Buzz List for September 5, 2017

Margeaux Brasserie is not for locals, Proxi is foxy, look at Alinea's tomatoes, sushi to go with baseball, and Michel Gébert's guide to la cuisine du Chicago.

Margeaux Brasserie/Facebook
A few dishes at Margeaux Brasserie
1. BRASSERIE BALLS

Mike Sula is not having any of Michael Mina’s expensive hotel restaurant Margeaux Brasserie, declaring what you no doubt suspected, that it’s strictly for the out of town crowd: “An unnerving number of dishes in this extravagant experiment miss their obvious marks, or are conspicuous in their mediocrity. A compelling artichoke salad with crispy chicken skin and truffled vinaigrette and showered with granulated foie gras is dominated by the vegetable’s acidity. Much-needed livery depth seems whipped out of a foie gras parfait… While Margeaux doesn’t entirely cross over into Epcot territory—the front of the house is staffed with proud, efficient, charming service professionals, for one thing—it does flirt with the kind of ostentatious vulgarity that only someone with the aesthetics of the 1 percent could enjoy without shame.” (Reader)

2. BREAKFAST AT BRASSERIE'S

Crain’s Joanne Trestrail is more sympathetic to the idea of grabbing breakfast at Margeaux Brasserie: “Bigger dishes run a gamut of plain and fancy eggs and sweets. Custardy quiche ($15) is right on; we were impressed with the zucchini version we tried but also liked the sound of one that involved cauliflower. An airy omelette with Gruyere and fines herbes ($18), another good choice, comes with a lightly dressed salad.” (Crain’s)

3. FANTASTIC MR. PROXI

“It was just a solitary piece of foliage, but it came with a big responsibility. ‘All the flavors of Southeast Asia are on this betel leaf,’ said chef Andrew Zimmerman as he placed the small plate in front of me. He was right. That one-bite amuse-bouche, with its bounty of finely chopped exotic ingredients, followed through on its promise,” begins Lisa Shames’ review of the stellar new restaurant from the owners of Sepia, Proxi, and thats’s a stellar opening befitting it. (CS)

4. SUSHI-INNING STRETCH

Why is Mike Sula reviewing sushi at a place called Stella’s Batting Cages, in southwest suburban Lyons? Well, the story involves a veteran of Japonais and such places, Robin Choi: “Late last year he figured he’d put down some roots, so he and his girlfriend, Randa Shin, formerly the general manager at Furious Spoon, went all in on Stella’s, whose owners were retiring and selling the business to Choi’s parents, who in turn were retiring from their three-decade-old dry-cleaning business down the street.” And… it’s pretty good! “I took a swing at the Yankee Stadium Meatball Parm… You can easily try to fungo that ball toward the stands, but its size belies its quality. While it’s the previous owner’s recipe, it has a texturally smooth and delicate beef matrix that almost reminds me of a classical fine paté, something only a chef with chops could pull off.” (Reader)

5. YOU CAN CALL ME SAL

It’s really Allen (Sternweiler, of Harvest on Huron and Butcher & the Burger) who is behind it, but Phil Vettel finds the ingratiating spirit of an old gal named Sal running a comfy Italian joint at Sal’s Trattoria:  “The menu is unintimidating, a single page of comforting familiarity and very attractive prices. Save for the occasional special, there is exactly one main course that costs more than $20 (that would be the roasted salmon, $25; there was a $29 filet mignon on the opening menu, but Sternweiler said it didn’t sell), and all but one entree-sized pasta dish falls inside the $16-$18 range.” (Tribune)

6. BIG HUEVOS

Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti has the kind of post I love to find at his site: half a dozen Mexican places, only one of which I’ve even heard of, all making something off the beaten path of Mexican tacos in this town. Like this one—tell me you don’t feel like going and having this first thing tomorrow: “We focus in on the Huevos Motuleños. This is a popular breakfast dish in the Yucatan region of Mexico… Con Huevos is the only place I know of to get what’s basically tortillas smeared with beans and then topped with egg, ranchero sauce, ham, peas, and cheese. Recipes can vary and I’ve only had this dish a couple times but I have to say this version is better than the ones I tried down in Mexico.”

7. EVERYTHING'S JAKE

If you buy meat at the Green City or Logan Square farmers markets, you’ve probably bought from Jake’s Country Meats, based in Cassopolis, Michigan. (I’m a big fan, buying whole pork bellies a couple of times a year to make batches of homemade bacon.) The South Bend Tribune has a nice story on owner Nate Robinson (Jacob is one of his sons), who explains why he went from being a Whole Foods vendor to selling directly to consumers: “He and his family had a heritage of raising food and eating what they grew. His family has been farming in southwestern Michigan since shortly after the Civil War. But since World War II, or mostly during his lifetime, an industrial food system streamlined how meat was raised, making it cheap. In the past decade or two, a growing number of people have started seeking out farmers willing to sell directly at farmers markets to ask questions about the animals and their lives… ‘When someone turns into a vegetarian only because of how the animal is treated, there’s something wrong,’ Robinson said.”

8. MICHEL IN GUIDE

Want a real guide to Chicago food in French, but with more of a Gebert-level insight than that red book? Just look to my guide to our city in this month’s issue of En Route, which is Air Canada’s in-flight magazine (but also, I am told, the main food publication in the country above us). Written in both English and French, with charming illustrations, it runs from the obvious (dining in the West Loop) to the unexpected (I bet no airline magazine has covered things to do in Pilsen before), and I think locals as well as out of towners will find it has some cool ideas for things to do that you might not know about. Go here to find the whole issue; my section begins on page 68, which you can either click through to, or slide a slider at the bottom—or search Gebert, it’ll get you there quickly.

9. POKÉ, MON

Poké seems to have happened without anybody knowing how or why; I can’t remember a piece actually talking to anyone behind a poké joint. The West Loop’s SuChi, from the former owner of Ora and his wife, is mainly a sushi place, but there’s some insight into the poké trade, sushi burritos, and other such inventions in this piece from New City.

10. LA CATRINA TRISTE

A sad story from DNAInfo: colorful Pilsen cafe La Catrina, run by a friendly family, is launching an overdose awareness program in the neighborhood following the death last year of their son Gabriel Cisneros. “A little past the one-year anniversary of Cisneros’ death, his mother said speaking up about her son’s two-month struggle with heroin is ‘not something to be embarrassed of’… ‘A lot of people know somebody that’s struggling through this. They say, ‘My cousin passed away,’ ‘my niece,’ ‘my brother’s friend.’ But the sad thing, is nobody is talking about it.'”

11. HELP FOR HARVEY

Various efforts are coming out of Chicago restaurants were doing anything to help folks affected by Hurricane Harvey; here’s another one: Chicago-based Panino’s, whose owner Lenny Rago is on the U.S Pizza Team, is joining an effort by all team members on Thursday—$2 from each pie sold that day goes to the Houston Food Bank. More info here.

12. SOME KIND OF MEZCALERO

I wrote about the mescal program built at Quiote by Bobby Baker, but his tenure was always meant to be short-term; meanwhile Mezcaleria Las Flores, the bar attached to Johnny’s Grill, was a soap opera of comings and goings. But now MLF’s Jay Schroeder has restored balance to the Force by landing in a permanent position at Quiote; Stephen Gossett explains why that’s good news for the universe. [Corrected; originally credited to Anthony Todd]

13. RUXBIN THERE DONE THAT

Ruxbin is the latest place that opened half a dozen or so years ago (like Vera, Sumi, etc.) to have now closed in 2017; Nick Kindelsperger talked to chef-owner Edward Kim (who still has Mott Street) about why he made the decision. (Tribune)

14. LOOK AT THEM TOMATOES

During the days that farm to table first took off as a trend, one place that never made publicity hay out of their farm connections was Alinea. So it’s interesting to read in Chicago mag’s look at a restaurant supplier of heirloom tomatoes, Jon Templin, that his number one customer is Alinea: “He grows nearly 10,000 pounds of them each year—30 unique kinds ranging from cherry-size ones to immense five-pounders—and sells virtually his entire crop to Chicago’s best restaurants. Alinea snaps up almost all his highest-grade fruit. Chef Chris Gawronski of Acanto says he has to keep his Butternut Farms tomatoes under lock and key when deliveries come in, because his staff tends to pilfer them.”

15. HULU CANTU

Insatiable, the documentary about Moto chef Homaro Cantu, is available on Hulu starting today (it’s previously been on iTunes, Amazon, etc., but this is the first appearance on a subscription service). Here’s Fooditor’s interview with director Brett Schwartz.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Nothing new in Chicago other than getting to see the inside (quite stunning) of Boka Group’s new Somerset, and too much road food of non-distinction. But we did go to Beard winner The Bachelor Farmer in Minneapolis, which was terrific—reminiscent of Chicago farm to table places, from North Pond to Lula Cafe, but with a Scandinavian bent (less avant-garde than Elske) which was its own. I tweeted, and I honestly believe, that it was better than any dinner we had in France in July; American cooking is just unbeatable now.

So why were we up there? To take son #1 to St. Olaf College in Northfield, a momentous day. He’s been my most constant dining companion, from tacos to ramen, all these years of food writing, and it will be strange to be without him on these adventures, but the adventure is his own now. Good luck, Myles.

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