Buzz List For September 18, 2017

Elske charms NYT, Next cooks up the globe, first word on The Kennison and one Mexican restaurant enters Randolph Street, one leaves

Huge Galdones/Elske
Meringue dessert at Elske
1. NOWHERE ELSKE

The New York Times visits Elske and is impressed by its Nordic vision of summertime in Chicago: “In the peak of summer, it began with a deeply savory, agar-gelled ‘tea’ made of smoked fruit and vegetable trimmings, flush with edible flowers and fresh herbs as garnish. Precisely cut triangles of duck liver tart on a buckwheat pastry crust, dusted with forest-green dried ramp powder, is one of the few dishes to have earned a (for now) permanent place on the menu; a chilled zucchini and buttermilk cream soup, poured tableside into a shallow bowl containing braised pistachios, plump blueberries and ribbons of raw zucchini, was a more ephemeral seasonal offering. (NYT)

2. NEXT ON THE LIST

Phil Vettel gushes over Next daring to ask restaurants on the World’s 50 Best list for recipes to recreate: “Imagine the nerve it took to ask more than a dozen world-renowned restaurants to share their recipes and techniques. Imagine the worldwide credibility it took to persuade those restaurants to participate. Imagine any other restaurant pulling it off.” As if the world of those restaurants weren’t a small club of which Grant Achatz is a most illustrious member; I can’t imagine any similar place, its kitchen full of stages who’ve worked at Alinea (and vice versa), turning him down, or not desiring the publicity in this city of globe-traveling foodies.

That said, the dishes certainly sound enticing, and on the whole, they seem to have overcome my concern about the menu—that cooking at this level is so international and cross-pollinated that eating at 16 of these restaurants in a night wouldn’t be that different from eating at one of them. Even if they’re all working in Ferran Adria’s influence, they seem to represent a wide variety of culinary traditions:  “From Mugaritz restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain, a sort of oyster granita, perched on a snowball of molded ice. It’s eaten by lowering one’s lips to the ice-ball surface, like taking a bite out of the ocean…” “An exceptional dish, from Mexico City’s Quintonil, that pairs thin slices of raw scallop, marinated in salsa bruja, with corned beef tongue and enough precisely placed flowers and herbs to qualify as an edible bouquet…” “The signature risotto (the rice cooked in a liquid created by melting and separating Parmesan cheese) from Osteria Franciscan… in Modena, Italy.” (Tribune)

3. THE KENNISON REVIEW

While Somerset has gotten all the attention for the Boka Group, the Perennial space’s revitalization as The Kennison (a collaboration between Boka Group and the new 90/94 Group) has kind of been overlooked. But Mike Sula seems reasonably impressed for a hotel restaurant (as he notes, the third he’s reviewed in a row), saying it continues Perennial’s across-the-street-from-Green City Market, farm-to-table attitudes: “I ate a heavenly bowl of cool corn soup the texture of a milk shake and as refreshing, surrounding a tiny island of cilantro- and chile-kissed shrimp ceviche. I crunched on golden kernels, tossed with mussels and chorizo, that popped with sugar and vitality. Corn played the leading role in succotash, standing out among beans, peppers, and tomatoes alongside thick slices of rosy pork loin. In late August, the Kennison was tossing out gold like a drunken leprechaun.” (Reader)

4. PETIT SIZED

The full-priced Margeaux Brasserie in the Waldorf Astoria has come in for mixed reviews, but Michael Nagrant finds Gallic charm in the (much more affordable) cafe side of the hotel restaurant complex, Petit Margeaux: “If the fare were an exact facsimile of classic French café food, it would probably be boring. What’s exciting here is that while the technique is spot on, there’s also a local or modern spin on the dishes that makes what seems old, quite new.” His most vivid description is of a French dip sandwich: “[Chef Brent] Balika’s French dip ($14) features a cracklin’ baguette that swaddles luscious ribbons of Midwestern top round that has been massaged with salt, brown sugar and coriander, then slow roasted. The whole thing is topped with caramelized onion confit and served with a side of gravy so rich I kind of wanted to shoot it straight once I finished the sandwich. The sandwich eats like the very best Italian beef mixed with a soul-soothing French onion soup.” (Redeye)

5. EL CHOPO

Missed this one last week (the Trib’s comprehensive page for the Food & Dining section is… not) but as an avowed fan of chicken cooked over fire, happy to read Nick Kindelsperger’s review of Chopo Chicken, a Peruvian chicken place—something that exists on the northwest side, but is new to the 2400 block of north Clark: “Chopo makes sure each chicken marinates in the restaurant’s secret-recipe rub for at least 24 hours before it hits the grill, so each bite is wildly complex from the mix of spices and tinged with a hint of smoke from the grill. Instead of french fries, the chicken is served with yuca fries — oversize and blond, with a crackly exterior and lusciously soft interior. There’s also a simple tomato and onion salad, which adds a refreshing counterpoint to the fried yuca.” (Tribune)

6. JOSIE-DO

How did hot Randolph Street wind up with the spinoff of a Mexican restaurant near Midway? Joanne Trestrail explains that Pepe Barajas, owner of El Solazo, owns the building which is home to his new La Josie, which means that his Mexican spot won’t suffer the fate of Perez Restaurant across the street, which is closing. Anyway, she likes it fine: “The salsas pack a real punch, and the guac is chunky and satisfying, whether you like yours straight or with pomegranate seeds or pineapple. Shrimp quesadillas ($8) are even more fun, either as an appetizer or a main event. Piled with Chihuahua cheese, cabbage, crema and pico de gallo, they’re rich, crunchy and layered with flavor.” (Crain’s)

7. MARGEAUX FOR THE GOLD

Speaking of Margeaux Brasserie—well, food media was—Fooditor contributor Maggie Hennessy has the most unabashedly enthusiastic review of the place yet, calling Brent Balika’s food a “parade of vintage Paris’ greatest hits. Tender mussels and bacon lardons bathed in buttery, vermouth-scented broth, alongside a slender tin overflowing with crisp fries—enough for (and priced like) an entree. A simple tomato tatin—juicy, garlicky, just-poached tomatoes arranged atop Dijon-smeared puff pastry with Camembert—was sunny Provence incarnate, preciously encircled with dots of smoked tomato vinaigrette and basil pistou.” (Time Out Chicago)

8. I GET ALLERGIC SMELLING HAY

Louisa Chu tells the story behind City Farm, the urban farm you’ve seen going west on Chicago from River North, which grows for many local restaurants: “‘Basically there’s no property in the city you can grow food on and be sure that it’s safe,’ said [founder Ken] Dunn. “We’re an industrial city. There’s lead, arsenic, zinc, a long list… We seal lots with compacted clay, then put the berm, the clay sealer, 2 feet high around the outside. That actually forms the bowl that the compost is put in. So we have an artificial water table there, and it’s isolated from what used to be there from demolished buildings.'”

9. STRANGER THINGS

The Strange Foods Festival (written about at Fooditor here) returns November 5 with more strange foods, music and dance and more reflecting the rich variety of global culture in Chicago. Details are still being set but you can get your tickets now here.

10. EVEN STRANGER THINGS

I’ve long wondered about the legality of some of the popups based on pop culture properties (which is to say, things owned by big studios). A lot of them seem like loose tributes, like a band saying they’re going to play all Van Halen music in a concert, but when they get to the point of elaborate recreation of settings and so on… I’m surprised studio lawyers haven’t come out of the woodwork. Well, now they have: the Stranger Things popup got a cease and desist letter from Netflix, albeit one that has some fun by being written in the language of the kids on the show, and acknowledges some level of appreciation for the tribute: “Look, I don’t want you to think I’m a total wastoid, and I love how much you guys love the show. (Just wait until you see Season 2!) But unless I’m living in the Upside Down, I don’t think we did a deal with you for this pop-up.” (DNA Info)

11. MEAL KITSUNE

Iliana Regan announced that she was offering meal kits from Kitsune, her midwestern-meets-Japan spot—and sold out October almost immediately. But according to Facebook, November opens up today.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I’m just cranking up on writing the 2018 edition of The Fooditor 99, so I took a break from highly publicized big new restaurants to try and find some smaller neighborhood gems to include in the book. You have to try more places to find the few that really stand out, and so far the record has been pretty spotty—though I’m leaving out one genuine Chinese food find, because a full article is coming this week or next. Here are some places I’ve tried recently:

Chopo Chicken—I checked out Nick K’s find and it’s pretty good! The chicken is well-cooked and has a brightly spicy taste; the Chipotle-style ordering system makes it fairly easy to get what real Peruvian flavors are on offer. My favorite is still D’Candela but for Lincoln Park, and the rather sad, trapped-in-1985 strip it’s on, this is a star. Now if only Tower Records still existed, I’d have a whole afternoon planned.

Flip, the burger place in the former La Pasadita building that has terra cotta signage for a 1930s burger stand—fries were good, shakes look very good… but the burger was thick (two patties, not sure if there’s a single patty option), used flavorless meat, and the aioli-pickle topping was just a gooey mess. Skip Flip and head straight to Smallfry instead.

Libanais—a new Lebanese restaurant (they used to have a smaller bakery next to New York Bagel  & Bialy on Touhy). The usual stuff (shawarma, baba ghanoush) was decent but not exceptional; better were more unusual things, like a whole grilled branzino with Lebanese spices. The main attraction is the wide array of desserts, both French and middle eastern.

The Spice Room—I’d heard good things and thought maybe, finally, there’s a good Indian restaurant that isn’t on Devon in this city. Well, it’s not bad for an Indian restaurant not on Devon, but to me, that’s like the color on a 70s Magnavox TV versus the color on your new 4K HDR flat screen.

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