Buzz List for July 9, 2018

Grace II won't be spelled Gras, very hot pot and awfully not wet, Mister Taco's Neighborhood, and a poem to Reza's

Michael Gebert
Chicago Taco Authority

1. UNDER PRESSURE

I’d heard some rumors—including one that Laurent Gras was supposedly consulting on a new restaurant in the former Grace space. But the news came out last week that the empty restaurant at 652 W. Randolph finally has a chef in Mari Katsumura, previously a pastry chef at places including Entente, Gideon Sweet and Acadia, who will jump to overall control of the kitchen. Eventually someone with owner Michael Olszewski’s money and an open kitchen space was bound to find someone to seize the opportunity, though further details from the name on down remain to be disclosed (the only hint is that, like her late father’s restaurant Yoshi’s Cafe, it will reflect Japanese and French influences).

Anyway, a promising young chef with an impressive track record serving fine dining food in that serene room… what could go wrong?

2. ANCIEN REGIME

We’re about to have a bunch of openings, I feel, but in the meantime Phil Vettel seems to be taking stock of some old favorites and this time it’s the duo of Le Bouchon and Le Sardine, being carried on by Oliver Poilevey and the rest of the family after the 2016 death of owner-chef Jean Claude Poilevey. “The restaurants are very similar; it matters not which dining room you occupy when ordering menu stalwarts such as onion soup, escargots a la Bourguignonne, steak frites or bouillabaisse — all beautifully rendered,” he says. So why, we wonder, only two stars apiece?

3. GRANTLAND RICE ON THE SIDE

“Perhaps this lifelong Cubs fan and wife of a season ticket holder—for whom Wrigleyville still signifies pure, gimmick-free baseball followed by $5 pints at Nisei Lounge—needs a moment to process this shiny new reality,” says Maggie Hennessy of Mordecai in Rickettsville. But she’s won over enough to produce rapturous sportswriting like this: “Submerging my fork into a cloud of nutty aerated Parmesan revealed thick ribbons of house-made arugula pappardelle mingling with a peak-springtime bounty of stem-on young turnips and carrots, morels, peas and asparagus atop a tangy swipe of asparagus puree.” (Time Out)

4. THE STATE OF OUR TACOS IS STRONG

Mike Sula looks at three new taco joints roughly within the Albany Park area, expanding the lexicon of Chicago taco offerings while still hewing to street food tradition. Chicago Taco Authority (which we wrote about here) goes out there with things like “the Bloody Mary, for example, fat bacon-wrapped shrimp drenched in a tomatoey pico de gallo with cucumbers and shaved celery, and the beef brisket taco, served on a tostada with radish and iceberg lettuce.” El Santo Taqueria claims to be California style, though Sula “was more taken with the all-vegetable offerings, which include calabacitas, pale green zucchini-like squash diced along with corn, tomato, bell pepper, and onions.” Finally, Tomatillo Taco-Ville is the most traditional: “No surprises here except perhaps the pescado, a length of unbreaded tilapia dunked in the fryer and served piping hot, countered by a cool nest of cabbage and pico de gallo.”

5. HOP ON POT

Sizzling Pot King, in Greektown, brings us Chicago’s first example of Hunanese dry hot pot (a stir fry rather than a steaming bowl), says Mike Sula. But it sure looks a lot like the stir fry being served (at least last summer) at Xinglong Foods in the Richland Center basement food court. Well, I’m not going to argue with the bounty of flavors Sula describes (and be sure to page through Matt Schwerin’s slideshow, too), which recall the late Lao Hunan: “We once again have the opportunity to tackle finely sectioned pickled green beans with ground pork (a personal Lao Hunan favorite) and fat, fleshy green chiles stir-fried with thinly shaved pork. The list of Hunanese offerings isn’t as deep as Lao Hunan’s was, but there’s quite a bit to get into, even extending beyond the borders of the province, like a marvelous platter of ‘Chef’s Magic Tofu’: large, flat sheets of custardy, lightly fried house-made bean curd stacked and draped with a glossy red sauce that merely hints at sweet-and-sour.”

6. BELGIUM TO MONACO

When I went to Fisk & Co. I thought, if not great, it was good enough to be a bright spot for Crain’s business lunch beat reviewer Graham Meyer. Well, Joanne Trestrail gets it instead, and “The casually sophisticated, three-meal-a-day (plus weekend brunch) restaurant is a jolly destination for lunch or after-work socializing that segues easily into dinner… Though sharable pans of steamed mussels ($18-$22) are available five ways, and frites ($7), their de rigueur accompaniment, are terrific, chef Austin Fausett’s offerings extend invitingly in other directions—most, but not all, involving seafood.”

7. BABY IT’S COLD

The Feed had exactly the episode we needed during last week’s hot spell (and it could happen again)—a full 48 minutes on ice-cold treats including Mexican paletas, Thai rolled ice cream and more. You’ll feel cooler just listening.

8. BAOBING DONG DADDY

Speaking of desserts, Chicago mag shows you a preview of what Stephanie Izard is slinging out the window of Duck Duck Goat, including her Jian Bing Thing, a sweet version of a jianbing crepe. I tried a lot of these at a a media preview and they are just what the neighborhood, which is short on takeout desserts, asked for for summer.

9. EXPRESSO BONGO

You’re skeptical, I know, that you really need to read an oral history of the Bongo Room, the definitive Wicker Park brunch lemming spot. The only place you could be bored enough to need a history of the Bongo Room to read would be waiting in line at the Bongo Room, right? But you’re wrong: as Sarah Nardi says early on in her story is that it became a story not of a million pancakes sold, but “a story far more personal and smaller in scope: a love letter not only to the Bongo Room, but to a time in life when your friends are everything and your future is just beginning to take shape.” It was Wicker Park in Exile in Guyville days, and this is those 90s becoming legend.

10. PACK UP YOUR CAKE SERVERS

Joseph Hernandez has the story of a chef who thought she had a ticket to the big time when she won the American version of The Great British Baking Show—and then there was a scandal, and her win never aired.

11. IBEX HAM ON RYE

Robert Loerzel talked to the author of an interesting new book, The Culinarians, to find out who some of Chicago’s top chefs were before Charlie Trotter… that is, 100 years before Charlie Trotter. Who wouldn’t want to eat ibex ham at one of John Burroughs Drake’s game dinners, or hear the former slave Agnes Moody introduce the Paris Exposition of 1900 to a food from the American heartland—the maize that we commonly call corn?

12. PLEASE MR. POSTMAN

More history: news of an online treasure trove of old restaurant postcards collected by Kenton Yoder (oddly, an Indianan who’s never lived here) hit LTHForum some years ago—I think I used them a couple of times to illustrate Grub Street stories. But Chicago mag shares a nice selection of the best here, including the indescribable “Cemetery” lounge at The Devil’s Rendezvous, and points you toward endless hours of looking at places your grandparents went.

13. POETASTER

Now here’s a publication I never expected to mention here: the literary journal VQR. But tell me you can’t taste Chicago, and growing up here as a first generation American, in a charming poem called Reza’s Restaurant, Chicago 1997, by Kaveh Akbar.

BOWLED OVER

I thought I’d be announcing it by now, but all I can say is, keep your eyes and ears out for the announcement of the events during the Chicago Food Bowl, a citywide celebration of food, put on by the Tribune in August. There’s something pretty cool for food—and Fooditor—fans that will be part of it.

 

 

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