Buzz List for September 11, 2017

Mi Tocaya rocks Bill Addison, City Mouse more than squeaks by, Elliot and Merges gettin' the band back together, Tru closes (and reopens in the Pump Room), and we don't hate Guy Fieri. Not exactly...

City Mouse/Facebook
Dishes at City Mouse
1. MI ECSTACAYA

Did you know that at Mi Tocaya Antojeria, chef Diana Dávila makes recipes handed down in her family? You do, if you read Ruby or Sula or other reviewers, or if you read Bon Appetit’s best new restaurants issue. But you never knew it quite so orgasmically as when Bill Addison of Eater came to town and reviewed the place: “The dish, large enough to feed three or four, is a tribute to the Mexican beef stew her father made when she was growing up. It emerges from the restaurant’s kitchen as a vision of hominess—bobbing hunks of meat and chunky vegetables in a sky-blue pot, the kind of vessel that might be left over a low flame, its contents sustaining a family throughout the day. But the appearance is the only simple thing about Dávila’s version. That’s clear just by inhaling the stew’s steam, a billow of atomized spice and animal fat.”

On the one hand, I admire that Addison writes so much, even overwrites, to capture the ecstatic aspect of dining. The problem comes when he writes everything—one moment Dávila is making daddy’s food, the next she’s a fierce individualist, and yet also a product of her midwestern upbringing. “Some dishes appear as artful constructs, others as laidback jumbles, but most are laborious in their technique”—I have to practically diagram this sentence to know which if these is in opposition to each other, or if they work together at all. An entire paragraph of name-dropping could be cut, for telling no one anything except that Addison’s country-crossing expense account is put to good use. He can tell a good story—the brief anecdote about farmer’s cheese is excellent—but by the end of a review in which Addison is bewitched and uplifted and rumbled by feral depths, reading him is like living inside a church bell.

Anyway, he likes Mi Tocaya a lot. I wish some local reviewers would write a little more like Bill Addison, and Bill Addison would do it a little less. (Eater)

2. MOUSE THAT ROARED

From friends who’d checked out the City Mouse in its first few days, I had not heard the greatest things—surprising given that the Ace Hotel’s restaurant had Giant chefs Jason Vincent and Ben Lustbader plus Pat Sheerin behind it. And Mike Sula finds the room “dark and claustrophobic because its glass window walls… are hung with long white curtains that act like shrouds over the room.” But he’s wowed by the food, which does the same kinds of mind-bending tricks as at Giant: “A salad of white peaches, pecorino, and nutty farro is so simultaneously sweet and savory it’ll flood your brain with endorphins and wings will burst from your back. Chunks of lightly cooked zucchini tossed with chewy, dense cylindrical rice dumplings and sweet Fresno chiles are an absorbing contrast in textures. A thicket of Chinese broccoli, imbued with an intensely concentrated charred tomato sauce, is grilled and dressed with aioli and a 20-spice curry oil atop an understory of creamy hummus.” (Reader)

3. PUMP IT UP

Big news in the fine dining from Lettuce Entertain You world this week—Tru is closing after 18 years. For a long time it had its crowd—it was arguably the best choice for a tasting menu dinner for parents from out of town who wanted to be wowed but not completely freaked out—but it’s tough to stay on top of that world, and I don’t know anybody who’d been in a while. Including Rich Melman—he told Chicago magazine he was getting out of the 4-star business, in part because he doesn’t like to eat like that himself any more, though they claim to have something in mind (“a cute thing”) for the Tru space.

In the meantime, they added to their growing portfolio of empty spaces by taking over the Pump Room—for the second time (Lettuce previously ran the legendary—at least to people of a certain age—restaurant in the Ambassador East from 1976 to 1998.) This time the name wasn’t available, so they’ll call it Booth One, for the famous booth where celebrities were see-and-be-seen back in the day. Who was available was… Rick Tramonto, the chef who started Tru (with then-wife Gale Gand). Is the world craving that much nostalgia from LEYE in one go? We’ll see, but it is interesting that that is what Lettuce chooses to be in the business of selling, rather than Michelin-starred young scenester places (Boka’s and Sodikoff’s business these days) or culinary invention next to the Alineas and Smyths of our city.

4. SECOND ACT

Speaking of the return of big names and whether or not they still have selling power, the much-speculated upon G.E.B. space on Randolph Street finally has a plan: Graham Elliot will team with fellow Trotter vet Matthias Merges to open Gideon Sweet, a somewhat casual small-plates-ish kind of place, per their interview with Louisa Chu in the Trib. (With DMK running it in the interim, I was sure it was going to turn into a DMK Burger Bar catching Au Cheval spillover, but I’m glad it’s aiming higher than that.) Merges has gotten publicity lately for closing both Yushos, but far less for running Old Irving Brewing (a space he took over from another Trotter colleague, the late Homaro Cantu), which is a pretty great neighborhood place, so here’s hoping the two of them (Merges and Elliot) together can create something that adds to the crowds and excitement of Randolph Street as G.E.B. never quite did.

5. HOUSE OF MOUSE

Also dining at City Mouse was Crain’s Graham Meyer, who tries breakfast and lunch at the hotel restaurant: “The epitome of city breakfast, avocado toast (an uncharacteristically pricey $10) justifies its trendiness with radishes, sunflower-seed-crusted bread, Hungarian pepper and a precise soft-boiled egg ($2 uncharge).” Meanwhile at lunch, “Nothing costs more than the quietly excellent smoked king salmon ($15), served on a housemade everything bagel pretzel with cream cheese, pickled onions and caper leaves.”

6. MARISOL FOOD

A bunch of media people went to the reveal of Marisol, the restaurant-slash-public spaces in the Museum of Contemporary Art. A lot of really interesting and thoughtful things were said by the MCA, the architects, and chef Jason Hammel about “third places” and how the food and the art came from similar inspiration and how Marisol’s own 1970s salad dressing inspired Hammel (while being less granola) and so on. And then, somehow, all the pieces about the event wound up being written up by people who didn’t attend it and captured none of that. David Hammond and Nick Kindelsperger (who were both there) at least covered some of that beforehand in pieces reported before the event, and I recommend their pieces in New City and the Trib—but honestly, I felt a little sad that such an interesting presentation went largely unconveyed to readers.

7. ALBA BACK

About a year ago I wrote about a great little Mexican restaurant in West Town where the lady in charge made her own mole every day. I went a couple of times after but haven’t checked in to see how it’s doing for a while. Now Steve Dolinsky reports on both the housemade mole and pozole at Alba’s Restaurant; see his story here. It’s a little gem worth checking out, as he shows.

8. LOL GELATO

If you’ve been to Johnnie’s Beef in Elmwood Park, you may have noticed the adjacent gelato spot, Massa Cafe Italiano. Owner Angelo Lollino does more than just scoop for the Italian beef-stained masses, however: he and his son are competing in the Gelato World Tour Grand Finale in Italy, reports Julia Thiel. If you want to try their gelato, you don’t have to shlep to Elmwood Park—they also run the Vero coffee and gelato stands in 41 Mariano’s stores.

9. FIERI FURNACE

Kevin Pang looks at the TV food figure everyone loves to hate—Guy Fieri—and asks, why? “If Fieri has a lasting effect on American gastronomy, it’s in providing a platform for family-owned restaurants in so-called flyover states—places that would otherwise not have the marketing or P.R. budget to garner buzz.” True, and I admit I watch the show occasionally while flipping channels. My problem is another one Pang acknowledges: “You can criticize the show’s production for being color-by-numbers formulaic—every segment is filmed the same way, the same beats, shots, and cadences—but that’s not a reason to presume Guy Fieri must be a douchebag.” No, I don’t think it makes him a douchebag, but what keeps him from being Anthony Bourdain is that he takes the last outposts of individuality in mass dining… and fits them all into a standard formula, the way a chain restaurant does to menu items.

10. JOY JOY

Carrie Schedler at Chicago mag has an appealing discovery: a jerk chicken place up on Devon called Aunty Joy’s Jamaican Chicken. Read about Aunty Joy and watch the video here.

11. COCHON, CULTURE AND KULTURA

A couple of events are coming up that you should put on the calendar now. September 24, Kultura Festival, the Filipino-focused event put on by Friends of Fooditor Filipino Kitchen, will return to Logan Square’s Emporium Arcade bar (2363 N. Milwaukee). There will be food from midwest restaurants including Hapa (Chicago), Meat on the Street (Milwaukee) and Sarap Detroit, as well as art, fashion, music and a lecture/talk series. Find out more here.

Grand Cochon, the final event of Cochon 555, is being held in Chicago on October 1, and you’ll hear lots about that. Just as interesting but more under the radar will be the affiliated event the day before, September 30—the Bespoke Food Symposium, featuring discussion of issues relating to food with panelists including cookbook author Naomi Duguid (Taste of Persia), as well as food and discussion at tables between panelists and guests. Go to this page and scroll down to Bespoke: An Exploration of Taste & Thought to learn more, though further details will be coming.

12. LEAVING CHICAGO

Naah, we could care less about that mope who wrote the F-U Chicago piece for the HuffPo, but we do want to say farewell, good luck to two Chicago food writers leaving town: friend of Fooditor Melissa McEwen, whose last Chicago food piece was this, and the Trib’s Marissa Conrad.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I went to Heritage Caviar Bar… and didn’t eat caviar! (Fooditor’s distaff half is not a fan, which made it hard to spend big bucks on one person’s feast.) But I liked some other fish choices—whitefish salad and gravlax, served with pumpernickel and pickles. Beyond that, the menu puts the ectic in eclectic—we had a tomato pie, some pierogi and some ramen (!) But all were pretty good, the atmosphere was chill… a nice neighborhood choice.

I went to a friends and family night at The Delta, avoiding the things I’d already tried for this piece. Instead I stuck pretty much to classics and was very impressed by all of them—from note-perfect hush puppies to juicy fried chicken and surprisingly lush catfish, served with a buttermilky sauce as French as it was Southern. This neighborhood is going to be happy too—don’t screw it up, Wicker Park.

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