Buzz List for January 23, 2017
Calculating your odds for Restaurant Week, Publican Anker is a noisy but worthy sequel, Ruby finds a rom-com in Hanbun, and Ina finds an Ina substitute.
1. 16 -30-
One big question has been, would Trump’s presidency harm his properties, be neutral, or even help them (hey, some people could find it advantageous to do business from the businessman-president’s brand)? It’s probably too early to know in total for sure, but it’s not too early to know that some people working there may be dispirited by it, because chef Thomas Lents of Sixteen cites it as among his reasons for leaving the two-Michelin-star restaurant and heading for his hometown of Detroit. He says so diplomatically in both this Detroit Free Press piece and at Crain’s: “The hotel and the people there are fantastic people to work for. I love Sixteen and what we were able to do there. They’ve been nothing but great to me. That said, the election has been difficult and I saw some roadblocks to an extent at Sixteen that were out of our control.”
Lents also cites other reasons—including cancer treatments and a desire to be part of Detroit’s renaissance. The Free Press: “‘I could move to San Francisco and open a restaurant and it would just be a drop in the bucket among other great restaurants that are there,’ Lents explained. ‘In moving to Detroit, you feel like your efforts are really going to make a difference, and that’s important to me right now.'”
2. MATH IS HARD
Restaurant Week, the two-week promotion for our restaurant scene that gets people out to try preset bargain menus at restaurants, turns even the best of food media into PR flacks for the industry, making the same recommendations year after year (hey, does anybody think Blackbird and Naha will be good choices?) Which is why we have to salute Anthony Todd, returning for the second year with his mammoth effort to quantify the whole thing—identify whether or not the preset $22, $33 or $44 menus are a good deal. (Believe it or not, there are menus where you’d be money ahead ordering the same items any other time of the year. How do you screw that up?) He analyzes the menus of over 300 restaurants to see if you get a good deal, and highlights some where you come out ahead and that he likes, and others where you’re sure to get screwed. (Chicagoist; or go here for his top 20.)
Lots of Publican Anker coverage! Michael Nagrant wonders if One Off took the red pill or the blue pill with Publican Anker, admiring some dishes like the eggplant and halloumi I loved, but also finding it loud, crowded and communal: “Maybe the most egregious repeat from the original is communal seating. No one likes communal seating. It violates human nature. I doubt even Bill Clinton, the most extroverted extrovert of all time, is like, ‘I can’t wait to sit next to total strangers all night while food runners have no idea whether a plate should be delivered to me or the party next to me.’” (Redeye)
In the Reader, Mike Sula also sees some service issues in the very new, very busy restaurant, and reminders of the original Publican, but “the menu, however, actually name-checks a number of Middle Eastern ingredients, which is more in line with the moment, culinarily speaking. Nowhere are both of these features more evident than with the chicken wings, showered with basil, with a sticky, vaguely fishy, sweet-chile lacquer, or the meaty chunks of grilled pork collar with raisiny Urfa biber chile pepper and the Middle Eastern spice blend dukkah. You can discern hints of it too in the whole grilled dorade, a meaty, white-fleshed fish, whose crispy skin is pasted with a kind of Aleppo chile jam that has its own piscine essence.” This review’s part of a twofer—Publican Anker is also the subject of this month’s Key Ingredient.
4. JUDGE BURRITO
Nick Kindelsperger has been instagramming burritos for weeks, and I’ve been in eager anticipation of what he would find, especially after Hunter Owens turned me around on the Mexican burrito scene some months back. And at last, his Magnum Burritopus is here. Okay, I’m not sold on the things that just come off like 6″ thick sushi rolls, and only mildly on the kind of breakfast burrito you get at places like Flo (they’re fine for breakfast food, but not art). But the array of Durango-style burritos he finds—compact, focused on meat choices like deshebrada and usually fried to a crisp on the outside—is impressive, and gives you some marching orders, so check out his piece and slideshow now, then start eating.
5. TALK TO THE HANBUN
Jeff Ruby ventures to the Chinese mall in Westmont and finds a romance at Hanbun—or two, one between proprietors David Park and Jennifer Tran, and one between Park and fine food: “Two creations in particular showcased Park’s rare skill with textures. He pan-fried his tteokbokki—the soft rice-and-fish-cake snack famous in Korean markets—in schmaltz, lending it a sticky-rich depth, then served it with a quail egg, pickled cabbage, and mustard seeds. His pearl barley porridge sounded emphatically unsexy, but it was as exquisite as the most refined risotto. Thick and studded with garlic-sautéed edamame, eyelash-size pickled honshimeji mushrooms, and wispy pea tendrils, it delivered surprising bursts of vinegary acidity and a brilliant crunch from puffed rice. I’ve never enjoyed porridge more deeply.”
Instead of reviewing a second restaurant, he goes back for lunch and offers even more valuable praise: “I’d put Park’s Korean noodles head to head with David Chang’s legendary ramen at Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York.” (Chicago)
6. GETTIN' HYGGE WITH IT
Where did “hygge” come from? I swear I never heard the term till a week ago (when Slate promptly declared it racist, naturally, with their usual impulse to ruin everything), but now Elske, which already means love (no word yet from Slate on how bad that is yet), is hygge, too, according to Phil Vettel: “Hygge (pronounced hoo-guh) [is] a Scandinavian concept of welcoming, warm conviviality. That’s what the front of the house is going for, and you feel it in the genuine welcome at the host stand, in the warm glow from the candles atop the rich wood tables, from personality-rich servers who border on the nurturing, and from chefs and cooks who, despite no shortage of food runners, take a moment to bring a dish or two to each table personally. And these, by and large, are terrific dishes. Or, more specifically, bowls.” Three stars. (Tribune)
7. SOMERSET HOUSE
When I interviewed Kevin Boehm and Jason Hammel, Boehm said Boka Group had four projects in the works under wraps—before he and the group take 2019 off. We now know three of them—a project with Jimmy Papadopolous (ex Bohemian House), a revamp of the Perennial space, and the latest to be announced is Somerset, a second restaurant from Lee Wolen (of their flagship Boka), a more casual spot in the Gold Coast aka Viagra Triangle, which has the highest-grossing restaurant in town (Gibson’s) but otherwise seems a bit limp. (Tribune)
Ari Bendersky does one of the hardest things, get people to talk about why they fired chefs, or decided to split up, or whatever. There’s still a lot of careful phrasing around the precise issues, but you get a realistic sense of how partnerships that sounded great on paper fell apart and how you deal with that. (Crain’s)
9. 5 LOAVES FOR INA
Damn, how come I never thought to invite Ina Pinkney to 5 Loaves Eatery, star of this Fooditor piece and now a Jean Banchet winner for Best Ethnic Restaurant? In her latest breakfast column she finds a story of her own: “I sat very close to another table, and the man sitting there said, ‘I come here since you closed!’ How sweet and telling that he thought this food and hospitality was a good replacement for Ina’s.” She also visits Yellow Rose Cafe on the northwest side and Beverly Bakery and Cafe. (Tribune)
10. SPEAKING OF LIMP
Friend of Fooditor Rob Gardner argues against a fetish for crispness and for the delights of limp food at New City: “Skeptical? Who does roast chicken best? How about who does roast chicken best in a bare-bones space shared with a fading Korean shvitz? Peruvians. Peruvian chicken is great because it takes its time rolling over live coals. The meat is moist, the marinade subtle. The skin on the chicken at Fina Estampa, a brasa roja on Montrose, melds into the meat. There are no sounds made in this place beyond what’s on Univision, not even chitchat from your fellow eaters who are stuffing themselves with their golden, smoky birds; they don’t need to converse. You do not pine for crispy skin while eating here.”
11. KURD ABOUT IT
The Trib’s Adam Lukach looks at our first Kurdish restaurant, The Gundis in Lakeview, with some history and some food pics: “‘Our food is spicier, it’s more citrusy, greasy in all the best ways, and involves a lot of bread,’ Duzgun wrote. ‘Who doesn’t like bread?'”
12. FUTATSUKI FAMILY
Aimee Levitt finds a sweet family restaurant serving ramen and katsu-don a fitting replacement for the far north side’s lost Japanese treasure: “My friend was equally pleased by her katsu don. She said it filled the void in her heart—or maybe just her stomach—left by the Sunshine Cafe.” (Reader)
Renzell, that outfit that hopes to rival Michelin with a list of top restaurants based on frequent diner surveys, comes out with its first list—and, you know, it’s a pretty good list for the best restaurants of 2012. Which is to say, there’s a lot of reliably high-end places, not a lot of surprises, and nothing newer than Grace or Acadia in the top 10. Maybe there’s an audience for yet more affirmation that Spiaggia and Tru are pretty good (which doesn’t know about Oriole or Smyth yet)… but it’s hard to see that this safe, predictable list (which overlaps Michelin strongly) is going to conquer the world or get anybody’s blood pumping. Eater has more.
16. CONQUEST OF EVEREST
Lettuce Entertain You’s fine-dining summit Everest is 30 this year; if you’ve never been there, go there in a short video with Chef Joho. (Chicago)