Buzz List for January 15, 2018

Monteverde takes top prize at the Banchet Awards, we have Burmese food at last, Mindy bakes a cake full of memories, and how did ice get so round?

Michael Gebert
The Monteverde crew on stage at the Jean Banchet Awards.

1. VIVA BANCHETS

Monteverde, just barely at the two-year mark to qualify for the Restaurant of the Year category, took that prize at the Jean Banchet Awards last night, Chicago’s own culinary prizes. In a year when our scene seemed increasingly dominated by big restaurant groups, it was an impressive win for a modest-sized, accessibly-priced, women-owned and run business. (No argument here, considering its place in The Fooditor 99… at number one.) Chef of the Year went to Andrew Zimmerman, who expanded from one fine business restaurant (Sepia) to that plus a more novel Asian-flavored spot, Proxi (which also took the design award).

Best New Restaurant, in a very strong field that included Proxi, Elske and Quiote, went to Smyth (which opened before the last go-round, but deserved a full year of evaluation for its cerebral, inventive food). Two charming, handmade neighborhood restaurants took prizes—Daisies in Logan Square won Neighborhood Restaurant, while Edgewater’s Income Tax won the new category of Best Bar. That actually made two wins for Edgewater, not generally seen as a top restaurant neighborhood, since the Ethiopian restaurant Ras Dashen also took Best Ethnic Restaurant. Owner Zenash Beyene gave the evening’s most moving thank-you, thanking America for welcoming her when she came from Ethiopia with nothing and dreamed of opening a restaurant.

Nick Dostal of Sixteen took Rising Chef (we’ve been fans from early on) and Bill Montagne, who won Rising Chef last year for Snaggletooth, won again as Best Chef-de-Cuisine at Nico Osteria (likewise). Anna Posey of Elske won Best Pastry Chef, while Kyleen Atonson, formerly of Honey’s but now at Acadia, won Rising Pastry Chef.

Parag Lalit of Sixteen took Best Sommelier, while Amit Gilad, who followed past winner Julia Momose at GreenRiver, won Best Mixologist for that soon-to-close restaurant and bar’s program—also giving a speech about coming to America from Israel three years ago and the welcome he received in Chicago. Oriole won Best Service, and the Culinary Achievement Award went to Katsu and Haruko Imamura, whose much-loved sushi restaurant Katsu closed after 29 years last year. (Incidentally, one of Katsu’s guests was instantly recognizable in the front row—Matrix co-director Lana Wachowski, recognizable by her colorful mop of hair in the photo. Katsu and the Wachowskis’ father have played golf together for years.)

It was a lovely evening, bringing the food community out to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, and it made us happy to be a part, such as we are, of this community.

2. ALL IN THE BURMESE FAMILY

I’ve been meaning to go try Burmese food in Fort Wayne, which for some quirk of immigration practice is home to the midwest’s most substantial Burmese community. But as Mike Sula relates, we finally have Burmese in Chicago at The Family House on Devon: “Of course there’s laphet thoke, or Burma’s famous tea leaf salad—sour, deeply funky fermented green leaves tossed with shredded cabbage, roasted peanuts, toasted sesame seeds, and fried split soybeans that together perform a veritable symphony of crunchiness. There’s also ohn no khao swe (there are multiple anglicized spellings), a richly creamy curried noodle soup served with roughly hacked and wickedly moist slices of chicken breast. It’s a relative of the coconut-based type of northern Thai khao soi most commonly found in Chiang Mai and at Thai restaurants across U.S.”

3. BEEN SOL LONG

Graham Meyer at Crain’s finally got to go to a good restaurant! His business lunch beat takes him to Marisol and he’s wowed: “The open, lobbylike space takes on the observational feel of a gallery bench, and the seasonally driven food tastes and looks like every brushstroke has been carefully considered. Servers intrude only if you invite them to. Dishes bear the hallmarks of upscale dining, including multiple preparations of the same ingredient, as in a Brussels sprout starter ($14) with some leaves roasted brown and crunchy and some elephantine leaves presented whole and raw.”

4. PHIL FINDS A PEARL

“All you readers who write in, complaining about restaurant noise? Have I got an 8 p.m. destination for you,” says Phil Vettel of Pearl Brasserie. In other words, the Loop restaurant is dead a few hours after work, but he urges you to check out the food of chef Jason Paskewitz (The Blanchard, Gemini Bistro): “The main-course items read like a checklist — couple of fish, chicken breast, steak, pork, mushroom risotto—but the execution is flawless. The pork chop, sliced off the bone, has beautiful taste and texture, aided by rosemary-scented jus; beneath the meat lurk apples, savoy cabbage and lardons. It’s my favorite entree, though the hanger steak, topped with a knob of maitre d’ butter and doused with a deeply rich bordelaise sauce, is a close second.”

5. A FRIED CHICKEN CONTENDER

Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti is on a tear, and that’s even before he posts about his recent Southeast Asian trip, but to keep you full till then, read about a place that cooks sushi (no joke), Sora Temakeria, and a Dominican restaurant he’s ready to call the best fried chicken in town.

6. TEX MIX

Who needs more Mexican in Logan Square? “Lonesome Rose, sunny and stylish, with airy windows, blond wood banquettes and a roomful of succulents and cacti, differentiates itself with foods inspired by the ‘borderlands,’ a hipster spin on Tex-Mex,” says Joseph Hernandez. (Tribune)

7. CAKEPOPS

I find it hard enough to get a birthday cake out of some bakeries (I don’t really plan kid birthdays four weeks in advance, folks), so I’m perhaps not the target market for a story about a pop-up baker you have to track down, but you might be more excited about following Pie, Pie, My Darling (see, she started with pies) on Instagram to snag one. Props for the 60s horror movie reference, anyway (okay, probably the Misfits song that stole it). (Chicago mag)

8. GRACIOUS!

Grace owner Mike Olszewski pops up again, in Crain’s this time, to explain how he’s not the bad guy and, really, thank God he was there to save those three-Michelin-star-winning knuckleheads from screwing it all up. (He claims a reopening will happen, but in several months, not a few weeks as I’d heard he was saying.) I was going to say more (I’m pretty sure the idea that Grace’s business went down after they got the third star, which is what he implies, would be disputed by Muser and Duffy if they were talkin’), but I happened to run across this post by an old LTHForum friend which I think puts the spin in exactly the right context.

By the way, if you want to know what’s going on with Muser and Duffy, you can sign up here. No clues yet—at the Banchets, Duffy said in the short term he’ll be traveling in Asia for Michelin as an ambassador—but you’ll be among the first to know.

9. SPANISH FOR GRAFFITI

Louisa Chu has a piece looking at the sides in the Pilsen gentrification controversy, from the restaurants that have been tagged to the activists who want to change… something. It’s a good introduction to the parties involved except for one omission—there’s no mention of Podmajersky, the developers who bought up Pilsen in the 80s and 90s from the fading Czech population, setting all of this in motion. By the way, my son reports that HaiSous, the part Vietnamese-owned restaurant that is part of the influx of “white” businesses (many of them, in fact, partly Asian-owned), was freshly tagged this weekend. (Tribune)

10. MINDY’S MEMORIES

“It’s a simple 1-2-3 cake, but the things I’ve done to transform it made me who I am. It’s how I knew I had the mind of a chef, adding bananas to the batter or chocolate to the streusel,” says Mindy Segal in this Washington Post piece, from a series about chefs and their childhood memories.

11. DUFFY’S DEDICATION

Just before Grace blew up, Make It Better interviewed Curtis Duffy for some insight into how his life has evolved since the documentary we all saw. I especially liked this observation: “I’m not any closer to having balance today than I was when I opened the restaurant, but I’m closer to the acceptance of not having balance.”

12. WON’S FUN

A new PBS web series “designed for parents where inspiration and information meet the power of science”—whatever that means exactly—features Won Kim of Kimski talking about a balanced lifestyle.

13. ICE ICE BABY

Steve Dolinsky looks at where the chefs and mixologists get their perfectly round and clear ice.

14. TEN WOMEN

Chicago Woman calls out ten women who make an impact on Chicago’s food scene. I’ve written articles about two of them (Sarah Grueneberg and Hewn’s Ellen King) and a third, Sabrina Medora, is a Fooditor contributor.

15. MEATHEAD ON THE MENU

Meathead Goldwyn of AmazingRibs.com, the place to go when you’re about to risk expensive meat on the grill or smoker, passed along Southern Living’s homey, entirely useful (no Fat Duck Cookbook) list of the 100 best cookbooks of all time. A couple of Chicago-related books make the list—Mexico One Plate at a Time by R. Bayless, On Food and Cooking by Oak Park native Harold McGee, and, of course, Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling.

16. THE DEFENESTRATION OF PRAGUE

So last week I recounted the known published facts in the departure of Cosmo Goss from The Publican. I felt that the stated crime and punishment seemed enough out of sync that there could well be more to the story we weren’t hearing. But I stated it in such a way that it came off sounding to some people like I was excusing sexual harassment. That was not the case, sexual harassment is gross and horrific, and I apologize for giving any impression of leniency through inept writing.

That said, the American tradition of due process is essential, victims of sexual harassment are not served by a race to public judgement that might let some perpetrators escape, and whipped-up social media hysteria demanding friends denounce friends is grotesque—most of all in a journalistic community where each of us should have the liberty to explore our thoughts in words, and occasionally to screw them up.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Before school started again, I took son #2 to Milwaukee for the day and we hit The Laughing Taco, the taco joint from Ardent/Red Light Ramen chef Justin Carlisle. It’s a nice little lunch spot with tacos that go beyond the usual (but never into anything you couldn’t find in Mexico), but the simplest one—the carne asada taco using beef from his dad’s farm, which you’ve probably had in fine restaurants here—is the best, otherworldly good.

After a fun week on social media, French comfort food with my wife seemed the right thing for Friday night, and we just snagged an OpenTable reservation in time to head out to Le Bouchon, which I had not been to in years. Hey, there’s always something new I have to check out, right? But there’s such pleasure in going somewhere where you can taste that they’ve been making something (tarte a l’oignon, steak au poivre) every night for decades—never tired, just so far beyond having to prove anything to anybody any more. It was perfect.

Got a tip or a link for Buzz List? Send it to [email protected]