Buzz List for March 5, 2018

It's an Oscar-themed Buzz List—but with more closings than box office hits, plus Naha moves, Aloha beats poké, and the language they speak in the kitchen at Monteverde

Steak at Torali Steak-Italian


One of the most troubled restaurants in Chicago, Ocean Cut (which opened as C Chicago), has closed. Owned by the same people as Chicago Cut Steakhouse, it launched auspiciously in River North with Bill Montagne coming from Le Bernardin as opening chef, but diners didn’t care for high prices and service that favored big shots—especially a diner named Jeff Ruby, who was there to review it for Chicago mag, only to see himself packed off to Siberia and his table given away to a politician: “It turns out former governor George Ryan arrived around the same time we did and got our table. At C Chicago, apparently an ex-con trumps the rest of us.”

A host of chefs and a name change followed, but it was never to recover from the image created by an epically terrible review (even after a supportive one from Phil Vettel). Headlines said it closed abruptly, which is true in the sense that everyone has known about its impending closing for weeks. UPDATE: I heard what’s actually going in the space, and contrary to an earlier version of this item, it isn’t a chain and it will be exciting…


Another big-spending place also bit the dust, though less epically, in River North this week—Dolce Italian, a Miami restaurant opened by a New York-based group and according to Eater, a Bravo Best New Restaurant (apparently that was a show). Frankly I’d forgotten it existed, though Crain’s Jan Parr said she liked it on Twitter; not that I’m the be-all and end-all, but one sign a place from out of town isn’t trying hard to connect with the local market is when I’m not on their press release list, which costs them absolutely nothing (but does mean they have to have someone who spends five minutes making a list of local outlets; the most recent piece of Chicago press on their site is from mid-2016).


“No, it isn’t another goddamn poke stand. Romo and Manongdo are trafficking in the iconic Hawaiian plate lunch, a carb-loaded power platter of rice, pasta, and protein, the latter some expression of the islands’ historic working-class immigrant mix: Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean, and Portuguese,” Mike Sula says of Aloha Wagon, the food truck turned Hawaiian plate lunch place located on a little island of tastiness on a remote stretch of Western. (Reader)


More sign that River North’s boom might be starting to bust—after 18 years in the old Gordon space, a time which saw River North take off as a hot restaurant neighborhood, Carrie Nahabedian’s Naha is flying the coop for an undisclosed location not too far away (West Loop, perhaps), giving her and cousin-GM Michael Nahabedian the chance to rethink the restaurant for a fall reopening. (Tribune)


The record for restaurants high up in buildings is not the best at the moment, but Joanne Trestrail in Crain’s says it’s worth the climb for Torali Italian-Steak in the Ritz-Carlton: “Chef de cuisine Nihad Hajdarhodzic’s signature dishes are deft and delicious, though the lunch menu lists only one steak entree—a filet with black truffle butter ($36). There’s also a burger jazzed up with mortadella and fontina ($19) and hanger steak available as a salad add-on ($14). Diners not up for beef will find plenty of choices worth exploring. And with natural light pouring into the lobby on a sunny day, you might be reluctant to leave. Linger into the afternoon over espresso and a pretty glass of limoncello.”


There’s a new H Mart in the West Loop and Grace Wong looks at a bibimbap stand in it: “Head to the SGD DUBU Tofu & Korean BBQ market stall for this comforting dish. Served in a hot stone bowl called a dolsot, it arrives sizzling. Wait a few moments before disengaging the rice from the edges of the black bowl, so it can reach the ideal crispiness.”


Following up on the discussion of Chinese restaurant history on the Chewing podcast last week, Monica Eng has a piece devoted to the threat that Chinese restaurants were viewed as presenting to America. As a 1910 Tribune editorial put it, “More than 300 Chicago white girls have sacrificed themselves to the influence of chop suey joints during the last year, according to police statistics. Vanity and a desire for showy clothes led to their downfall, it is declared. It was accomplished only after they smoked and drank in the chop suey restaurants and permitted themselves to be hypnotized by the dreamy seductive music that is always on tap.” But in the end, moo goo gai pan won the war, as Eng explains.


“Honestly, this is the weirdest list of restaurants I’ve ever made,” says Michael Nagrant, and I might agree insofar as I’m not sure what the precise purpose of a list of 12 places, mostly hot West Loop spots, purporting to make you an instant Chicago expert is. (I’m pretty sure the correct number for that is 99.) But it’s interesting to see what he thinks matters to his audience, ranging from name-tick-offers like Au Cheval and Girl & the Goat to Smoque and Spacca Napoli. (Redeye)


Rick Bayless said the language of the Frontera kitchen is Spanglish, and at Food & Wine we learn that Monteverde’s native tongue is, I guess, Spantalian: “What could be perceived as a language barrier, though, has instead turned into a musical expression of pasta prose.” It’s a sweet piece, by Ngozi Ekeledo.


Wanna go to The Shining’s Gold Room for a drink… and stay forever and ever? It’s the latest pop-up in town (at The Rookery in Ukrainian Village), and Chicago magazine has footage and a look at the themed pop-up trend (and the legal issues thereof).


Or, What Mike Ate: a modest week after my blowout weekend last week, but in my continuing quest to try to figure out how Detroit pizza is any better than the puffy pan pizzas you find in malls (and Huts) all over America, I ordered from a new place called Fat Chris’s Pizza & Such in Andersonville, and I would say its version of Detroit puffy is about the best I’ve had—a crispy edge, warm sauce and pretty good cheese and toppings (though all other sausage is a pale imitation of Chicago sausage). Skip the tossed thin crust, though—the crust is nothing special and the sweet sauce is just off for this style, we barely touched it as we ate the entire Detroit-style pie.

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