night.

Not being in L.A., I only read Gold sometimes, but for a long time my main exposure to him was through Evan Kleiman’s food radio show Good Food, one of the first podcasts I listened to; Gold would come on every week and talk about what he’d just written about, in a more colloquial form. (When I dragged my son Liam to see the documentary City of Gold, he had no idea who Gold was—until he recognized the voice, which he’d heard in the car many times.) The one time I really deep-dove into his work was for a 2006 family trip to L.A.; I particularly wanted to dig into the explosion of Chinese restaurants in the San Gabriel Valley. So I read Gold, and scoured the L.A. Chowhound board.

What I noticed then was that Gold was not only the pioneer, to some extent he dominated the discussion… to the point of inadvertently snuffing it out. There are hundreds of Chinese restaurants in that area, yet discussion seemed limited to the Gold-approved places, to walking only in his visible footsteps. I don’t know why L.A. Chowhounds didn’t roam beyond his writings, but at least back then he seemed to have intimidated them more than inspired them, the opposite of what he would have meant to do.

By comparison Chicago doesn’t have one figure on Gold’s level of national attention, but there are any number of writers, and amateurs on social media, going beyond the downtown dining scene and competing, mostly genially, for discoveries. And when I write about a new cuisine in town, I will often get reader comments that know more than I do. The only person in L.A. at that time who seemed to want to challenge Gold head to head, it’s worth noting, was a former LTHer from Chicago—Erik M., Thai food maven. (When I met Gold that first time, he asked me “What’s the deal with that Erik M. guy?”) I don’t draw any deeper conclusions about L.A. versus Chicago in terms of food culture, and I’m sure it’s changed since then, but that was something real I observed back then.

Anyway, a loss, an inspiration, somebody we can all aspire to be, at least for an hour or two on Saturday when we check out something new. I interviewed him when City of Gold came out; we only had 20 minutes or so to talk but it’s thought-provoking and full of insight. Alas, I never found out if he tried my recommendations; I hope he made it to Birrieria Zaragoza at some point. It was his kind of place.

Here’s the L.A. Times’ selection of notable pieces. Here he is on The Feed with Steve Dolinsky last year (about 28 minutes in).

2. FOODITOR’S SOUTH SIDE FOOD-I-TOUR

UPDATE: The bus is almost full so we are adding a second day on Saturday, August 25. The calendar of events for the Chicago Tribune Food Bowl is out in Sunday’s paper—or go here—and so I can finally make fully public the first-ever Food-I-Tour; we’ll be traveling by air conditioned bus to try different things around the south side, from Chinese and Mexican street food to south side BBQ and more. The bus is already about half full, so don’t miss your chance, get your tickets now—and check out all the events at the site, there are many exciting things happening, including ones by friends of Fooditor like Steve Dolinsky (pizza tours, of course), Filipino Kitchen and more.

3. NO PASARAN PASSEROTTO

“I see in Passerotto what I saw in the early days of Parachute and Fat Rice,” says Phil Vettel of Jennifer Kim’s Andersonville Korean-with-a-splash-of-Italian spot, and what could a new Asian restaurant in Chicago want to hear more than that? “Kim does nice work with raw fish, seasoning them sparingly and highlighting their pristine flavor. Hamachi gets subtle support from a complex, pickled-lime kosho and tart gooseberries (strawberries when I visited); bay scallops sit in a rich sauce of house-made XO sauce and dabs of concentrated onion puree. Fluke slices are anointed with just a bit of gochugaru sauce and topped with maitake mushrooms and celery leaves.”

4. UPTOWN SATURDAY NIGHT

Anthony Todd tells the story of a couple, Andy and Gina Kalish, trying to bring different kinds of restaurants to Uptown, starting with the eponymous Ka’lish: “In 2016, the Detroit native took over a portion of the building that now houses all of his restaurants to open Kal’ish (1313 W. Wilson. Ave., Sheridan Park), a diner that specializes in great burgers, delicious fries, and super-popular ‘Crispy Clucker’ sandwiches—all of which are vegan.” (Chicago)

5. DON’T ASK, VETTEL

I’ve known what Tribune critic Phil Vettel looked like since I saw the board of critics’ faces at Avenues during the second-ever Key Ingredient shoot, and I most recently saw him at The Loyalist a year or two ago. But now everyone will, especially after the Trib published a loving half-page photo, convenient for bulletin board posting. The most interesting part of his decision to abandon anonymity (making him almost the last to do so in town) was this, which I haven’t heard anyone say before: “The smart operators, the big kids, have sussed me out… This has, I fear, created an uneven playing field, giving an advantage to restaurants clever enough to recognize me and smart enough not to let it show. I like to think I can tell when I’ve been spotted, but who knows? Should Restaurant A be faulted for making an error that Restaurant B knew better than to make?”

6. GYROS GEARLOOSE

One should be supportive of friends who hold eccentric opinions, such as that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landings, or that… “If you’re looking to try the best gyros sandwiches in Chicago… the pork versions are the ones that are the most exciting.” I kid, I kid, Nick Kindelsperger makes a strong case for the preferability of unconventional gyros over the manufactured lamb-beef meat cone kind, though some of that may just be that anything made of fresh meat of any sort beats the industrial product. Anyway, check out his survey and slideshow of various kinds of gyros here at the Trib, though I still gotta say—on the rare occasion the Chicago kind is good, it’s very good, and the best gyros-like thing I ever had was in Istanbul—and was all lamb.

7. MAMMA MIA

Name a restaurant Aba and you’re halfway to writing Michael Nagrant’s review, so we’ll skip right past the references to Swedish lyrics and head to the food at C.J. Jacobson’s new rooftop middle eastern thing: “No one likes hummus. What people like is garlic and salt and tahini (sesame butter – kind like peanut butter that’s been dropped by its girlfriend– it’s very bitter). Don’t believe me? Boil some chickpeas, mash them up and eat them without any of that other stuff and see how that goes. In other words, hummus is popular because it is a blank canvas which is defined by what adorns it. And what would both you and I, red blooded Americans really yearn for to obliterate our bland chickpea paste? Big bold crispy charred beef short rib dripping in gravy with a side of sweet grilled onion. And that is exactly the miraculous opportunity we get from chef CJ Jacobson. This is surprising, because he’s a former pro volleyball player, and therefore, likely a hippie, and was probably once a vegetarian.”

8. TYLER DARTIN’

Flight Club is exactly the sort of place I usually ignore—a downtown bar concept—but honestly I went to the preview just because why not, and I found it… dare I admit it… fun? Aimee Levitt arrives at a similar conclusion: “I truly hope it succeeds, because in these troubled times it does a soul good to spend time in a place that is unapologetically devoted to supplying as many forms of happiness as possible. It also does a soul good to throw something pointy and sharp.” As for food: “The menu, like the bar itself, appears to be a list of the staff’s favorite things. Some of them, like the kung pao lettuce wraps, made with fried cauliflower, are prepared well. Some of them, like the oddly flavorless tandoori chicken skewers, are not. The most solid section of the menu was the raw seafood. Here everything was as it should be: the oysters were briny, the lobster sweet, the shrimp snappy, the poke tacos spicy.”

At Crain’s, Joanne Trestrail checked out Flight Club too, and found good things to eat including the chicken skewers Levitt wasn’t excited by: “Fresh from the grill, sided with curried yogurt and mango chutney, juicy tandoori chicken skewers ($8 for four) are superb. Mini poke tacos ($15 for three) are good but quiet; more chili in the chili vinaigrette, please. Lobster and shrimp chowder with corn, potatoes and tasso ham ($11) is creamy, flavorful and not overthickened. Similarly, a Reuben ($13, with fries) is lighter than others we’ve had, its smoked corned beef lean, its Swiss cheese judiciously applied and its spicy pickles providing satisfying crunch alongside the kraut.”

9. ON THE SQUARE

I hadn’t heard of 3 Squares Diner until Mike Sula’s so-so review last week, and now Ina Pinkney turns up thinking better of it: “Since I’m a fan of interesting breakfast sandwiches, I homed in on the one called The Red Line. There were lots of flavors coming from the chow chow (a pickled relish) and chipotle ketchup, but they didn’t overshadow the tasty chicken sausage on the brioche bun. And I think I’ve found my new favorite roasted potatoes.” She also checks out Evanston’s Next of Kin and returns for a second helping of farm to table breakfast at Cellar Door Provisions. (Tribune)

10. AIR BAYLESS

You’ve probably heard about the trips to Mexico that Rick Bayless takes with his staff a few times each year. Here’s what they’re like, according to Ray Isle in Food and Wine: “After arriving, we zoom to Ensenada for fish tacos (seriously great fish tacos) and seafood tostadas, pop 
over the craggy hills to Valle de Guadalupe proper, hit two wineries (Bodegas Henri Lurton, owned by the French Lurton family but with wines made by Ensenada native Lulú Martinez Ojeda, and Adobe Guadalupe), check in to our very-nice-but-still-a-tent glamping accommodations at Cuatro Cuatros, then head to Animalón for an eight-course dinner that lasts till midnight. Hence, bleary. (Bayless was up at 6 a.m. doing yoga.)
”

11. IT’S NOT TV

The Feed does a show about food TV and the differences between shows on different networks/streaming services, talking to telegenic chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Maneet Chauhan.

12. YARDS GROUNDS

Here’s a nice piece from a blog called The Monthly Memo about Back of the Yards Coffeehouse (you’ll never guess what neighborhood it’s in), and how it bootstrapped its way into existence after the co-owner’s previous failed experience with another coffeehouse.

13. CORNERED

Four Corners Restaurant Group has Federales, which draws an incredible bro crowd in the West Loop, and a bunch of other places with more generic names (Benchmark, Westend, etc.) A lawsuit alleges they share something else—cheating bartenders out of tips. NBC 5 has the story.

14. FIFTY 50

It may only be half as long as Jonathan Gold’s 101, but the full text of Chicago mag’s 50 Best Restaurants is online now.

15. TIME AND SPACE

The news is that Caribou Coffee will be opening inside all Chicago Einstein Bros. Bagels locations. Which is like learning that Blockbusters will be opening inside Sears locations. (Sun-Times)

16. SEGER ARRESTED

Celebrated mixologist Adam Seger was arrested in New Orleans on a rape charge stemming from a 2015 incident at Tales of the Cocktail. Joseph Hernandez has the details.

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