Buzz List for June 19, 2017

The crudité tweets multiplied like clever rabbits, you knew the Embeya story was bad but not this bad, happy ending anyway for Hai Sous at last, and reviews of Temporis, Pizzeria Bebu, and Korean gas station burritos.

Clever Rabbit/Facebook
Crudite platter at Clever Rabbit (to judge by other photos, an earlier iteration)
1. CLEVER RABBIT, CRITIX ARE FOR KIDS

I had heard through the critical grapevine that Michael Nagrant had gone to Ukrainian Village’s new vegetable-focused Clever Rabbit and had their $38 crudite plate… and hated it, and his whole experience. Expecting that to turn up in Redeye/Tribune any day, instead I was surprised to see Marissa Conrad’s piece headlined “Eat This: The $38 Crudite Plate From Clever Rabbit”: “Paying $38 for a crudite platter sounds legit [sic] insane, I know. My first thought when I saw the thing on the menu at Clever Rabbit: I could get a steak for that. Then I realized I sounded like my dad and decided to give the vegetables a try.”

When it got tweeted, Nagrant responded: “This is literally the worst thing I ate and worst value I’ve consumed in 2017 as a critic.” (His review has not appeared yet, if it will.) The responses that followed (not all in the same Twitter thread; you may have to poke around a bit, like here), which include Twitter foodies like Kennyz, Peter Frost of Crain’s, and eventually Roister chef Andrew Brochu, make for a good, not too heated discussion on whether we’ve all gone nuts to pay $38 for veggies, whether critics have any idea what it’s like to run a restaurant, and so on. (The harshest words were on the side—Chris Chacko of Sparrow, who said “Nice plate presentation for what is the lowest common denominator for vegetables found anywhere. The shaved summer truffle akin to saw dust.” For the record, I haven’t eaten any of it and have no opinion on the actual foodstuffs.)

In the midst of all that… Anthony Todd published his own review at Chicagoist. And he liked the crudite: “Really? A $38 crudite plate? You’ve got to be joking. The best crudite in town is at Boeufhaus, and it only costs $10, which is pretty much what I expect a crudite to cost. So I pulled an unfair critic’s trick of ordering something incredibly unlikely in the slight hope that, if it was awful, I’d be able to make fun of it… Well, they beat me. This is the best new dish I’ve had in 2017.”

2. EMBEZZA

The outlines of the Embeya fiasco have been known for a while—how the partnership between chef Thai Dang and manager-owner Attila Gyulai imploded, killing the huge and expensively designed restaurant and costing Dang and his brother their substantial investments, while Gyulai skedaddled to Canada and beyond. But the juicy/appalling details in Peter Frost’s terrific Crain’s story are pretty jawdropping:

“Months before they disappeared, Gyulai and [wife Komal] Patel apparently began to plot their exit. They systematically looted Embeya, liquidating $101,495.82 from its certificate of deposit and making eight withdrawals from its checking account over a one-month period that totaled $127,774.38 and were directly deposited into their personal account, according to bank records obtained by Crain’s. On June 7, 2016, they wired a total of $100,000 to two banks in Canada. Twenty-eight days later, they wired $5,100 to a bank in Budapest, Hungary… Since leaving the U.S. last July, either Gyulai, Patel or both have traveled to Canada, Hungary, the Netherlands, Italy, Mexico, Ireland and Germany, bank records show.”

Read it all. And be surprised it doesn’t happen more often…

3. ABOUT DANG TIME

Meanwhile Thai and Danielle Dang’s new restaurant, Hai Sous, has been in the works so long I have to link to both the Reader and Fooditor to note my past pieces, but at last it will open this week; the Trib has more details on the opening.

4. TEMP WORK

I’d been wondering lately about Temporis, the tiny tasting menu restaurant which Fooditor previewed here; Julia Thiel reviewed it for the Reader back in March, but other than that it seemed to have fallen entirely off media radar. Now Phil Vettel turns up, in the process revealing that co-chef Evan Fullerton has departed, replaced by another Les Nomades vet, Don Young, who joins owner Sam Plotnick.

He gives it three stars: “Each course has a lot going on. The opening salvo stars a nugget of king crab meat, dressed with a bit of aged soy and topped with mustard powder (and a sprig of hydroponic chervil), flanked by steelhead roe and freeze-dried satsuma, a novel sort of salty-sweet interplay. Following that, sweet sashimi scallop arrives over nettle puree, sea beans and a coriander tuile that Plotnick calls a ‘spider web’ but reminds me of a molecular structure. A tightly curled, robata-grilled octopus tentacle sits alongside miso-glazed eggplant, marinated shiitakes and strawberry (nonhydroponic); a bit of charred lemon brightens the octopus perfectly, and a sprinkle of dehydrated parsley adds color.”

5. NEW BEBU REVIEW

“I can’t even get bored writing about pizza, even though I’ve spent way too much time thinking about it not to have become slightly warped in my worldview,” says Mike Sula. Pizzeria Bebu gets him enthused: “[Pizzaiolo Jeff] Lutzow has developed a crust that can only be described on its own terms, unlike the city’s prevailing pizza trends of the last decade or so. Its underskirt is uniformly crispy, the alchemy of heat and dough and toppings providing that granular strata of texture, from the undercarriage’s carbonized shadows of char to the crucial middle layer, where bread gives way to sauce in a pliable and tender transition. The cornicione shows the crumb structure of a great sourdough bread while remaining tender enough for one to tear off bite after bite. Like all good pizza, at its foundation it’s just good bread.”

6. SOL MATES

“Love has done a lot of things for the world, but it has not brought me great bulgogi. That is until now, for Sol’s on Sheridan, a new Korean restaurant in Uptown that serves great red chili-slathered beef, has landed in Chicago as a result of a great love affair,” says Michael Nagrant, in the week’s best opening paragraph. (Redeye)

7. PREMIUM SPOT

Who can resist “Hey, check out the Korean burrito joint in a gas station near Cabrini-Green?” Well, I can’t, anyway, and Nick Kindelsperger says why you shouldn’t just gas-n-git when KorFusion is there: “I spent January eating dozens of burritos around Chicago to find the city’s best, and had KorFusion been open then, this one would have made the cut. I suggest packing yours with assertive kimchi fried rice and spicy pork bulgogi, along with crisp and acidic pickled carrot and radish.”

8. RIB TIPS

Nick Kindelsperger asks the question: is Chicago still a rib town? I think his suspicion that ribs are falling by the wayside is true—it’s true of most of the traditional blue collar meaty eats in Chicago—and indeed as he goes out to investigate the state of ribs in Chicago, most of what he finds is older places hanging on.

They’re still baking them to meat Jello at Twin Anchors and Miller’s Pub, though Gale Street Inn does better with that style. (I agree 100% with this section.) For actual barbecue, Smoque’s “meaty St. Louis ribs ($20.95 for full slab) nail that sweet spot of tender and juicy, with meat that hugs the bones but gently releases when you sink your teeth in.” And rib tips dominate the south side BBQ scene (though I think at Lem’s for one, ribs top tips easily). He ends on a hopeful note that ribs still matter, but it seems pretty clear to me, as someone who moved here when ribs were everywhere but a good burger was rare, that that’s been a definite shift in the meat preoccupations of the hog butcher to the world.

9. FARM TEAM

Others have written about it (notably Fooditor), but Steve Dolinsky’s visit to The Farm behind Smyth and The Loyalist for ABC 7 gives you a first video look at the place and people.

10. CASSEROLE BUTCHER TO THE WORLD

Mentions of Italian beef, steak and deep dish pizza in the first paragraph? Yes, and bonus points for using the word “casserole,” so it must be a Chicago dining piece by an out-of-towner. A Detroiter, in this case, and it goes on rather long about Alinea (he didn’t like it) after that, before finally getting to things he likes better (hint: the last line is “I have seen the future of fine dining and its name is Smyth”). (Detroit Free Press)

11. SHE STARS

If Leela Punyaratabandhu keeps being in the news, I may finally learn how to correctly spell the name of the Chicago-based Thai food blogger and cook book author without double-checking. (She tends to get referred to by the name of her blog, She Simmers, a lot.) She’s one of two Chicagoans, the other being the late Green City Market founder Abby Mandel, to make a list of America’s best home cooks ever (most influential would be more like it; who’s to say best in a domestic art?) And she’s interviewed by Nick Kindelsperger at the Trib about her new (and most excellent) cookbook Bangkok.

12. HALO DERE

Is Janet Rausa Fuller’s piece telling you all about Asian desserts available this summer in Chicago merely an article, or is the phrase you’re looking for… “public service?” (Chicago)

13. GARFIELD OF DREAMS

How often does Chicago magazine (or anybody) cover Garfield Ridge? Not often, I expect, but in yet another sign that coverage of the south side food scene is better than ever, here’s Carrie Schedler pointing you to cecina tacos down by Midway: “One of the best places in the city for cecina is Kairos, a perpetually bustling taqueria in Garfield Ridge. Though dried in a fridge—not under the Mexican sun, as in Guerrero—the beef there is succulent and delicious.”

WHAT MIKE ATE

I finally got to Mi Tocaya Antojeria, and have to say, the one-two punch of this and Quiote within a few blocks on California suddenly makes that one of the best Mexican strips in town, if you can make a strip with just two places. Everything I tried had bright, eye-openingly jangly flavors, not overly spicy but lots of color and pop; from the lengua with peanut butter, to the gooey, dark and bitter enchiladas potosinas, a sharply-flavored and perfectly fried fish con mole verde, and (another irresistibly gooey one) the chorizo with queso fundido, which you scoop onto handmade tortillas, there was nothing short of a complete winner in the bunch.

I made a run for Japanese ingredients out to Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights, and took the opportunity to try the meat-on-sticks joint, Yakitori Boogytori, owned by the owners of Wasabi in Logan Square and Ramen Takeya. The skewers were fantastic, really solid, but sadly the place was dead on a Saturday night—go out and give it some love, you won’t be sorry.

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