Buzz List for October 16, 2017

Michelin's Bibs reveal star spoilers, the Banchets are looking for nominees, how immigrants adapt to Chicago ingredients, and Leon's BBQ is coming back.

Bonci/Facebook
1. BIBBULOUS FRIBBULOUS

Michelin released the Bib Gourmands for Chicago on Friday—and to me the net result was to sap most of the excitement out of this coming Friday’s announcement of the star awards. Here’s what I mean.

Michelin listed 54 restaurants on the 2017 roster, which is a net increase of two, though with deletions (mostly closings like Balena and Yusho) it means there are seven total new restaurants on the list, and congrats to all of them: Giant, HaiSous, Quiote, Mi Tocaya Antojeria, Pleasant House Pub, Mango Pickle, and chain restaurant True Food Kitchen. (The eighth is one which slipped from the one star level to this list, Longman & Eagle.)

Between this and the ones that remained on the list from past years, though, the result is that almost anything interesting that might have happened next Friday is already ruled out. Bon Appetit named Giant and Mi Tocaya among its top 50 new restaurants—but we know they won’t get stars, because here they are on the Bib list. Fat Rice getting a star, or The Publican, or The Purple Pig? Nope, they’re still on this list, too. So what does that leave? Maybe Mexique will get its star back! Meanwhile, the Bibs remain a very odd list, with a lot of things they love that nobody else talks about at all—it could be that we’re all missing something about Untitled or DeColores or Herb that only they have the je ne sais quoi to see; there’s no reason Michelin has to be in lockstep with the local critical consensus. But what do you really think the odds are that they’re seeing all these truly great things… that we’re all missing?

2. LES INROCKUPTIBLES

Speaking of awards, the Jean Banchet Awards have opened up the nomination process, which right there makes it more reflective of Chicago opinion than the inscrutable Michelins. Vote for your nominees, including in this year’s new category, Best Bar, here.

3. BREAKFAST IN AMERICA

The Reader’s Food Issue this year is devoted to immigrants, with five profiles of immigrants and how they adapted to cooking and eating in Chicago. (I contributed one, about an Iraqi-Armenian couple.) A sample, from Julia Thiel’s profile of a Mexican woman: “I miss corn. It’s quite different—corn here is very sweet, very yellow. In Mexico it’s bigger, white, not so sweet. And we have blue corn. I miss that—it has a different flavor. In Mexico there’s a type of avocado with a soft skin that you eat. You put it in a tortilla with the skin and eat it. And there the chicken is yellow because they [dye it]. I think the chicken smell bad here. I can smell death, like rotting meat. In Mexico it’s not like that.”

4. WEASEL GOES THE POP

The pop tax is dead! (Or will be soon.) Cook County will just have to scrape by on the $3.5 billion it already takes in….

5. OUT ON HIGHWAY 80/90

Truckstops have a reputation for good food that is, so far as I know, decades out of date—these days you just see chains along the highway, like Pilot or Love’s. Well, except for Mike Sula this week, who apparently spotted an Eastern European truckstop, Balkan Grill Company, whipping up hearty plates for rooster cruisers in Gary, praising dishes such as “pljeskavica, Serbia’s gift to the burger arts. It’s usually built with a char-grilled beef patty the size of something you could wind up and throw for Olympic gold, tucked in the pocket of a warm, pillowy flatbread called lepinja, which looks something like a pita on growth hormone. It’s served with a fresh, crunchy coleslaw (kupus salata), a chile-tinged orange feta goat cheese spread (urnebes), and a white gob of kajmak, a lighter, buttery white cheese spread.” (Reader)

6. OLD REGROWTH

Joseph Hernandez looks at what it will take for California wine country to recover from the current fires: “Strip away the trappings and the airs often pegged to wine, and at its heart, you’ll find an agrarian community. These are farmers who have been hit. They are the seasonal vineyard employees and winery hands, the grapegrowers and pickers, the tasting room attendants, hotel staff, winemakers themselves, and, of course, their families.” (Tribune)

7. BONCI BALL

Maggie Hennessy falls for the Roman pizza by the slice place Bonci like, well, pretty much everybody: “Too light for pan or foccacia comparisons and too springy for thin crust parities, Bonci’s crust is the studied culmination of imported heirloom wheat flour blending, 48 hours of fermentation to build structure and flavor and a 300-degree bake on cast-iron pans inside Italian Castelli ovens—till it achieves the Goldilocks of rise and caramelization, a cobwebby, lightly tangy interior encased in a shell of crispiness.” (Time Out Chicago)

8. MAN ON FIRE

Denzel Washington came to town, waxed nostalgic about Leon’s BBQ, and Leon Jr. took advantage of that fact to announce a new location coming to 63rd street—though it’s not strictly true, as some reported, that it’s a second location. Leon’s was once a big name in Chicago barbecue, but the chain declined in the 2000s due to an ill-advised decision to prepare BBQ commissary style at a central location and ship it to various locations around town. The family-owned stores closed but a restaurant using the name, opened by a former employee, exists on Archer Ave. The new location will be the first revival of the family-owned chain, as explained on Windy City Live by the very dapper Leon Jr.

9. GOLD MEDAL

Terrific blog post by pastry/ice cream maven Dana Cree, always one of the most thoughtful people in Chicago food. Here’s the gist of it: “This January I stopped eating anything made with wheat. Even typing this, I don’t want to say the word gluten. It seems like a dirty word. Gluten free. I’ve done as much as I could to withhold wheat when I could in my desserts for those who couldn’t eat it out of respect and understanding. But how could that person be me?”

10. THAT'S AMORE

The Trib’s monthly slideshow is about Italian food this month, and most of it seems to be old school places that (just between you and me) aren’t really all that great, but there are a few real finds in it so far—almost all of them sandwiches. The porchetta sandwich at J.P. Graziano’s is one, so’s the Will Special at Riviera, but the coolest one so far is the “Two Fingers” sandwich at Nottoli & Son on the northwest side, for two reasons: one because it’s a garlicky cheesy mess, and two because its name comes from owner George Nottoli’s stage name as a wrestler, Vito “Two Fingers” Fontaine (the Godfather influence is apparent).

11. LOVE IN MY TUMMY

Yummy Yummy Noodles was in the first iteration of my guide to the Richland Center Food Court in Chinatown, but had moved to bigger digs by the second. Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti looks at the new standalone location, just one of several reviews of little gems he’s published lately.

12. BIG HOLE

That’s what Children’s Memorial’s original location in Lincoln Park is now, and Eater looks at what that’s meant for businesses waiting for a new anchor of their community to come into existence.

13. VERUCA DARLING

Chicago’s Veruca Chocolates made Vogue for Halloween.

14. BYE HON

Best of luck to Arthur Hon, the model of a modern sommelier in Chicago leaving Sepia/Proxi for New York’s Union Square Cafe. (Tribune)

15. IN MEMORIAM

Two long-running figures on the north side restaurant scene passed away this week; condolences to family and friends of Jean Marie Uzdawanis, owner of Cafe Selmarie in Lincoln Square (obituary at the Sun-Times here), and Mike Green, owner of the Village Tap in Roscoe Village (Eater).

WHAT MIKE ATE

Mike ate many things and many good things this week:

Steingold’s: I’ve been to the new North Center deli twice and here’s my theory of how to order there: order the overstuffed sandwich and take half of it home, rather than eating a whole regular sandwich. The ratio of meat to bread works better (the bread is too substantial for a thin strata of meat). I like the housemade meats a lot, though I think there will be more than a little kvetching about the cost. But good meat isn’t cheap meat.

Temporis: Got curious about this little-talked-about tasting menu place on Ashland and tried it with some friends. Generally was impressed with the technique (very skilled) and the intimate atmosphere (cool and chic), but needed a couple more wow dishes to put it quite up with the best of these places. Still, a nice alternative when you’ve done Oriole and Smyth and are asking, where next?

Portsmith: I’ve had bad luck this year with dinners at hotel restaurants, and the chic downtown Dana promises a similar flash over substance experience—so I am happy to report that a dinner (with their PR) was the best of that bunch. There’s some silly stuff for a late night crowd (the usual three-figure seafood tower), but overall I liked well-thought-out and executed seafood dishes, as well as a cacio de pepe that got its apparent cheesiness from uni… where have I heard that before? Last week at Royal Grocer, and it’s worth nothing that chef Nate Henssler worked with Royal Grocer chef Rob Shaner at Homestead (or Steadfast, I forget which). In any case, it’s a smart trick that works, and so does Portsmith overall.

Hanbun: I’d been to the Korean tasting menu in this mall food court (written about by Hunter Owens here) but the dinner is booked up till their lease runs out anyway, so forget about that. I had never been for lunch, though, and finally did that—and honestly, it’s one of Chicago’s great meals, too (even if it’s in Westmont). Korean food done with delicacy, imagination (apples with bulgogi, brilliant) and funkiness. Someone build David Park a place in Logan Square to pack them in for Korean soul food.

FOODITOR PATREON PROGRESS REPORT

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