Buzz List for May 15, 2017

Little-noticed French spot Georges Trois gets four stars, Nagrant on why street food is everywhere, SheSimmers on Bangkok's influence on American Thai, and Nick Kokonas on what's wrong with cookbooks today.

Neil Burger/George Trois
Duck and Hen at George Trois
1. MI TOCAYA ATONEMENT

Jeff Ruby recalls dissing the family restaurant where Diana Davila got her start 15 years ago, so his review of Mi Tocaya Antojeria tries to make up for it with sheer food porn-tastic descriptions: “Dávila’s renditions of touchstone dishes—garlicky guacamole, strong margaritas, moist tres leches cake—taste bright and fresh. Sonoran shrimp ceviche has a bold citrus tang that makes other ceviches seem bland. Spoon some into a blue corn picadita cup with avocado sauce and you’re wading into familiar waters that feel more welcoming than you remembered. Dávila’s four tacos boast creative but sensible compositions that reveal a subtle skill at balancing flavors. In one, shredded beer-can chicken mingles with xoconostle, a cactus fruit with a flavor that falls somewhere between that of a lemon and a tomatillo. Another combines charred butternut squash, chilies, black beans, and corn crema so seamlessly it tastes as though it were an age-old classic.” (Chicago)

2. TROISGROS

I had half forgotten about Michael Lachowicz’s mini ultra-fine French food thing George Trois, a kind of popup at his better-known Restaurant Michael in Winnetka, even though Fooditor ran a piece on it some time ago. But out of the blue Phil Vettel tried it—and was wowed, giving it four stars: “Michael Lachowicz’s George Trois, a five-table dining room nestled within his 12-year-old Restaurant Michael in Winnetka, is old-school in the historic sense. It’s not that George Trois rejects the new (it does not), but it honors the past to a greater degree than any restaurant I can recall… ‘The dishes are more of an homage,’ [Lachowicz] said. ‘I’ve learned not to channel those guys, but to respect them.'”

3. BRISTOL SWITCHERS

The Bristol has long been a favorite and, as I said in the Fooditor 99, an important restaurant that helped shape what Chicago dining is now—porky, casual, friendly to both beer and wine. But as B. Hospitality has tackled a host of bigger projects (Swift and Sons, Balena, Formento’s), who runs the original and what its vision is has been something of a running question—as it often is for places whose influence is seen all around them. Once you’ve changed your world, where do you go next?

This week they announced personnel shifts that will surely result in directional shifts—original chef Chris Pandel will be focused on Swift and Sons/Cold Storage and Balena, all partnerships with Boka Group, while Todd Stein of Formento’s will also take over The Bristol (putting him in charge of B. Hospitality solo projects). These are clearly at least as much organizational moves as culinary ones, putting Pandel’s focus on the big money projects. But it will be interesting to see where Stein takes the idea of The Bristol, one of the city’s first nose-to-tail restaurants and a “secret Italian” restaurant in Pandel’s description—that is, taking an Italian approach to simple earthy food (and doing lots of pasta), but with none of the Mamma Mia atmosphere that comes with being an outwardly Italian restaurant like Formento’s. The Trib has the original story.

4. LEELA'S BANGKOK

Thai food expert and SheSimmers blogger Leela Punyaratabandhu has a new book out called Bangkok, and Mike Sula has a terrific interview with her that casts a lot of light on Thai food both in Bangkok and in America. Read her discussion of how crispy water spinach took off as a trendy dish: “That is more of a way for restaurants to hide the lack of freshness of the main ingredient (kind of like how you slice up stale bagels to make bagel chips) than a way to demonstrate the spirit of inventiveness. (In some cases, it could also be a way to hide the lack of cooking skill, because it’s easier to deep-fry something to a crisp than to create something with multiple complementary textures.) And when the idea initially proved popular among Bangkokians who grew up with Japanese tempura and American KFC, it took off and spread.”

5. THE INTRO AND THE OUTRO

If for nothing else, read Michael Nagrant’s review of the dim sum menu at Intro for a wise disquisition on how we wound up with so many places serving street food and other cheap eats—like dim sum. Alas, the Intro dim sum menu is a mixed bag: “A salad ($4.95) of wispy cucumber discs fanned in to an elongated oval looked like a lime-green-trimmed surfboard turned on its side skimming sun-bronzed ocean wake. That wake was a sweet, sour and spicy vinaigrette of soy, sugar, rice wine vinegar, chili flake and sesame. It had a delightful addictive brightness that another dish, the so-called eight treasure Chinese broccoli salad ($6.95) did not. I say ‘so-called’ because by my count, and also because I would never count broccolini as any kind of revered booty, only had one treasure: crystallized mustard bits.” (Redeye)

6. FARE DE LUNE

Mike Sula likes the wine part of The Lunatic, The Lover and The Poet: “Once a bottle is chosen, it’s treated properly. Even a humble gamay, at $55 on the low end of a pricey list, was nonetheless decanted, lightly chilled, and poured as if it were a rare treasure.” It’s the food part that he fails to find love or poetry in: “The menu from chef Jessica Nowicki—a veteran of Naha, Brindille, and Oak Mill Bakery—is familiarly broad and unfocused, offering wide-ranging approaches in small, medium, and large formats.” (Reader)

7. PUBLISHER CLEARING HOUSE

Nick Kokonas has another one of his Medium essays telling you why the way the world works is wrong, and as always, whether or not you agree with his conclusions, you learn a lot about how things work (and some smart insights into how they could work a lot better). The Aviary is publishing a cookbook by Kickstarter, but that’s only part of the story—what’s really interesting here is how he analyzed the deal for the original Alinea cookbook and decided it was lousy, leading them to publish it themselves: “In our offer I realized there was a truly crazy clause that I had completely glossed over: ‘Buyback: Author will purchase 5,000 copies for resale within 12 months of publication subject to the following terms…’ Since I expected that we would be selling books through the restaurant I wouldn’t mind having an inventory and so I didn’t pay close attention to that section of the offer. But doing the math I realized that the publisher was essentially guaranteeing that they would recoup the entirety of the original advance offer!”

Having just self-published myself (The Fooditor 99), I agree with his overall analysis—they managed to get TenSpeed to provide the one thing that’s hard to do yourself, which is distributing to bookstores. One thing he doesn’t talk about that mattered to me—speed. I basically went from idea to publication in a month. If I had sold The Fooditor 99 to a publisher, you’d have had to add a year to that—and an at least somewhat out of date book would be coming at the end of 2017, at best.

8 JOE BLOWS TOWN

Farewell to Joe Boston Beef, maybe the most old school Italian beef place in the city, which planned to close last weekend but now will hang on till June 3rd, according to reports. Here’s a piece about it I wrote for Serious Eats back in the day—amusingly, I wrote it in my suite at the posh Calistoga Ranch in Napa, and shortly before lunch at The French Laundry.

9. SHE COULD CONVICT A HAM SANDWICH

When I had the tigelle platter at Monteverde, I said to co-owner Meg Sahs, “We probably wouldn’t have ordered that if it had been called ‘Make Your Own Ham Sandwich’ on the menu.” But the combination of lard-based buns, burrata and cured country ham is irresistibly comfy and delicious; Louisa Chu explains where they came from and why you want them.

10. SET EM UP JOE

The Life Behind Bars podcast with David Wondrich talks about classic Chicago mixology (and Detroit too).

11. KOSHERCAGO

What’s the best Jewish food in Chicago? Here’s a list.

12. NOMEXICO

If you’re curious about the much talked-about Noma Mexico pop-up thing, 42 Grams’ Jake Bickelhaupt has been down there; see his pics and impressions at Facebook.

13. OLD MILWAUKEE

This is a reprint of an old listicle, which means there’s one just-closed century-old joint listed on here that shouldn’t be, but still, it’s a useful thing as road trip season begins: where to eat in Milwaukee, by On Milwaukee’s Lori Friedrich.

JOIN ME AT EATALY TUESDAY NIGHT!

As it explains further in the current top story at Fooditor, I’ll be cooking pizzas and benefiting Family Farmed Tuesday night from 6 to 9 pm at Eataly. See you there!

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