Buzz List for October 23, 2017

Michelin doesn't make much news but Esquire has a surprise, Vettel likes the new Nico, Nagrant wishes Good Fortune, and two eyes on Bridgeport.

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Katana Chicago

1.  MICHELIN, PICHELIN

Well, as suggested last week, it was a no-surprises Michelin Guide announcement this year. As expected, Smyth (most deservedly) moved up to two stars, Elske and (less widely predicted) Entente got one, and everything else stayed the same. Really the same. Nothing is happening here in Chicago. Do not travel here.

The only surprise was the dog that didn’t bark—it would have been easy enough, and legitimate by their m.o. (not to be confused with mine or any other Chicagoan’s), to knock Sixteen down a star or even two and make Nick Dostal prove himself for a year or two. (They did it before when Frank Brunacci left Sixteen.) That’s why, when I normally try to keep Michelin gossip and sucking-up out of my own pieces, this piece about Dostal spent some time contemplating the question of whether he’d be forced to wait for French tire approval—when it was clear to me that his food was on the same caliber as what came before. But nope, for once Michelin (now in Year 5 or something of deciding if Fat Rice is any good) moved quickly, and Nick Dostal is now one of the few two-star chefs in the country. One of our important chefs, for sure. Fooditor is happy to take as much credit for being early on the Dostal bandwagon as we can possibly get away with.

So congrats to all of these folks, for winning at a casino where Chicago rarely has good odds. Anthony Todd has a complete list and runs some comparative numbers, though for me the issue is less that they seem to grade more harshly here (though that’s probably true) but that they hold us to a formal dining model from mid-20th century France; I question if even their own customer base really still eats like that, but in any case, Chicagoans don’t. Here’s hoping Michelin’s tourists, who come to eat the stars, also check out more of our wonderfully imperfect and informal city in total.

2. GORDINER, DINER

Esquire took a while off naming best new restaurants after the death of Josh Ozersky, but the list returned this week (written by Jeff Gordiner) and two Chicago places made it, one a bit surprising. Less surprising is Roister: “On paper it sounds like a southern restaurant, and the roaring fires (outfitted with a medieval array of hooks and grates) can make it seem like another outpost of the New Pyromania (the movement that explains why every new restaurant you visit seems to have stacks of wood stretching to the ceiling), but in the hands of chef Andrew Brochu, Roister is too complicated and interesting to squeeze into some easy gastro-category.”

More surprising is that Gordiner skips over the Elskes and Giants for a place that got a mixed reception locally, Kitsune, and makes a strong case for checking it out again: “Iliana Regan is one of the most creatively distinctive chefs in America, and Kitsune is her ode to Japan. That she has never visited the country could be seen as an insurmountable obstacle, but Regan, who grew up on an Indiana farm, taps into the flavor combinations that fascinate her, and the results (an onsen egg floating in a dashi studded with bright-red flower petals, ramen made with nettles aswirl in a basso profundo mushroom broth) are as delicious to slurp as they are lovely to Instagram.”

3. SEEK OUT NICO

Too often reviewers ignore major chef changes, even when they represent a restaurant becoming almost as new as a new opening. So Phil Vettel is right to go back to Nico Osteria and see what Bill Montagne (Snaggletooth) is doing there, giving him three stars: “If you haven’t been to Nico for a while, you haven’t had his octopus carpaccio, a plateful of coins arranged in a single layer and dressed with olive oil, fennel, lemon fluid gel and paprika. The butter-soft octopus, combined with the rich smokiness of the paprika and sharp bite of lemon fluid gel, is a simple-looking dish that hides a lot of behind-the-scenes effort. Oil-poached tuna is another fine dish, its clean flavors supported gently by Sungold tomatoes and a light tomato-conserva vinaigrette.”

4. BROBATAYAKI

That’s Mike Sula’s term for the lavishly, scene-y Japanese sushi and steak place Katana, though I’ll just say that when I went to a preview, it wasn’t a media bro who lived up to every stereotype of see-and-be-seen obnoxiousness. Like most other reviewers so far, Sula finds the River North glitziness a bit much—the bar is “beneath a huge atrium of blond wooden beams that gives you the sense that you’re a dumpling sweating in a giant bamboo steamer.”

But he admits that Katana mostly has the chops: “The items that come off the robata are generally well executed. Small portions of minimally accented proteins glisten and sizzle in their fats, from springy chicken meatballs and clean-tasting lamb chops to charred aged rib eye and bouncy mineral-rich chicken hearts. Other proteins are only slightly more accessorized: pork belly is drenched in maple miso sauce with sweet pear kimchi on the side, cod shellacked with miso glaze in the classic style, crispy-skinned jidori chicken enlivened with a mere dab of the yuzu-chile-salt relish kasha.” (Reader)

5. FORTUNE FAVORS THE QUICK TO PRESS

Michael Nagrant would like to tell you to check out the pop-up, Good Fortune, run by the former chef and creative director of Honey’s, Charles Welch and Andrew Miller. He’d like to, but “the duo has since closed the doors of its pop-up space (last service was Oct. 14) because they will be opening a permanent restaurant location in early 2018.” So take this as a preview of a major opening next year: “One of the things I love about Welch as a chef is that he cooks with a level of refinement that’s usually only found at expensive pre-fixe restaurants. Hiramasa ($12), tiny scrims of yellowtail glisten with bright ponzu sauce alongside Mick Klug farms grapes and apple cubes that burst like fruity fireworks. The plate looks like a selection of precious jewels and wakes up the palate for the rest of the meal to come.”

6. OFF COLOR REMARK

Julia Thiel looks at Off Color Brewing’s new Lincoln Park tap room: “As Off Color’s production has grown, it’s been increasingly difficult to fit in new beers. ‘We couldn’t do the fun projects anymore,’ [brewer John] Laffler says. ‘They just threw a monkey wrench in the whole schedule.’ While the brewers know the timing of their regular beers and can usually have them out of the tank within three weeks, wild beers are unpredictable and can take three months or more. At Mousetrap there will be more flexibility. ‘Here, we have a whole facility designed to make the small-batch stuff,’ Laffler says.” (Reader)

7. GUIDE TO GUIDES

Fooditor has a definite fondness for neighborhood guides—the kind that explore an area, accept that everything doesn’t have to be great great to be worth mentioning, but that together they make up part of the tapestry of the city. We got two this week:

In Redeye Michael Nagrant tackles the “west side”—an area that encompasses so much, from Ukrainian Village to Little Village, that it maybe should have been two or three guides. But it’s a great list for keeping in the car and pulling out to see what’s worth eating nearby all over the skyscraper-less heart of the city, from tacos to soul food to sushi and even a tasting menu (EL Ideas).

At the Trib, as part of Italian Food Month, Louisa Chu prowls the semi-Italian neighborhood up and down Harlem Ave. and in nearby suburbs, which frankly I’ve always wished was cooler and more historical than it is, though I’ll give it Riviera and Forno Rosso, for starters. Still, good to see it all documented and worth checking out some time.

8. SHOULD BE DIVING FOR PEARLS

There’s a very subtle jab in Graham Meyer’s review of Pearl Brasserie, so dry you could pass it by: “Between courses, bussers clear the apparently ornamental bread plates.” As in… nobody ever brought the bread that was supposed to adorn them. The entire review has a passive-aggressive tone that suggests that things are good enough to take seriously but marred by enough little missteps to irritate (wow, really missed a perfect setup for a how-pearls-get-made reference here): “Steak frites ($21) marries a juicy, well-trimmed 10-ounce hanger steak under a generous, lusciously melting disc of herb butter. The very good fries stay crispy on the outside even in the sizable bath of steak juices and butter. The steak could have used a little salt.”

9. MAKING THE SAUSAGE

I don’t know what some thing called Voyage Chicago is, but they have a nice piece on a place I’ve thought about writing about since I learned Kevin Hickey was having duck hot dogs made by an old-school south side sausage company: Makowski’s Sausages in Bridgeport.

10. I JUST MET A BAR NAMED MARIA

Another site I don’t know—something called [Re]Generation—but a very well-made video portrait of a Chicago classic, Maria’s, focusing on its history but also how a Korean lady with a Polish husband and their son have helped evolve one of Chicago’s most traditional (and hidebound) neighborhoods—Bridgeport again.

11. PIZZA ODYSSEY

Chicago Mag looks at the new styles of pizzas we have in town at the moment. Honestly, I kind of think the moment for new pizza came in, I dunno, 2010 or so (Spacca Napoli, Great Lake, etc.), and I’d like to see a real exploration of what makes the styles different—the photos (all from above) don’t make the pizza themselves look very different. But at least you know some new places to try—I’ve tried going to that Pisolino place a couple of times, but seem to have a knack for finding the days/times that it’s closed.

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