Buzz List for March 27, 2017

Ode to a dive bar, raves for A Bite of Szechuan and foxy Kitsune, no paradise by the light of two stars for Eden, and when Grubhub brings you food from places that don't exist.

Michael Gebert
Ma Po Tofu at A Bite of Szechuan
1. MA LA HEY HEY

With A Bite of Szechuan the flavor of the month at LTHForum, Mike Sula’s review could not be far behind and he too is impressed with the ma la on offer—and paints a word picture you’ll want to run right out for: “To name this restaurant A Bite of Szechuan is a hilarious understatement relative to the manifold array of tactile pleasures on the menu. Cold chunks of bone-in rabbit and chicken in chile oil require a certain degree of lingual and dental dexterity to extract the tiny shards of bone from the silky, tender flesh. Long, slippery, square rice-gluten noodles will test your chopstick skills as they slither from your grasp like living serpents. Scraps of cumin-scented lamb contrast with crunchy, wok-charred chunks of green bell pepper and onions, while beef treated with a similarly tenderizing process lurks among soft tofu half sunken in a pool of crimson oil.”

2. ODE TO A DIVE BAR

Michael Nagrant pens a lyrical tribute to one of Chicago’s great classes of establishment, the dive bar, specifically Inner Town Pub in Ukrainian Village: “The bar, a former Polish tavern, is rumored to have been a speak-easy during Prohibition. ‘I can neither confirm or deny those rumors, but I will say there are no windows in the bar,’ owner Denis Fogarty tells me. That, coupled with moody lighting provided by strings of Christmas bulbs and Tiffany-style stained glass pendant lamps glistening against Christmas ornaments and tinsel, means that, like a bar version of Cancun, what happens in Inner Town stays at Inner Town. ‘Photos don’t come out very well. The stories don’t get out,’ Fogarty says.”

3. CAST OUT OF EDEN

I could have guessed Phil Vettel’s review of Eden, and not just because practically everybody gets two stars—it’s exactly the kind of hit and miss place that gets two stars and guarded praise, though it’s hard to see quite what he finds to praise at all: “the bechamel-drenched lasagna itself was a flavorless mess”… “the Portuguese-spiced chicken breast left me wishing for more spice of any kind”… “the strip loin with greens, potato and salsa verde comes off as a perfunctory, for-the-customer-who-demands-a-steak dish”… “The lamb loin with cubes of pistachio panna cotta is better, now that there’s a bit of merguez-style lamb sausage included on the plate; it was a touch boring the first time I tried it.”

4. CRAFT BEER GOGGLES

A very good interview, almost Fooditor-long and digging-deep, by Josh Noel with two craft beer pioneers (from Hopleaf and The Map Room) looking back at how they helped make Chicago safe for craft beer: “In the first year we were open, a salesman for Glunz (beer distributor) came in here with a bottle of Aventinus for us to try, and he comes back and says, ‘How was it?’ I said, ‘None of us liked it.’ He goes, ‘If you want to be a good beer bar, you have to carry this beer.’ So we took his word for it, and he was right. Now I’m embarrassed that happened, but we had to learn.” (Tribune)

5. FOXY LADY

Elizabeth Atkinson says of Iliana Regan’s Kitsune, “there are some dishes that are so good they’re mandatory. Start with the wild rice and koji porridge bread with pickles, which will remind you of just how good a baker Regan is. It’s served with a pat of butter shaped like a fox and pickles, including daikon-fermented burdock, salt-fermented purple carrot and beer-pickled eggs. A smoky and citrusy dashi with winter vegetables (on our visit, butternut squash) is filled with ‘tofu.’ It’s made from a dairy and vegetable rillettes that feels firm when you scoop it with a spoon, only to burst in your mouth.”

6. TEXAS T

I got one press release on a place called The Texican, consciously serving Tex-Mex food (as opposed to the places that basically do so while thinking they’re serving authentic Mexican food), and given its nondescript location who knows if I’ll get there, but Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti checked it out and liked it: “Next up on the menu for me was the enchiladas. This is imo the best dish on offer when it comes to the cuisine. It’s the one dish that I think Tex-Mex does a better job at than Mexican cuisine. Well these are now the best enchiladas in Chicago by default.”

7. SUMMIT SPECIAL

Julia Thiel talks to The Whistler’s Billy Helmkamp about the upcoming Chicago Cocktail Summit. (Reader) [corrected]

8. TEMPESTA TEAPOT

Penny Pollack talks to Tony Fiasche, whose Tempesta Market is bringing nduja and other forms of charcuterie to West Town.

9. ALPANAGRAM

It was bound to happen: Seven Lions has a dessert called the Instagram Sundae, which you are strongly encouraged to photograph. And share. And Like. Welcome to the future, humans. (Crain’s)

10. DON'T JUDGE

From Meathead Goldwyn’s site, why you can’t cook, and shouldn’t want to eat, competition style barbecue.

11. GRUB-UDA TRIANGLE

Ever found places on Grubhub, etc. and thought, “I know that area, and this place doesn’t actually exist?” Guess what—they don’t; there are commissaries cranking out food under pretend brands, and some big names are involved in it. The New York Post explains what’s going on.

12. WHAT MIKE ATE

Baptiste & Bottle is high in the Conrad Hotel and has a great view. So you know it’s expensive. It’s also had a lot of hype—its smoky cocktail was just in the Trib, and even Fooditor talked about its (very cool) glassware. Is it worth the hype and the price?

I liked my cocktail (Gooseberry Daisy) a lot, and the setting is terrific, so paying the price is justifiable—though the whisky-driven bar program undercut itself, ironically, through generosity. We got three different complimentary tastes over the course of the evening and, not to look gift horses in mouths, but they were all too fruity, doing the whisky a disservice to some greater or lesser degree each time, and, well, making you wonder.

Dinner had one quite good entree (a seafood stew-inspired plate that wasn’t quite a stew, but very nice), one perfectly okay hotel-generic entree (bison), and seriously unappealing sides, of which the low point was a salad where escarole was grilled into garbage-can mush. (How does any place go 0-for-2 on salad?) I could say good things about a chive biscuit with pimento cheese spread, but at $7 it cost more than a whole plate of biscuits and gravy with hash browns at the Belmont Snack Shop. Stick to drinking in the view.

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