Buzz List for March 19, 2018

Who's up for Beards, what's a hit at Band of Bohemia, why DMK was mad at the Reader, and where's the best strip mall in Chicago?

Band of Bohemia/Facebook
Monkfish with couscous and Brussels sprouts, Band of Bohemia

1. BEARD O’CLOCK

Chicago did extremely well locally (sewing up all 5 of the Best Chef Great Lakes nominations) and reasonably well nationally in this year’s James Beard Award nominations. Boka Group in particular stood out with four nominations—outstanding restaurateurs for Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz, pastry chef for Meg Galus, service for Boka, and one of the Great Lakes chef nominations for Lee Wolen at Boka. Sarah Rinkavage of Marisol was nominated for rising star chef; Greg Wade of Publican Quality Bread was nominated for outstanding baker; and besides Wolen, Andrew Brochu (Roister), Abe Conlon (Fat Rice), Beverly Kim and Johnny Clark (Parachute), and David and Anna Posey of Elske were all regional chef nominees. The only journalism nominee was Steve Dolinsky for The Hungry Hound on ABC 7. (Here’s what I said the last time this was true, which was this time a year ago.)

As always, the fact that the Great Lakes category is de facto a Chicago chef category (no chef outside Chicago has been nominated since 2015) raises concern locally—as Anthony Todd says (again) at Chicago magazine, “It’s not just that Chicago needs its own category. It’s that Chicago has its own category. It’s just called something else.”

2. FORTRESS WILLOW

Nothing about Mike Sula’s review of Fort Willow, the latest DMK restaurant, is half as interesting sounding as the story behind the hand-drawn illustrations for the article: “DMK decided that it wouldn’t ‘be able to provide photos or accommodate a photographer’ after the Reader reached out to get a skilled photojournalist on the scene to shoot some hot and steamy food porn. When pressed, the publicist reported that her client wasn’t happy about a review of a certain DMK restaurant the Reader had published in the past.” (Sula says he doesn’t know which one, but I’ll tell you exactly what it was, because Erick Williams complained about it to me when we did Key Ingredient at MK: it was the last line of this review of County Barbecue, and specifically the last two words, “smoking pole.”)

Anyway, on to word pictures: “On paper the chef has taken the sort of unfocused global approach I usually dread—this one in particular meant to evoke a spirit of world travel. But this tack works at Andrew Zimmerman and Emmanuel Nony’s Proxi, for instance, and it works here too. The unifier is a thirst-kindling spiciness across the menu.”

3. BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

So you read about the new chef at Band of Bohemia at Fooditor, and you want to know how his food is? Phil Vettel obliges with a new three-star review of the two-year-old restaurant and brewery under chef Ian Davis: “There may indeed be food-beer affinities in Davis’ dishes, but they exist in some back-of-the-mind realm, undetectable without some hint from Band of Bohemia’s omniscient servers. Davis’ stand-on-their-own compositions would impress even if beer were not part of the equation.” And if there’s one thing we agree on, it’s “the superstar entree: duck breast coated with toasted curry spices, presented in long rectangles with crisped-rice cubes, dots of coconut puree and scorched bok choy; this dish is sensational.”

4. BRIDGEPORT CHINESE

John Kessler, who was the reviewer for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for some years, turns up as a guest reviewer for Chicago magazine and goes on an expedition, finding a strip mall Fooditor readers will know (but now with a third spot I didn’t know existed): “An easy-to-miss strip mall at 26th and Halsted offers a virtual culinary tour of China. Its three restaurants will transport you to the snack culture of Taiwan, to the hot-and-numbing heart of Sichuan, and, finally, to the northern city of Shenyang, where flavors have migrated from Korea to felicitous effect.”

The one you should know by now is A Place By Damao: “Do order the pig’s feet. Braised for hours, then broiled to a fare-thee-well, these chopped-up, two-bite pieces land on the table so hot (in both spice and temperature) that even a nibble hurts.” Taipei Cafe, a rare Taiwanese restaurant, gets points for milky tea and “The gua bao—a soft steamed bun cradling pork belly, cilantro, and pickled radish… in my estimation, the definitive version of this now-ubiquitous food, a genuine handheld wonder that so many other places phone in.” Then, new to me, there’s Xiao Mei Xing: “A dish called ‘barbecue chilled noodles’ is nothing of the sort. Instead, a paper basket holds a kind of steaming hot buckwheat pappardelle with egg, fistfuls of cilantro, and more sauce. It’s psychotropic bliss.”

5. FLAVORTOWN

I noticed Tomatillo Tacoville just across the street from Raisu sushi recently, and Michael Nagrant has already been: “Tomatillo Tacoville is a wonderland. It has a wall embedded with fake greenery in which a flat screen TV is implanted. It feels like some kind of odd movie night being staged on the right field wall at Wrigley… The meats were well-caramelized and well-salted. The tortillas were griddled on the flat top. The onion and cilantro shower was just right.”

6. YOU GOT EGGROLL ON MY TACO

Titus Ruscitti is on a roll… eating things that get rolled up. He tried breakfast tacos at Lonesome Rose, but “They just tasted really plain. I tried a green chorizo, bacon-egg-cheese, and also one with black beans and cheese and I haven’t been back for more.” Dinner tacos are better: “I’ve tried almost all of them and like the fish taco the best. I can already see myself enjoying an afternoon frozen margarita with a couple of those this summer.”

Meanwhile, in Bellwood (near Melrose Park) he tries the popular jerk chicken egg rolls at Tastee Roll: “I can understand the love. Inside a fresh fried to order egg roll was the flavors of Jamaica that I crave. Big chunks of white meat chicken mixed in with crunchy vegetables like carrots and cabbage with just the right amount of spice from the jerk.” And finally, he tries Venezuelan arepas at Rica Arepa: “Arepas are a great snack source during morning and day and they also make for a great late night treat. Thus they tend to be stuffed with savory fillings like shredded beef, plantains, and cheese. Rica Arepa makes really good ones.”

7. GEORGIAN ON MY WINE

No one seems to have noticed (and it doesn’t seem to have been promoted to the local food and drink media; I only know about it because I saw the trailer at another movie), but sommelier Jeremy Quinn—who used to be at Telegraph here—is part of a documentary playing at The Music Box, Our Blood is Wine, focusing on the ancient heritage of Georgian winemaking; there will be a tasting after Monday’s 7 pm showing. Watch the trailer here.

8. NOT OPEN AND SHUT

Nick Kindelsperger looks into the Open Table allegations (that a rogue employee tied up restaurants on Reserve on peak days like Valentine’s Day, costing them no-shows) and finds some suggestive things—”Paul Fehribach, chef and owner of Big Jones in Andersonville, says that Reserve is still investigating, so he doesn’t know the full extent of the situation, but he acknowledges that Big Jones had ‘ridiculously high no-show rates’ on Valentine’s Day and Mardi Gras. ‘Valentine’s Day, sure, that’s notorious in the restaurant business,’ says Fehribach, noting that no-shows are slightly more common then. ‘However, we never have no-shows on Mardi Gras.'”

9. VEGETARIAN MUSEUM

At the moment, it’s “a dozen information panels, arranged for casual perusal, high school science fair-style. And a stack of books (donated by the library). And a video installation. And a recipe for chocolate peanut butter cups from Alicia Silverstone.” So says Christopher Borelli at the Tribune. And it’s on the second floor of a public library in Evanston. But the National Vegetarian Museum has a reason for being, says founder, Kay Stepkin, who started the Chicago Diner: “After World War I and the Great Depression and World War II, vegetarians seemed to lose their message for a while, and I wouldn’t want to see us lose that history, or our message ever again.” (And yes, meaty Chicago really does have a vegetarian history—check out this interview I did at the Reader a few years ago.)

10. LAKE EFFECT

Joanne Trestrail at Crain’s is the first one to review the new restaurant in the Theater on the Lake building (it’s called The Lakefront, but that’s the first time I’ve heard the actual name)  and she says it’s worthy of its view: “The Lakefront is a terrific place to eat, well worth a cab ride from the office. Ace chef Cleetus Friedman (Fountainhead, City Provisions) makes lunch, dinner or weekend brunch at the 130-seat restaurant, in the historic Theater on the Lake building, an experience deserving of its own applause. In warm weather, the 90-seat patio—with full menus—promises to be a real draw.”

11. SERVICE ENTRANCE

I’m a bit behind on podcasts but The Feed’s show on what makes good service from a couple of weeks back is well worth a listen; besides, of course, Rick Bayless, whose Topolobampo has been a frequent Beard nominee for service, there’s Danny Meyer, who knows a thing or two about service, Stephanie Andrews, bar manager at Billy Sunday, and Devon McKinney, a floor captain at Alinea.

12. FAIR OLD GROUND

This is weird: Barn & Co. closed to become FareGrounds, except Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea exists so instead it will be Old Grounds Social… which sounds almost as much like Old Town Social as FareGrounds did Fairgrounds. Anyway, it opened for St. Patrick’s but will open for real in a week. (Eater)

WHAT MIKE ATE

I had gone to Bar Biscay’s preview, where a lot of the things were on bread, so when I went back I made an effort to eat things not on bread—and while the on-bread things are nice snacks, I was pleased to find more depth in slow-cooking things like the white beans, clam and ham salad or the stew pot.

Needed to order pizza for my son and some friends working on a school project. Remembered that the suburbs’ Nick’s Pizza & Pub had opened in Ravenswood or North Center or somewhere. Entirely solid Chicago-style thin crust, it goes in the rotation.

Oh, and besides congrats to all the Beard nominees named above, congrats to Justin Carlisle at Ardent for nabbing a Best Chef Midwest nominee (Wisconsin somehow is not lumped in with Chicago). My recent dinner at Ardent is sure to be among the best of 2018… and so were the tacos at Laughing Taco.

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