Buzz List for June 4, 2018

New Alinea chef, new Check Please host, muffuletta magick, look a squirrel! and three sad farewells

Saba/Facebook
Spaghetti and meatballs at Saba

1. BYE BYE BAGALE

The closest thing the Chicago restaurant scene has to a new pope is a chef de cuisine change at Alinea, and after nine years at the world-famous restaurant, Mike Bagale is leaving, taking some time off and doing an Ayurvedic pop-up in India. The new pope, er, chef de cuisine is Simon Davies, best known for the clear pumpkin pie you saw all over Instagram last year. Bagale didn’t do a lot of press, but here’s his Key Ingredient episode (his ingredient was Necco Wafers; go here to see the video). (Eater)

2. HELLO ALPANA

The other closest thing to a new pope is Check, Please changing hosts—and this time it’s going from Cat I to Alpana II! Alpana Singh, the now-restaurateur who hosted from 2003 to 2012, is going back to the show (per Crain’s), while Cat De Orio says she’s talking to WTTW producers about a nationally-focused food show (per Feder).

3. SABA DABBA DOO

New Logan Square Italian restaurant Saba, from the owner of Cafe Con Leche and The Harding, offers “a broad, regionally nonspecific concept of pizzas and pastas, a few meaty entrees, a section of “classic” Italian-American dishes, and hot and cold shared plates, some of which might raise eyebrows among traditionalists but some that might just win them over too,” says Mike Sula. Examples: “An arancini Brundlefly—lightly fried orbs stuffed with al dente Arborio rice but dominated by moist salt cod, more like Portuguese pasteis de bacalao—is delicious no matter how you view it, especially when swiped through malt vinegar aioli.” While “soft, springy pork meatballs take a more conventional form, but with the accompanying duo of red sauce and salsa verde, they reach peaks of umami that might make you squint.”

4. AT THE TONE

Minus Cosmo Goss at Pacific Standard Time, Michael Nagrant feels that the original concept (of California locavorism) is a bit lost, but he says under the remaining partner, Erling Wu-Bower (Avec, Nico Osteria), “PST doesn’t feel as much like a California restaurant, as it does a new breed of Mediterranean/Asian mash-up (Mediterrasian)… I am reminded of PST’s commitment to great produce when I taste Wu-Bower’s avocado salad. Though I want to punch ubiquitous avocado toast in the face, and by association, squeeze all avocados really hard in their pits, this salad is a masterful mélange of bitter endive, creamy avocado, crisp bracing cucumber and tangy Shabazi-spiked (Shabazi is Yemenite spice paste) sour cream vinaigrette. I crank through this garden of delights like a spliff-smoker munchie-mowing through a sleeve of Cheetos.”

5. LUDLOW CAN YOU GO

Ludlow Liquors carves out a distinct identity for itself through a roster of spirit-forward cocktails available by the ounce plus greasy drinking food that artfully blends Midwestern nostalgia with Filipino tradition,” says Maggie Hennessy in Time Out. “[Chef Nick] Jirasek beautifully weaves in influences of his own Filipino-American upbringing, most notably through an emphatic use of vinegar—which also provides welcomed relief for this brackish drinking food.”

6. DOLO CONTENDERE

In Crain’s Graham Meyer looks at two Chinatown contenders (Dolo and Cai) for an unusual place for a business lunch. The two most interesting things I learned: “Chinatown restaurants frequently book their private spaces on a guaranteed minimum rather than a separate fee—another way to escape the noise. At Dolo, the server reported six guests would incur no separate charges, and even two would need to spend only $100.” (I’ve actually done that, but I never thought about it as an explicit policy.) And “Dolo consistently presents awesome dim sum, justifying its reputation as the best in Chicago.” Does it have that reputation? I’d say it is, and Jeff Ruby’s review last year must help… but I’m glad to know that everyone apparently thinks so.

7. KICK STAND

“I ordered a ton of stuff from Rosie’s and then headed to a bench to spread out the bounty on Logan Boulevard. Rosie’s eggplant parm was supremely slutty, the cheese oozing over the flaky bread and the sauce and juicy eggplant dripping out the edges,” says Michael Nagrant about Rosie’s Sidekick, related to Sicilian Bakery on the northwest side and next door to Mi Tocaya Antojeria. Read it, then eat it—on the street, like he did.

8. CHOW CHOW BOOGIE

Titus Ruscitti spots South African snack Bunny Chow in Rogers Park at a new place of that name: “It’s unique in that it’s served different in that it comes served in a hollowed out halved loaf of bread. You use the hollowed out portion of the bread to pick at the curry never needing the use of utensils… Bunny Chow served a pretty mild blend of beef curry that definitely had that home cooked taste.”

9. DUK’S

Kevin Hickey once had a Michelin starred hotel restaurant. Now his dream is… “‘We need to bring great Chicago hot dogs everywhere. New York, in particular, I’m very concerned about the New York consumer not getting a good hot dog.’” The duck fat hot dogs he serves at Duck Inn will be coming to Revival Food Hall in June, with hopes of opening a permanent Loop location, the first of many he hopes, later this year. (Tribune)

10. DOG BITES HISTORIAN

In other hot dog news, a hot dog museum has been opened inside the Vienna Beef Factory Store on Damen (isn’t it closing and moving sometime, though?)

11. TODAY’S NOW FOUND

I was just wondering where Bradford Phillips (LM Restaurant, Guildhall) was these days—look, it’s who I am, okay?—and then Anthony Todd’s column in Chicago told me. He’s the new chef at Found, which (this is the main story) is getting redecorated from its grandma’s attic look into something more 60s (though honestly, the retro-eclectic look already was): “‘Found is morphing from Gertrude and Jack to Jackie O. meets the Beatles in India,’ [owner Amy] Morton says… ‘It’s chic modernity of midcentury meets a splash of hippy.'”

12. JOHNNY ARCADE

Johnny O’s, the venerable South Side fast food joint I made a short documentary about, which still occupies a corner of 70s Chicago even as Bridgeport gentrifies around it, will expand into offering an arcade bar (or barcade) a la Emporium and other fancy-pants north side places. This news comes in South Side Weekly from Peter Veliotis, son of Johnny O who, I just now learned, passed away last year. South Side Weekly had a good interview with him (as did my film).

13. NOT GOOD, BOB

I don’t like to pick on places that just opened. Everybody should get a chance with the public before the snark sets in. But it’s hard not to feel that we’re in some goofy decadent Mannerist phase when an oyster bar opens promising oysters that have what looks like fruity Kool-Aid diluting the natural flavor of good shellfish, while another place promises churros that look like a 4-year-old was in charge of decorating them. This isn’t even style over substance—it’s just “Look! A squirrel!” over substance. Thank God we have traditionalists who still know how to make something as simple as pizza well.

14. DRAW-MAN SAN

The most startling revelation in Chicago mag’s piece on Lettuce’s in-house illustrator, Alex Payne, is that there’s something called Ozzie’s Pops & Pretzels in Navy Pier (don’t let anybody tell you the days of Lawrence of Oregano are completely dead). But it’s a nice little piece on how an illustrator helps shape different personalities for different concepts. (Chicago)

15. CLOSINGS

That was quick, unfortunately: Prairie School and Regards to Edith, both run by Heisler Hospitality and located in the building where Google is headquartered locally (best known for Swift & Sons), have shut down. It’s maybe not so surprising that Regards to Edith’s idea of Chicago-style sandwiches at Google prices didn’t take off, but a real shame that the handsome Frank Lloyd Wright-esque interior and the cocktail menu from Jim Meehan of New York’s PDT at Prairie School didn’t seem to connect with West Loop drinkers. (In completely unrelated news, Federales is doing so well they’re opening two more.)

Mexique, the Mexican restaurant that at one time had a Michelin star, and led to chef Carlos Gaytan appearing on Top Chef, has closed. According to a Trib story, the restaurant was actually owned by his ex-wife Iliamar Gaytan, and she made the decision to close it. Details are few in that story; a better account of the restaurant and the then-couple behind it is in this 2014 piece by Kevin Pang.

16. MR. ROBOT

I never go to the National Restaurant Show, I just wait for stuff like this Chicago video of food and beverage robots.

17. FRENCH 75

I warn you before listening to my talk from last year for Culinary Historians that it lasts 75 minutes. So maybe you want to save it for a really long car ride, or transatlantic flight. Anyway, I talk about The Fooditor 99, how I became a food writer, where food media is going… everything I can think of!

And I think I’ll be on Outside the Loop this Saturday at 6 AM on WGN, talking things like Mexican food on 26th street; if you sleep in, I’ll link the podcast next week.

18. PRINTERS ROW LIT

Lots of food books will be the subject of talks at the Printers Row Lit Fest this weekend; see the full schedule here.

19. IN MEMORIAM

The report is that Sahar Sander, founder and co-CEO of middle eastern concept Naf Naf Grill, which originated in Naperville, has passed away.

20. HALF OF WHAT I SAY

The thing I’ve done the longest in food, and perhaps the longest professional collaboration I’ve ever had, is the Key Ingredient series for the Chicago Reader. For seven years and 177 episodes to date, I’ve shown up when Julia Thiel told me to, while she coordinated the business of getting chefs to cook with something odd, and then we each took the footage I shot and turned it into a version of the story—hers in print, mine in video form. I’ve always enjoyed reading how she interpreted the events, pithily and a little differently from me (though the best quotes often appeared in both). That’s only been a small part of her work for the Reader as a writer (many good pieces on beer in particular, usually linked here) and editor, and as she leaves the Reader (though she may keep doing Key Ingredient) I want to note the occasion—and hey, editors, the availability of one of our most thoughtful chroniclers of the food and beverage scene in Chicago.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I popped in to Mordecai, the surprisingly upscale and modestly-scaled place from Matthias Merges and chef Jared Wentworth in the hotel Zachary opposite Wrigley Field, very empty on a non-game day—folks, for now this is a smart play for a romantic summer evening where you have a restaurant almost to yourself, any time the Cubs are not playing. Given the audience Wentworth’s food is more conservative than it was at Longman & Eagle, but no less expert—a hunk of porchetta on a springy, cheesy pea risotto and a panzanella that was really crossed with a Greek salad fairly exploded with flavor. The one dish that didn’t come off was the one explicit nod to Cubs lore—a goat sausage was a bit overcooked and a bit overwhelmed by sauerkraut and hot mustard. Still, this is a place that plays above its positioning as a game day choice.

On Nagrant’s recommendation I swung by Rosie’s Sidekick and picked up the eggplant parm and the muffuletta, and what can I say that he didn’t already? Tempesta has the subtlety and finesse, J.P. Graziano has classic balance, Rosie’s has excess. There’s a place for each of these in my Italian sub universe.

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