Buzz List for May 21, 2018

Mordecai hits a triple, love in a hotel bar, big talkin' sushi, and people come through for Hard Times

Mordecai/Facebook
Porchetta with risotto at Mordecai

1. STARS IN MY EYES

StarChefs has been around for a while as a publication, but I don’t remember the announcement of an annual list of Star Chefs being a big deal before. Anyway, they’re playing it up big this year and I’m all for things calling out local talent before they reach a James Beard Awards level of fame and ubiquity; the 19 honorees include chefs like Noah Sandoval (Oriole) and Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird), pastry chefs including Leigh Omilinsky (Nico Osteria) and Amanda Shepard (Lula Cafe), and Jonathan Zaragoza of Birrieria Zaragoza as a “Community Chef” (a special award reflecting involvement with the community, they say).

They talk about the list and why they were chosen here; they’ll have a tasting event featuring the chefs, and raising money for Pilot Light, the local chefs’ organization dedicated to teaching better eating habits in schools, at Cafe Brauer on June 12.

2. MORDECAI JONES

The “Rickettsville” development by Wrigley Field may not exactly be loved yet, but it has one of its first positive reviews—Mike Sula on Matthias Merges and Jared Wentworth’s Mordecai: “You can insert your own cliches about the promise of spring baseball, but fresh morels, asparagus, and English peas will never get old. Wentworth dispatches the last in a vivid emerald-colored risotto, a platform for a thick slab of fatty porchetta, itself supporting charred carrot sticks. Tiny morels and shimeji mushrooms lurk amid tangles of arugula pappardelle tossed with a puree made from charred asparagus. Ramps figure again in a structure of roasted halibut and shrimp-stuffed agnolotti too rigid to match the tender fish.”

3. C.I.E.L.O.

Phil Vettel reviews Naperville’s Santo Cielo, a new globally influenced restaurant from the owners of Bien Trucha in Geneva and other western suburban spots, saying “[co-owner Julio Cano describes the concept as ‘a kitchen with no boundaries,’ and indeed, there’s little rhyme or reason to the scattershot menu.” Which is apparently a good thing: “Culinary director Abel Cortes is justifiably proud of the house-made pastas, which abound on the opening menu. Wide, toothsome squid-ink pappardelle noodles provide color contrast to crabmeat, bay scallops and finger chilies; pillowy gnocchi with a light pan sear pair well with shredded short rib meat in beurre monte sauce.” Two stars.

4. AREPA THE LOCK

When I went to Rica Arepa last weekend I saw they had the new issue of Chicago mag set out for guests to peruse—how nice of them to be displaying my article on chef’s tools! Alas, it was there because John Kessler had written about them in the same issue, and it’s now online: “The best is the Pabellón ($8), filled with juicy shredded beef, black beans, sweet plantains, and enough melty cheese to keep everything together.”

5. TENDER IS THE BAR

In the golden age of newspaper reporting, reporters knew bars at every level like they knew which aldermen were on the take. Sadly, today journalists often go home to their families at night, so Nick Kindelsperger set out on an expedition to find the the most flavorful hotel bars: “Hotel bars are different. They provide comfort for the weary traveler, yes, but the best ones aren’t so much bars as transportation devices, able to lift you up out of your everyday routine… You’d think that visiting these alone would make for a sad, lonely slog, but with a few rare exceptions, I’d never felt as content in my life.” His top picks include The Whitehall Hotel (“nearly flawless”), The Peninsula (“an elegance that borders on enchanting”), and best of all, apparently, the Cherry Circle Room (“the most transportive room in Chicago, one that feels as if you’ve gone back a hundred years”).

6. CHEERS AND JIROS

I don’t think aspiring to win a Michelin star is a great ambition for chefs—it implies that you’re willing to follow Michelin’s vision more than your own. Telling people you’re going to be awesome and expensive enough to win tire company love, though, isn’t a bad brass-balled way to introduce yourself to a new city. And so I hope that’s the spirit under which Austin chef Otto Phan announced plans to win two of them by opening a seven-seat, $240 per person sushi restaurant in Logan Square called Kyoten, as reported by Eater and the Trib.

I spent more than that for a similar meal in Tokyo a couple of years ago, at a place that isn’t even in the top rank (Sushi-Ya, the spinoff of Michelin-starred Sushi Saito), and it was worth every penny, so if Phan can really deliver that in Chicago (which as he notes is the only city Michelin visits that doesn’t have a Michelin-starred sushi restaurant), he’ll change the sushi game in this town.

And if you’re still hungry after… there will soon be Mott Street’s burger spinoff Mini Mott nearby.

7. TOP OF THE BAMPS

Lunch with the Michelin stars at Topolobampo’s new lunch-styled tasting menu, advises Graham Meyer at Crain’s: “Topolobampo serves a seven-course tasting menu for dinner, reinvented quarterly, and in March loosed a rare bird, the tasting-menu lunch, serving four of that quarter’s seven courses in what they’re calling a ‘preview’ of the dinner menu. The current spring preview pulls dishes… into a technically impressive, diversely delicious, slightly undersized lunch that rivals any in Chicago.”

8. McGLOBAL

Ryan Smith at the Reader asks: will McDonald’s international dining restaurant in its new West Loop HQ win a Michelin star? He’s joking of course, and not surprisingly finds the idea of Mickey D’s from around the world more interesting than the reality: “Yes, this mothership McDonald’s brags about its one-of-a-kind international menu that includes a Brazilian McFlurry, with strawberry sauce and chocolate-covered coconut candies as mix-ins, and a “French” pasta salad. But we’re not exactly talking exotic foodstuffs. Hilariously, the Cheese-and-Bacon Loaded Fries are somehow listed as Australian (sounds pretty goddamned midwestern to me) and the standard side salad is branded as Canadian—though perhaps that’s a metacommentary on how averse we are to veggies in America.”

9. FRUNCHABLE

Steve Dolinsky visits Portage Park’s Frunchroom and swoons: “I can’t believe it has taken this long for a place to combine the best of Italian deli culture with Jewish deli culture. When I see smoked trout salad and lox and pastrami salmon on the same board, I literally get weak in the knees.”

10. IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE

As you might guess from the name, Captain’s Hard Time Dining is a place that has been a bit of a beacon to its beleaguered south side neighborhood, Chatham. When thieves stole copper wiring, a crime which inflicts a double cost on restaurants because they also lose any food in their refrigerators, owner Josephine Wade feared she’d have to close. But members of IBEW Local 134 volunteered to hook her power back up (as reported by the Sun-Times, which the union is a part owner of), while friends and customers have donated money and gift cards, keeping the local business alive.

11. CLOSINGS

A rough week for closings of neigborhood places I liked (I’m stealing the list directly from Anthony Todd): Irving Park’s Bread and Wine, comfy French fave Bistrot Zinc which used to be where I’d go to blow my dot com money at lunch, and Gioco, a piece of the early 2000s as a Jerry Kleiner spot occupying the former location of a South Loop brothel in the early 1900s.

12. LOVELY NITA

In memoriam Anita Doty, owner of Nita’s Gumbo at 81st and Stony Island and in Country Club Hills. Here’s a Chicago’s Best visit to her south side Cajun favorite (h/t Trib).

13. NOIR ALLEY

Between Bites does a James Beard-related reading night each year in April; this year’s featured John Manion, Diana Davila, John Kessler and others, but the previous year’s included me, and they just put up two of the stories from that night, mine and Stephanie Izard’s. The theme was shadows and light, so I told a film noir tale of my hometown. Is it a true story? Well, in the words of Tommy Lee Jones in No Country For Old Men, it’s true that it’s a story…

WHAT MIKE ATE

I can’t say I planned it, but I had two takes on Japanese food from around the world last week. The first was my return to Kitsune for the first time in almost a year. I continue to enjoy Iliana Regan’s Japan-Meets-Midwest cuisine, with the highlights being octopus ramen with leek ash noodles, and crab fried rice.

The second was a place I checked out for an upcoming story—Sora Temakeria, the Latin fusion fried sushi place (apparently that’s a thing in South America). I’m not a big fan of sushi rolls with gloppy sauce on them, so… are they a little better if they have crispy fried tempura on the outside? A little, I guess. I don’t think this will ever be my thing, but if it sounds like yours, there’s now a place to check it out in this weird, wonderful city.

The rest of my explorations in Sora Temakeria’s neighborhood will be featured this week; after that Fooditor, including Buzz List, will be off for a week and return the week of June 4.

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