Buzz List for March 26, 2018

Sixteen getting smaller, The Blanchard makes a comeback, Korean chicken wings are a Chicago fave, and foodie millennials telling stories

Eric Brewery & Cider House

1. SIXTEEN OF A KIND

Big news from high up (by way of Anthony Todd at Chicago mag): Sixteen, the restaurant in the Trump Tower and one of Chicago’s few two Michelin star restaurants, will close on April 28 and be replaced by a more casual, less expensive small plates concept under current chef Nick Dostal (who I wrote about here). “People are going out a lot more, which means restaurants have to be more accessible—they don’t want to save up for just one expensive dinner. If you look at any of the great chefs in the city, they’re going in this direction,” Dostal told Todd. (They will also redo the dining room, which to me has always been kind of an ungainly goldfish bowl, albeit with a spectacular view.)

This has two broader ramifications: one, of course, is that Trump’s populist rhetoric is clearly clashing with his brand’s attempt to appeal to the sort of people (wealthy but often socially liberal) who would dine at a very high end restaurant (and with add-ons from the caviar cart and the reserve wine list, you could easily make Sixteen as expensive a night out as there is in Chicago dining).

But the other makes me wonder about the longevity here of a different brand—Michelin. As Todd notes, “In 2017, we lost Tru, 42 Grams, Grace, mk, Intro, and more—a huge swath of Chicago’s finest spots were suddenly gone.” Which is to say, half of 2018’s Michelin three stars (Grace, leaving only Alinea) and 3/5ths of the 2017 two star list are gone (only Acadia and Oriole from that year’s list survive, with Smyth having joined them subsequently). To compare to our record of one and three, New York has five three-stars and 11 two-stars; northern California has seven three-stars and eight two-stars.

The one star list, much of it more casual, remains strong and stable, but all that demonstrates is that Michelin and Chicago are mainly focused on different things. I have to wonder if Michelin is going to remain interested in Chicago year after year, when we don’t seem to be interested in the type of dining they are all about.

2. TWO STARS

And in other two star news, pastry chef Genie Kwon and chef de cuisine Timothy Flores, coworkers at Oriole and now an engaged couple, are leaving the restaurant (on good terms, all say). (Tribune)

3. SO LONG CLAUDIA

Trevor Teich, whose Claudia was a standout among pop-up restaurants the last couple of years, will depart Chicago to take a post as sous chef at Pierre Gagnaire’s Twist in Las Vegas’s Mandarin Oriental. Good luck, chef. (Tribune)

4. ERIS AND CIVILIZATION

Mike Sula likes the room and some of the cider at the new Eris Brewery and Cider House, but only one dish from the food side hits the apple of love like an arrow: “Let me say right up front that the posole rojo is the best thing I ate at Eris. I’m sure it would offend some purists, but its broth is at once bright and deeply meaty, loaded with chewy hominy, crunchy cabbage and radishes, and a mound of the cider-braised pork that in two other dishes on the menu presents as dry and stringy but is right at home in this brick-red pool of ancho-powered broth.”

5. BLANCH HARD

I attended a media dinner right after Ryan Burns took over The Blanchard following Jason Paskewitz’s departure, and… well, it needed some time, apparently. A year later, Phil Vettel think Burns has come into his own: “Burns’ food is rooted in French tradition but not bound entirely by it. His current menu, in place as of Valentine’s Day, incorporates a couple of Asian accents, a nod to Spain, and even some childhood memories… He fashions plancha-griddled octopus in a bouillabaisse homage, tossing the octopus in pureed-mussels vinaigrette and adding a smear of clam-incorporated rouille to the plate. Kennebec frites provide echoes of caviar service, topped with cured egg yolk and an “accoutrement dust” of powdered caper, chive and scallion; a ceramic cup of salmon-roe cream adds the fishy component.”

6. WANG THANG

“At their best, Korean fried chicken wings are crunchier, juicier and more creatively seasoned than Buffalo wings could hope to be,” says Nick Kindelsperger, making a case for the Korean chicken wing as being a quintessential Chicago food. He gives a good account of the history of the lollipop wing (associated with Great Seas on West Lawrence) before hitting a number of favorites including Crisp, DAK (which I wrote about for Serious Eats when Nick was its editor), Cafe Orient 33 and the Bonchon chain (which has two Chicago area locations, one in Chinatown and one in Glenview): “Emerging from the bubbling oil, each sports an aggressively crisp crust, which somehow manages to stay that way even when saturated in sauce. It’s a fried chicken miracle.”

7. GETTING JIGAE

At Chicago mag John Kessler, lover of Korean food, recommends the Soondubu Jigae (aka, that hot sauce-colored soup that bubbles like a volcano) at So Gong Dong Tofu & BBQ, a chain with three locations in Chicago now.

8. WRIGHT, BROTHER

Prairie School has been one of the year’s most acclaimed bar openings and for Eater, Nicole Schnitzler takes a look at how Chicago native mixologist Jim Meehan made his name in New York at PDT and then brought his skills back to Chicago: “‘There’s a pride I have from being able to operate here, but it’s not like I have a Chicago flag tattooed on my forearm like Charles Joly,’ he says. ‘Charles has the advantage of being more Chicago than Chicago itself, whereas I feel like I can now come back and view things objectively.'”

9. DELI SCHOOL

I was just talking to another food writer about how, really, I could go a long time before reading my next millennial food writer personal essay. (Food—it’s not all about you!) And then, dammit, ex-Chicagoan Kate Bernot turned out a beauty for The Takeout about the time she spent at Al’s Deli in Evanston, which was also the time that her parents were divorcing and she was kind of getting lost, except for the two brothers who ran a sandwich shop and ever so gently not only kept her grounded but guided her to finding her purpose writing about food. Just go read it.

10. SEE FOOD

Speaking of personal essays if not millennials, Michael Nagrant found himself in a Red Lobster, and it gives him a pretext for talking more about how he got into being a fearless foodie back when his parents let him splurge on lobster: “Though I was not yet smart enough to figure out the algorithm to conquer ‘Super Mario Bros,’ I knew when I was being asked to dance like a circus monkey. I would not be their show. And so I went full bore. I even sucked down the tomalley, that green goo from the lobster’s gut. Tomalley then, as now, tastes like fermented rot. It may seem like a test of your foodie credibility, but unlike say sucking the briny essence of a shrimp head, it is not.”

11. TRUCKED

Hey, did you notice that years after the food truck trend took off, they still barely exist in Chicago? That’s no accident, says Julia Thiel, following up on her big food truck story last year with a summation of a new study: “Across the three categories analyzed, Chicago ranked 15th for ease of obtaining permits and licenses, ninth for rules that operators have to comply with on a daily basis, and a dismal 17th in ‘operating a food truck.'”

12. BATTLE OF THE BURGERS

The new Maillard Tavern named itself for the browning of its burger patties, and Graham Meyer puts theirs head to head with Small Cheval’s—and Maillard noses out that frontrunner: “Both Maillard Tavern and Small Cheval serve capital-G Great burgers. Their differences measure only with calipers, even on price. But Maillard has the champ beat on the fries, the shakes and the comfortable ambiance.”

13. COOP DE NASHVILLE

When I went to Whittingham Meats for this story, I looked for somewhere in the area to grab a bite after, and the most promising new thing I saw on Yelp was a Nashville chicken place in Oak Lawn called Fry the Coop. I wound up going somewhere else on my hosts’ recommendation, but Steve Dolinsky likes them, saying “They want to do to Nashville hot chicken what In-and-Out Burger did to the cheeseburger.” (ABC7)

14. THE CHEF WEARS BRAGARD

I’ve wondered for a while if anyone would try writing a book about Chicago’s hot, trendy food scene—and here it is! Emily Belden, a journalist and social media figure in Chicago, has written Hot Mess, and see if you can tell where it overlaps with real life: “The story of a young woman thrust into Chicago’s restaurant scene when her recovering addict-turned-celebrity chef boyfriend relapses and vanishes after she sinks her life savings into his hip new restaurant… With razor-sharp wit and searing insight, Emily serves up a deliciously dishy look behind the kitchen doors of Chicago’s hot foodie culture that’s perfect for fans of Sweetbitter and The Devil Wears Prada.

Gee, who could it be about? Let’s just say it will sit really neatly on the shelf next to Brandon Baltzley’s chef memoir Nine Lives, though in this case the restaurant is not in Michigan (as TMIP, which Belden was involved with when she and Baltzley were a thing, was) but on Randolph Street. Anyway, here’s the Amazon link, and she’ll be signing copies at the Barnes & Noble in the Loop (1 E. Jackson) Tuesday night.

15. LINCOLN LOG

Fooditor contributor Kate Silver has a piece for the Washington Post on Lincoln Square, pointing people to favorites including Bang Bang Pie and Spacca Napoli.

16. RIP BRANDI

Brandi, the bar dog at Chester’s Pizza/Orsi’s in Summit (chronicled in this Fooditor piece), has passed on; read the place’s tribute to her here.

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