Buzz List for November 6, 2017

Goodbye, Chicagoist and DNAInfo, and does food media have a future? Plus = reviews of Portsmith, Somerset, Obama's convention, and where to eat Thai in Chi.

Portsmith/Facebook

1. TWO DOWN IN ONE BLOW

The big news is that two sources of food world news in Chicago—DNAInfo and Chicagoist—as well as lots of other news and coverage came to a sudden end Thursday, with the appearance of a letter (and for a time, no other content from their many years of coverage) on their sites. TD Ameritrade magnate Joe Ricketts, whose family owns the Cubs, responded to the news that Gothamist staffers in New York had voted to unionize by shutting it all down in what can only be described as a fit of petulance. (By the next day, no doubt stinging from highly accurate coverage of what he had done, the sites were at least back up, if only as historical archives.)

This led to a lot of media observers (aka media) saying how we can’t depend on billionaires for a free press. In turn, some people commented that maybe unionizing an experimental startup in the present environment wasn’t the brightest idea. I can see all these points of view—DNAInfo was an experiment, certainly, to see if you could make money with local news, and that’s different from being, say, the L.A. Times, also undergoing a union push at the moment.

But if you expect the staff at such places to work their tails off for modest pay—and I don’t know what DNAInfo paid, but Gothamist was built on giving a lot of people a shot at exposure in return for little or no pay at first—there has to be an upside in the future for them. And I haven’t heard anything that suggested that the staff would have benefited if Ricketts started making money hand over fist. More likely—I say this as a veteran of startups in the dot com era—they would have used some of that money to hire more prestigious editors and writers away from other media, and many of the people who’d kept it going with duct tape and chewing gum in the startup days would have been let go as the new stars brought in their people. Things usually work that way.

As someone who decided to go independent because I could and there was no reason not to, I’m certainly sympathetic to the idea that people ought to consider that. It’s easier now than it was in 1969 when some hippie kids started the Reader in a Hyde Park apartment. But the route to any sort of profitability is unclear, and involves taking a lot of time away from reporting to pitch advertisers, or somebody. Ultimately, if not cranky old billionaires, at least people who are willing to trade some money for some influence remain one key model for American media, as they have since 1776. In any case, I hope that at least some of the people who’ve gone through this experience will find their way to a model that works for them. In the meantime, don’t forget that Fooditor has a Patreon—if you’re sorry to lose food media this week, there’s no better time to support the ones that are left.

For now, I’m sorry to lose, of course, Chicagoist’s Anthony Todd, friend of Fooditor and something like 16.7% of the local restaurant reviewer contingent, but also DNAInfo’s coverage, which just last week included the valuable stories about the anti-gentrification protests/harassment of a new restaurant in Pilsen. And to the aide to Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa who rejoiced at the death of DNAInfo on Facebook after it accurately covered those protests: a hearty, 1st Amendment-y “Go to Hell” to you.

2. BANCHET FANCY

If Michelin seemed parsimonious with Chicago this year, you’ll like the Jean Banchet Award nominations released on Monday, which range all over town and show that it’s been an awfully good year for openings. Monteverde and Sarah Grueneberg nabbed two of the top nominations, for restaurant and chef of the year, while Sixteen, despite the name on the hotel, rightly (in my opinion) nabbed four nominations—for restaurant, rising chef (Nick Dostal), rising pastry chef Evan Sheridan, and sommelier Parag Lalit. Meanwhile, plenty of other places we like are scattered through the list, from La Chaparrita (up for Best Ethnic Restaurant) to Daisies and Income Tax (neighborhood restaurant and bar, respectively). See the whole list here.

3. THE SHADOW OVER PORTSMITH

Portsmith, the seafood restaurant in the Dana Hotel and run by The Fifty/50 Group, is the hot opening for (the remaining) reviewers in Chicago. In the Tribune, Phil Vettel says “Portsmith is a fine dining seafooder that can hold its own with such neighborhood stalwarts as Shaw’s Crab House and GT Fish & Oyster… Because the hotel has been home to several underwhelming restaurants in its brief history, saying hello/goodbye to such unlamented efforts as Aja, Argent and Freestyle Food & Drink, perhaps evening diners are taking a wait-and-see approach. If you’re one such person, consider this your all-clear signal.”

Julia Thiel in the Reader also finds the restaurant’s approach refreshing: “Portsmith’s website boasts that the restaurant believes in restraint, a ‘less is more’ approach—and, unusually, the menu mostly bears out that claim. A pair of lightly charred jumbo shrimp were so sweet and silky that the horseradish cocktail sauce accompanying them was essentially unnecessary. A bowl of tender marinated and grilled squid, served chilled with nothing more than olive oil, lemon, and pepper, had me puzzling over what the secret ingredient might be. I finally concluded that it was the olive oil adding layers of vegetal flavor to the dish and the warm spice was nothing more than freshly ground black pepper.”

4. PIG FEET MARK ‘EM

This month the Trib’s theme is “Cheap Eats,” and we’ll see if that amounts to more than people just showing off their regular spots, but the one I’ve been happiest to see so far was Nick Kindelsperger hitting Fooditor fave A Place By Damao for pig’s feet: “A gentle hum of heat from the Sichuan peppercorns rumbles in the background, but it never overwhelms. Instead, you’re allowed to focus on the real star of this show: the texture. Pig’s feet are an assemblage of meat, collagen and fat, making each bite a toss-up between lip-smackingly juicy and pleasingly squishy.”

5. SOMERSET, MON

Speaking of hotel restaurants, Joanne Trestrail in Crain’s is pretty high on Somerset, even for the relatively modest meal of lunch: “Pastas include terrific gnocchetti tossed with shards of duck meat, tender kale, crumbled Parmesan and mustard seeds ($15); it’s a dish worthy of white tablecloths and a tuxedoed waitstaff. Similarly, a recent entree of roasted chicken thigh with delicata squash, maitake mushrooms and salsa verde ($18) is one of the most luscious autumnal dishes you’ll ever meet. Both are portioned appropriately for lunch.”

6. PLOP PLOP FIZZ FIZZ

I just happened to spot Fizz Eatery, a cute soda fountain-looking place, while driving way west on Belmont a couple of weeks ago. (But I was headed to Nottoli for the Two Fingers sandwich, so I couldn’t stop.) And here comes Michael Nagrant telling me to go there for the Fat Elvis, a burger inspired by the King’s peanut butter and banana sandwiches: “The Fat Elvis turned out to be a glorious case of getting my cake and eating it too… Bananas too are caramelized crispy on one side and then drizzled with peanut butter that runs down the patty in hot, creamy ribbons. Add in the bacon, and it’s a gooey mess of salt on salt and fat on fat that warms your inner child, while laying down a satisfied opiate-like trance on your stomach and your soul.” (Redeye)

7. TY ONE ON

Crain’s talks to Ty Fujimura, who’s built up a small portfolio of modestly ambitious spots on what he describes as “desolate stretches” of town since opening Small Bar in 2002; they now include the Japanese restaurant Arami and the fine dining spot Entente, which earned a Michelin star last month. (Crain’s)

8. CREEDENCE

I said to someone when the Publican sexual harassment story broke that I wanted to hear what Dana Cree, the Publican’s pastry chef, thought about it all. Not so much to get the inside scoop, but because she’s always thoughtful about stuff. And now she has a post at her blog that is well worth reading, about how to get to a place of equity and decency: “I believe it starts with the language we use in our kitchens. The jokes we make, the insults we sling, the nasty nicknames people carry around like trophies. We need to start treating the space we occupy with more dignity. This is too important, our craft, our hospitality, our livelihood. It deserves more than raunchy jokes and abusing the people around us.”

9. OBAMARAMA

Hey, remember when Chicago had a president from here? Barack Obama had the first meeting of the Obama Leadership Foundation last weekend, at the McCormack Place Marriott, and Deanna Isaacs at the Reader brings back the golden days of Obama admiration: “The very cool, really dope, first-ever Obama Foundation Summit, held at the glassy new McCormick Place Marriott earlier this week, made one thing clear: the foundation has picked a worthy mission for itself. It’ll nurture the next generation of world leaders.” Politico had a somewhat more jaundiced take on it here.

10. SHE WINTERS

The Feed talks to Leela Punyaratabandhu, Chicago and Bangkok-based blogger at She Simmers, who is actually in Thailand right now, it being November. Anyway, they talk about her new book Bangkok, and about where to go pretty authentic Thai food in Chicago and other places.

11. OLD-FASHIONED MAN

Janet Rausa Fuller talks to the man making the doughnuts at the beloved South Side doughnut shop Old-Fashioned Doughnuts: Mr. B, Buritt Bulloch. (Chicago)

12. TEN TO GO

I hate listicles, except when they’re like David Hammond’s at New City, about ten restaurants you probably haven’t been to, and why they matter. For the record, I’ve been to nine, still haven’t been to Garifuna Flava. See what your score is.

WHERE MIKE ATE

Went to Cellar Door Provisions for their weekend tasting menu, which is admirably modest—$45 per got us six courses, all vegetarian (there’s a meat course, a cotechino plate, available as an add-on), all fresh and lovely, really. Though it’s not surprising that the high point was right at the beginning—the platter with a couple of slices of their crusty bread and various things to schmear on it. Still, all of it was fresh and good, it wasn’t too expensive and it didn’t take forever—I recommend it for a nice night out.

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