Buzz List for June 25, 2018

In menoriam Blackbird's Rick Diarmit, plus reviews of Passerotto, Pacific Standard Time, Vettel goes back to Sepia and how to get a liquor license while Latino

Michael Gebert
Scallop crudo at Passerotto

BREAKING: There are reports of the death of Rick Diarmit, one of the founders of Blackbird and One Off Hospitality. As Lynn House, former Blackbird bartender, observed on Facebook, “He touched all our hearts. Honest, flawed, caring, generous, snarky, funny all that you want in a true friend.” Diarmit was 59.

1. HIGH SPARROW

Even after interviewing Jennifer Kim I struggled to explain the Italian-Korean thing at Passerotto, but Mike Sula expresses it pretty well: “The food at Passerotto is more Korean than Italian, the latter more a subtle, subordinate influence that in most cases is expressed seamlessly.” He finds it not only seamless but delicious: “A plate of sweet bay scallops ornamented with tiny purple catmint flowers (or whatever else the forager brings in), dabs of funky umami-rich XO sauce, and a potent soy-onion puree, pierced with acidic citron, is one of the loveliest plates of food I’ve encountered all year (maybe even since the Snaggletooth tartine?), and a rare case of crudo that satisfies in proportion to its price.”

2. C3PO

Phil Vettel returns to almost 11-year-old Sepia and hot off the press, shocking news—Andrew Zimmerman restaurant still running extremely well! Even as Zimmerman focuses more on Proxi these days and Sepia is kept on its course by chef de cuisine Adam Zoscsak: “Stars abound among the entrees. Brioche-crusted halibut with morels, white asparagus and spring onions will be sensational as long as its components remain available; in other words, don’t wait to try this dish. Striped bass will enjoy a longer tenure, I suspect. Zoscsak gives this fish a subtle Mediterranean spin via the accompanying panisse, dabs of squash puree and chermoula-marinated fennel.”

3. VEGETABLE STANDARD TIME

In the latest Dining Out Loud, Penny Pollack and Michael Nagrant debate Pacific Standard Time. “It’s very, very veg-friendly—almost too much,” says Pollack, while Nagrant says, “One of the things I love about PST and chef Erling Wu-Bower is that everything has super flavor… every single dish that I had, the vegetables were pristine.” Be sure also to check out the previous episode, in which Pollack goes to Nashville to try The Catbird Seat under Ryan Poli, and encounters a couple of drunken customers at the eight-seat bar.

4. RICK BAYSEMENT

Jeez, last week we had two new Izard restaurants (one in California, one hawking bao and ice cream out a side window at Duck Duck Goat) and now we get a new Rick Bayless basement bar which, I must say, sounds pretty fascinating as he describes its inspiration to Food and Wine: “The one thing that I’m always marveling at when I’m in Mexico in the markets is all of the stalls that have medicinal herbs… I know so little about those—some of those we know as culinary herbs, but they’re using them in a medicinal way. We’re going to focus on learning about medicinal herbs, and we’re going to incorporate that into our bar program.” Name is to be determined, opening is set for November they hope, but who’s in charge is clear: it will be run by daughter and TV co-star Lanie, who joined the company in 2016 after working in New York.

5. BEER RUN

Northwest Indiana has one famous brewery—Three Floyds—but, if you poke around, you soon find that there’s far more to it than that. For the Reader’s bike issue, Julia Thiel gives you the details on a biking trip around the region that hits spots from 18th Street Brewery, near the Hammond train station, to Pokro in Griffith (“the menu is limited, but when you serve good pierogis you don’t need much else”).

6. THE TWO XIAOS

Crain’s returns to Chinatown looking for lunch dining destinations featuring dumplings. Venerable Moon Palace is all right for things like xiao long bao, “plump steamed purses stuffed with pork and vegetables, are delicious, if not super soupy. The pot stickers, steamed and then fried, also satisfy; open-topped siu mai filled with sticky rice, ditto. All can be made more exciting with ginger, vinegar, soy sauce and hot chile sauce.” But more interesting is Qiang Xuang Yuan: “Dumplings are smaller than Moon Palace’s and their wrappers are more delicate… They come 12 or 18 to the order, meaning sharing is the way to go. QXY is perfect for a casual business lunch if your group includes four or more people.”

7. NEIGHBORHOOD JOINTS

The Reader has a good piece on the challenges of opening a tavern—and creating community—in a certain part of town for a certain type of clientele:”‘The liquor license is hard to get,’ says Marco [Lopez of One City Tap in McKinley Park]. ‘Especially on the south side. Especially for Latinos.'”

8. MEAT SWEATS

Chicago mag pays tribute to the Butcher & Larder Grill’s BLT in the Forum 55 food hall.

9. VAARWEL

Goodbye to De Quay, the Lincoln Park restaurant that mixed Dutch flavors (beautifully done) with those of the Netherlands’ colony Indonesia (I was less impressed), after five years. Chef-owner David De Quay said his place was felled by the oversaturated restaurant market, true so far as it goes though it also shows that it’s tough to be a five year old restaurant doing the same thing pretty well but not really getting much media attention (at least till you announce you’re closing; now everyone’s going on about what a jewel De Quay was all along). Anyone who feels that describes their restaurant is encouraged to contact Fooditor, which has no problem writing about places that have been around a while but still have something interesting to say…

10. N-ICE

Restaurants and immigration policy are getting into ugly fights elsewhere but in Chicago, restaurants are trying to be humanitarian rather than partisan—as Louisa Chu recounts at the Trib, many local restaurants are doing things to raise money to help improve the immigration situation.

11. FLORENCE OF OREGANO

I went to Florence once, years ago in pre-internet days, and had a fairly frustrating food experience any time I strayed from simply picnicking from the market’s bounty—restaurants tended to be tourist crap-traps (we sat at one and waved people away as we ate, like we were Dante’s damned) or, when we used Michelin (the only printed choice we could find) for guidance, were crazy expensive. I knew there had to be better things out there, and, the internet having been invented in the interim, I would advise anyone heading there to bookmark Titus Ruscitti’s post in which he does infinitely better than we did then, including finding what he thinks might be a prehistoric ancestor of Italian Beef.

12. BEST PROMOTIONAL EMAIL ARGUMENT

…goes to Kitsune for this attempt to get people to book the early bird for their tasting menu.

WHAT MIKE ATE

A busy week of trying places that were not my usual cup of tea. Like…

BLVD, written about here when it was a construction site, which I went to for a media preview of their new menu. To be honest, when I did that story I was 50-50 on whether neophytes opening a big old school supper club—and talking more about systems than any sort of food vision—would prove to be one of Randolph Street’s biggest bombs. But they pulled it off—first, architecturally; the room really does capture swanky old time dining out in a big way.

And the food is solid—seafood tower stuff like king crab legs and lobster were letter perfect and very high quality, while manly main courses like ribeye (LaFrieda, 28-day-aged) and especially a roasted pork chop in a terrific fennel jam and Carolina Gold very rice pilaf were excellent. In between, I felt things like spaghetti carbonara and an oversalty octopus salad didn’t come off as well—usually when the restaurant wanted to showcase modern, international flavors, it seemed more pedestrian—but as long as it’s doing classic 1958 food with subtle updates, BLVD is aces.

Les Nomades. I’d never been to the oldest of old school Chicago fine dining restaurants, for the same reason I’d never been to Alinea—there was always something new to go to instead, and it would always be there, right? But things are always there until they’re not, and with new construction on every side, you have the sense of an endangered species as soon as you walk in to the old Streeterville mansion where Les Nomades rambles over a couple of floors (this was an event in the upstairs private dining room, or Salon de Thé as the sign overhead said). Frankly, I miss restaurants that fit themselves into old homes—like Charlie Trotter’s; it’s welcoming in a way no industrial space can be.

Food was classic nouvelle French, no sign that the 2000s had happened; the best thing was a beautifully made bowl of bouillabaise, otherwise it favored competence over any sort of surprise or inspiration. But I was charmed by the rooms, by the ultra-polished service which never tells you its name or asks how we’re all doin’ tonight, by Mary Beth Liccioni welcoming everyone at the front—at a time when restaurants are eager to feel big city, Les Nomades is the house in the country that’s always been there for you.

Fisk & Co. I worked near the Hotel Monaco at Wacker at one time and remember its restaurant space being a few different things; it’s now a Belgian-ish mussels and seafood restaurant, which is as good a new concept for a few years as any. Mussels were pretty well prepared (okay, the “Classic” preparation was a little bland, but I’d have ordered one of the more exciting ones if I were choosing), steak was a tad chewy but frites were letter perfect and the cocktail list was more imaginative than I expected. Not a destination if you’re coming from very far, but when Crain’s Graham Meyer comes here on his business lunch beat, it will be one of the better places he’s been lately.

Sushi King III I don’t believe in cheap sushi, but value sushi is a good thing—and that’s what this new North Center spot offers. Pretty nice fish for the low price, nice owners who rather badly need more customers than they had at 6:30 on Saturday night. Check it out—soon.

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