Buzz List for September 17, 2018

Nobody's Glad about Giant PR dinner mess, Ruby thinks Passerotto is a keeper, Sula bifurcates BiXi, news about ex-Hanbun and MK chefs, and why we stopped eating brains

Passerotto/Facebook
Ddukbokki gnocchi with lamb ragu at Passerotto

1. I’M GLAD, I’M GLAD, I’M GLAD

It is a delight to not be part of the big food media foofaw this week, but to merely enjoy it from the sidelines. Pass the popcorn!

It started with a prominent Instagram influencer named Adam Sokolowski (he made a cameo appearance in this Fooditor story) who was invited to a dinner at Giant. When he got there, he was warned off that it was actually a promotional dinner:

“The bouncer [at a nearby bar] overhears us talking about how we’re having dinner next door and comes up to warn us that it’s a scam. He explains that he saw the first seating before us leave disgusted because they realized they were being served old food. Seeing as it was such a critically-acclaimed restaurant, I couldn’t believe it, so I texted my friend who I knew was in the first seating. She confirms the details and says it’s for a @gladproducts Glad’s Press N Seal Cling Film commercial, but you don’t find out anything until the end when they ask you to sign a contract for exclusivity.”

Turns out Glad’s agency FCB (which I did freelance work for, way back in the day) had set the whole thing up, paying Giant $10,000 to participate, and secretly filming and recording everybody; at the end, besides free dinner, you got $300 if you signed a contract letting them use your image and $1000 more if it appeared in a commercial. This is not unheard of in the ad world—here’s a famous example of the same kind of “hidden camera” thing from long ago.

The difference was, ordinary folks might be amused to be in a TV ad. But FCB apparently didn’t understand that an audience of food media folks would react differently to finding themselves hornswoggled into endorsing a product. Some would object outright, because the terms of their employment wouldn’t allow them to endorse something—they could wind up in real trouble.

But as Sokolowski explained to the Tribune, the problem for an Instagram Influencer isn’t with the idea of being paid to speak about a product—it’s with the order in which things were presented to him: “There was no prior consent from us to do work on behalf of the brand… this is a source of income, and my personal brand is also my business. When a brand reaches out to work together, I make a call about whether or not I want to work with them… Influencers work with so many brands, and it takes weeks to decide if we eventually pursue a professional relationship.”

Ironically, of course, if they had reached out to influencers first… would any of us necessarily credit what they said as representing their own personal opinions? No, because they’re in the business of influencing for hire, not reviewing or reporting on food they find interesting. FCB went undercover in the hopes of getting an honest, uninfluenced opinion from influencers—and the influencers were not happy about it.

Here’s Jason Vincent’s response, and more catty fun on Twitter here and here. Anyway, as with the previous week’s kerfuffle, the world is changing, revenue has to come from somewhere (read this thread from someone at BlockClubChi about how people have gotten used to the news being completely revenue-free, which is obviously unsustainable), and all you can do is look at the sources for your food content and try to judge for yourself: is the revenue sustaining content that is valuable to me—or is revenue the only reason that the content exists at all?

2. DON’T PASSEROTTO BY

Jeff Ruby seems so besotted with the vaguely Italian Korean food at Passerotto, he even thinks it might finally break the curse on its Andersonville space: “It’s next-level stuff. Sweet wild scallops are sliced cellophane thin, then bathed in a homemade XO sauce, sprinkled with tiny phlox flowers, and arranged around a brisk soy-onion purée. Pickled lime kosho, mint, and gooseberries lend little bursts of flavor and color to glistening hunks of hamachi the size of matchbooks. And I can’t remember a better treatment of raw ingredients than Kim’s combination of firm yellowfin tuna with heirloom corn, hijiki, Thai chili, and crisp potato slivers. A needier chef might have gone in a brasher direction with compositions like these in a desperate bid for your attention. Instead, Kim quietly commands it.”

3. GIMME SOME MONNIE

“His menu — American with Mediterranean influences, for want of a better term — isn’t exciting at first glance, but the execution is impressive, bordering on thrilling.” Michael Shrader at Urban Union? At Old Irving Brewing? At Gideon Sweet? Phil Vettel’s description fits any of them, as Shrader has long been an under-the-radar star, but it happens to go with Monnie Burke’s, the new restaurant in Pilsen: “Octopus, for example, is as ubiquitous an appetizer as exists these days, but Shrader’s presentation — the tender pieces tossed with shishito peppers and roasted potatoes in an ’nduja vinaigrette, laid on a plate painted with pureed black garlic—is sensational.”

4. BIXI OR ISN’T SHE?

Mike Sula has mixed results with the beer-friendly fusion food at BiXi Beer, from the owner of Owen & Engine and Fat Willy’s; “The ‘Belt noodle Yibin style’ at Bixi Beer is one of the best bowls of pasta I’ve eaten all year… the chewy, wide Shanxi-province biang biang noodles—like steroidal pappardelle—tangle adaptably well amid funky black beans, pickled mustard greens, chopped peanuts, and the electric ma la buzz that together make up the MO of the southeastern Sichuanese dish they’re named for.”

But “Textures also seem to be a problem with the various dumplings, which include pulpy, sticky steamed mandu with kimchi and mushrooms and momo that arrived pasty and undercooked.” As for beer, “the advertised Asian-ish ingredients are barely perceptible even in interesting offerings like the dark, malty Chelonian Lair ale with Sichuan peppercorns, or the Shifties, a Bud-like lager whose promise of puffed jasmine rice fails to materialize.”

5. FRUNCHROOM? NO, BRUNCH ROOM

Remember Dolce Italian in the Godfrey Hotel, the big money Miami-based Italian place that closed without anyone remembering it had ever opened? Well, the space is now the even more forgettably-named Brunch Room, serving brunch for lunch, so you can have business lunches in your jammies, I guess. Joanne Trestrail finds some things tasty enough but observes, “Steel-cut oatmeal plus silver-spangled throw pillows on orange leather banquettes plus a dance-music soundtrack is a strange mix.”

6. WELCOME BACK

Three people we like will be back soon with two new restaurants in two old spaces. Dave Park and Jennifer Tran of the unexpected mall food court marvel Hanbun are finally going to open a spot this winter: Jeong will open in the former Green Zebra space in West Town. Jeong is a family name for Park, but “also a specific term in Korean culture, representing deep emotional attachment,” per the Trib.

And Erick Williams, chef at MK for six years as well as County Barbeque for the DMK Group, will take over the very cool A10 space in Hyde Park to open a Southern restaurant, name to be announced. (Tribune)

7. EAT RICE, PILSEN

Grace Wong has more on Ghin Khao, that new Thai restaurant in Pilsen. I hope this brings owner Nova Sasi the traffic to achieve the full promise of the menu: “Ghin Khao Eat Rice may seem like just another Thai restaurant on the surface, but you won’t find any pad thai or curries here—the Pilsen restaurant’s menu is deeply rooted in owner Sasi’s heritage and the culmination of more than a decade of hard work and persistence.”

8. MA SWEET LORT

John Carruthers of ManBQue made Malort sausages for Nisei Lounge, and David Hammond talks to him about it: “I’ve worked on a few different sausages for my cookbooks and absolutely fell in love with the balance you can build within an encased meat. Malört is difficult to play with, as a lot of cocktail slingers around town have found, but it’s not impossible. Get past the hilarious reaction shots, and you get hints of pine, grapefruit, citrus rind. Sure, picking them up is like standing outside in a hurricane and trying to lip-read what someone across the street is saying, but they’re there.”

9. BRAINS!

Grace Wong also turns up asking why we don’t eat brain sandwiches in the midwest any more. One answer is that the mad cow disease scare scared everybody off of it in the 90s, but I think she misses an earlier infrastructure reason—when the meat industry went from shipping whole cattle to boxed beef (i.e., a whole box of steaks, a whole box of chuck roasts, etc.) to supermarkets in the 70s and 80s, many of these odd cuts of meat simply stopped going to the retail and restaurant markets at all and wound up in things like animal feed (which is how bovine spongiform encephalopathy spread in the first place). So a number of these offal-based 20th century staples (liver and onions, steak and kidney pie) fell off menus and American diets then.

Anyway, it’s an interesting look at a once-popular dish, fried brains on a couple of slices of bread, that has gone away… not that I’m entirely sorry about that.

10. BIRDLAND

An interesting Twitter thread from The Aviary’s Allen Hemberger, about how one of their concoctions came about, step by step. They’ve got a whole book of it coming out…

11. WILSON BAUER SAFE

To those who had seen the alert about chef Wilson Bauer, he is reported by his family to be home and safe.

WHERE MIKE ATE

One of the things we’ve been lacking in Chicago is an artisanal Israeli place—a local version of Shaya in New Orleans or Zahav in Philadelphia. Aba seems the most promising attempt to date—the leafy indoor and patio space, though not particularly middle eastern, is quite pleasant located on a Fulton Market rooftop, and a blueberry-tinged cocktail was excellent.

Small plates were generally good—hummus and falafel were top-notch, and not priced too far above a neighborhood spot, and we had a very nice plate of octopus. On that level of expectation it’s very enjoyable on an end-of-summer day. But this is a Lettuce restaurant, and Lettuce’s corporate tendency is to lard up menus with can’t-miss items from other Lettuce menus… like RPM Steak. So we order something called skirt steak shawarma, and the first two words are true, but there was nothing remotely shawarma-like about either the flavors or the presentation of this blandly seasoned grilled beef—my suggestion would have been “wedding caterer skirt steak.”

So that tells you how high, and no higher, they’re aiming to do Israeli on the roof. Stick to the small stuff, enjoy the view and the weather, assume the green service will get better (they were eager to take away half-eaten plates, seemingly unaware of the idea that you could replace dirty ones), and you can have a pleasant time.

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