Buzz List for January 22, 2018

Reviews for both of Boka Group's latest, serious talk on sexism in kitchens, a Beard for Sun Wah, and Rahm talks to Graham on his podcast (his what?)

Bellemore/Facebook
The much-Instagrammed oyster-caviar pie

1. NOT OK

The Tribune’s Cindy Dampier and Joseph Hernandez gather a wide range of the best-known women in Chicago kitchens for a roundtable on sexual harassment in kitchens, and how to react to it—”What has been challenging… is the acceptance of ‘This is how it is, this is how restaurants are, and you’ve got to deal with it or you’re out,’” says Beverly Kim (Parachute), while Dana Cree of The Publican notes, “A lot of the people who are behaving poorly are good people, they’re your friends. You can help elevate one woman’s career and then also mistreat another woman at the same time.”

I wouldn’t say they come to any surprising conclusions—the answers are mostly known, it’s making them the new culture in kitchens that will be hard work—but they give a powerful picture of women’s experience in an often ugly or compromised kitchen culture.

2. DUCK DUCK BEARD

Big congrats to Sun Wah BBQ, the Uptown Hong Kong restaurant famous for Peking duck (a multicourse feast at $45): they’ve been named to the James Beard America’s Classics list, the first Chicago place to make the list since Calumet Fisheries in 2010. Today Sun Wah is in a glitzier (though still busy) location on Broadway, but if you want to see more of the heritage they’re honoring, here’s a Sky Full of Bacon video from 2008, featuring co-owner Kelly Cheng and the original location on Argyle. This led to other press focusing on the generational change story, including a New York Times piece… I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

3. IN MEMORIAM PAUL BOCUSE

The legendary chef of Lyon, whose name is on the Bocuse d’Or, the most famous international chef competition, died last week at 91. I had a very nice picnic with stuff from his food hall last summer, but many Chicago chefs got quite a bit closer to him than that and told their stories on social media—check out Carrie Nahabedian’s, and this one from Phil Mott, one-time owner of Le Francais.

BREAKING: FONDA FRONTERA CLOSES

After the newsletter version of Buzz List went out last night, news came that a Rick Bayless restaurant was closing for the first time* (not counting the licensed food court stands, that is). Originally a second brand of Xoco, Fonda Frontera somehow never took off in Wicker Park, where things that wouldn’t exist without Bayless’ influence (Big Star, Antique Taco) seem to flourish. What went wrong? Wicker Park is full of restaurants yet often undiscriminating, and maybe Bayless’ high quality, farm to table Mex just aimed too high in price and aspirations for an audience that associates Mexican with kicking back with a drink on weekends—and apparently weekends were good but weekdays were dead. The Tribune has the official story.

* Yes, he was a partner in Zinfandel at one time, we know.

4. THE SOM NEVER SETS ON THE BOKA EMPIRE

Jeff Ruby admits that he thought the Gold Coast might finally defeat Boka Group, but has to admit that putting Boka’s Lee Wolen in charge ensured food that was better than it needed to be for that neighborhood: “He could easily coast at Somerset. But instead of doing so by, say, serving a straight-up beef tartare that would no doubt please the masses, Wolen challenges diners. His eclectic rendition mixes dry-aged beef with finely chopped shiitake mushrooms, radish strips, and pickled mustard seeds under a canopy of crispy fried mushroom shreds, all of which he dares you to spread on a slice of grilled sourdough bread. (One bite and my slice imploded.) It’s unusual and almost magnificent. The juniper-rubbed New Zealand venison loin, its tender pink flesh absorbing fleur de sel crystals and brown butter, gets goosed with sunchokes, pears, huckleberries, and little venison sausage nubs. It is magnificent.”

5. BELLEMORE AND MORE

“For a food critic it’s no longer astonishing that every time BRG opens a new restaurant it’s another remarkable one. It’s become something you can reliably look forward to,” says Mike Sula about what he counts as their fifteenth, Bellemore.

That prompts a commenter to accuse him of being a rote reviewer, but I think this discerningly descriptive passage shows why Sula has a sharp eye even in the midst of predictably smooth large-restaurant-group excellence (it also kind of shows why you should go to Bellemore): “On my visits, there was a crudo—the most reliably disappointing dish in all contemporary American restaurant culture—that happened to be an exception to the rule. Thick, lush ribbons of hiramasa, just barely altered by calamansi vinegar (made from a fruit that straddles the divide between citric sweetness and citric acidity), it was plated with paper-thin slices of black and watermelon radishes and bits of sweet mandarin orange in a pool of cool, toasty hazelnut milk. I would say don’t be a fool and share this one, but it’s already been swapped out for a mackerel crudo.”

6. LAT-UNNECESSARY

I’d long since forgotten that Latinicity tried to have a classier sit-down restaurant (Pata Negra was the name) within its food court format, and now they have a different one called Pueblo, which Graham Meyer in Crain’s finds… not much better: “Pueblo fails to square the circle delineated by a full-service restaurant inside a food hall. As Pata Negra did, it feels maladroitly grafted onto the operation. The surgical-strike attitude that motivates a food-hall visit doesn’t translate to waited tables, with that word ‘wait’ inescapably present.”

7. DAMAO THAT’S TASTY

Happy to see Fooditor fave and Chengdu street food spot A Place By Damao getting attention from reviewers—Sula just tweeted about going there, and Maggie Hennessy gives it three stars  at Time Out: “First to arrive was a small bowl of innocuously beige noodles sprinkled with roasted peanuts. We plunged our chopsticks in to reveal a crimson pool of chili oil that slicked the knife-cut noodles with sweet heat. Pliant, boiled bell dumplings, stuffed with pork and plenty of garlic, swam in more of that searing, bright-red oil. They slipped wryly from our chopsticks in a hard-to-get dance that made devouring them all the more rewarding.”

8. IT FEELS LIKE SUNNY SPAIN IN CHICAGO

Is Chicago the tapas capitol of America? That’s the thesis of a Food & Wine piece focusing on tapas in Chicago, and honestly I think it’s kind of a tall claim, especially coming after the closing of Vera which would have been the best argument for it. But you decide for yourself. On the other hand, I find nothing to argue with in this Trib piece suggesting that conservas—quality Spanish canned goods—should have a bigger place in your home eating.

9. MACAUKIE MONSTER

Fat Rice brought on a new pastry chef for its cafe The Bakery in Elaine Townsend, and her first star attraction is a Snickerdoodle with a salted egg yolk in it—yes, it sounds weird (less so if you know Fat Rice’s terrific Portuguese egg tarts) but as Anthony Todd, who calls it “the best cookie I’ve had in months” at Chicago mag’s Dish, says, “The end product is intensely savory and salty, a novelty for a cookie, with a lightly bitter sweetness from the [black Ceylon] tea.”

10. KENDALL’S END

The for-profit college company that owns Kendall College, where many of Chicago’s cooks and chefs trained, is selling it to National Louis University for $1 plus a commitment to spend $14 million on new facilities at NLU’s South Michigan Ave. campus. The name will be retained but the handsome building on Goose Island will be no more, at least as a culinary campus, reports the Tribune—though owner Laureate Education may have other uses in mind. (Weird but true fact: they used to host Greater Midwest Foodways programs at the Goose Island facility, and the last one they held there was… mine.)

11. LIKE A RESTAURANT CRITIC?

Speaking of Maggie Hennessy reviewing things, she’s part of an online magazine called Cherry Bombe’s issue devoted to women and sexism in the restaurant business, and has a piece on how she set her sights on becoming a restaurant critic, because (I know this well) everyone assumes that if you write about food… you must be a critic.

For her, it took convincing herself that if she decided she had the voice to be one, she was one: “Food media was changing, and critics were losing some of their clout in this post-anonymous era of shameless self-promotion, which coincided with a rising tide of mediocre ‘foodie’ content. Not only that, but did I really want or deserve to throw my opinions into the veteran pool of 40-plus, cisgender men? Let’s not forget the impending deluge of democratized reviewers and trolls who would routinely do their best to expose me as a fraud—myself still included.”

12. URBS IN PODDO

I feel like people aren’t accepting the reality that Chicago’s mayor has his own podcast—to me that’s weird, like if the President went on Twitter all the time or something. Anyway, in the latest one, he chats with Graham Elliot about Chicago’s food scene, and making grilled cheese sandwiches (no  word on whether Rahm was shuffling around in his slippers during that part of the conversation).

13. CHE BELLA

Here’s a nice piece about Italian restaurant star Osteria Langhe… just one hitch, it’s in Italian. Speaking of Osteria Langhe, their sister restaurant Animale is doing a special event this week with Oliver Poilevey of Le Bouchon, focused on offal cooking. It’s Thursday, you can order a la carte or the whole menu for $65, call (872) 315-3912.

14. AFRICA, TEXAS STYLE

This is advertising content for catering at the not-bad barbecue chain Dickey’s, which has a few locations in the burbs, but it has some interest for telling a little of the story of a Dickey’s franchisee/manager who came to Texas barbecue—by way of his native Kenya.

13. FOODITOR 99 ON THE AIR

Two recent interviews about the 2018 edition of The Fooditor 99 are now available to listen to at your leisure. Here I am talking about it with Dave Hoekstra on WGN. And here’s the Car Con Carne episode in which we drop in on Big Guys Sausage Stand and invite owner Brendan O’Connor to hang out in the car with us and talk about life as a hot dog man.

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