It seemed a pound-foolish measure for a savvy restaurant group, spreading Perry Hendrix too thin over both Blackbird and Avec. And now it’s being fixed: as Hendrix oversees Avec’s expansion onto its second floor, Blackbird has announced new chef de cuisine Ryan Pfeiffer, a Chicago native who was reported as having mainly worked in California, including a recent stage at Manresa (though he’s been a sous chef at Blackbird for at least two years, as far as I can tell).


Next announced its 2016 season—the first part of the year will be devoted to the wintry food of The Alps (somebody must like Table, Donkey & Stick!), summer will be A Tour of South America, including, one suspects, Peru, which chefs are all gaga about, and the last part of the year will recreate the menu at The French Laundry as it was when Grant Achatz went there to work in 1996. (Though as heavy with greatest hits as the menu at TFL is anyway, it will be interesting to see how different 20 years ago really was.) Is Next still the source of excitement it was once? To be honest, I saw more social media interest in this from the media, for whom Next was always a rich source of material, than diners—but it continues to sell out more consistently than any restaurant in town.


“An overcooked striped bass fillet was a reminder that this is a massive operation still getting steady on its feet. On the other hand a roast half chicken, another baseline barometer of kitchen competency, was a paragon of the form,” says Mike Sula at the Reader, mostly happy with how Swift & Sons is finding its way after opening about six weeks ago. They have steak, too: “Wüsthof steak knives glide through the rib cap—a steak I could eat exclusively for the rest of my life—as if it were iron-rich meat butter.”


Multistory Mexican restaurant Nuevo Leon burned down in a massive fire from which the third-generation manager narrowly escaped. They plan to rebuild; it wasn’t one of my personal haunts, though I liked the chilaquiles a lot, but it was an icon of Pilsen’s Latino community and I will be as happy to see it rise again as anybody.


Congrats to Osteria Langhe and Cafe Spiaggia for making Time Out’s national list of the 20 best Italian restaurants in the U.S.; despite our usual suspicion of national lists, Time Out has boots on the ground in most of these cities, so we’ll take their list as being rooted in actual experience.

Our suspicions of listmakers were proven last week by a list from The Art of Plating calling out the most artful dining experiences in Chicago. Okay, you can judge plating from photos alone. But still, the article talked like it had eaten here, yet somehow it talked about what Chef Homaro Cantu was up to in Chicago… without any awareness that the Moto chef had died last April. (That portion has since been deleted.)


In maybe his fastest turnaround ever, Michael Nagrant has reviewed Monteverde, and apparently he felt Sarah Grueneberg was a reliable enough quantity that he could be confident about a place barely a week old: “Lots of people fall in love with Italy, come back and try to replicate what they ate with good intentions, ending up with classic but uninspired facsimile dishes. What sets Grueneberg apart is that she’s not only an Italian cook but an international one. Her dishes are Italian in spirit but spiked with ingredients and techniques inspired by travels to Spain, Asia and the American South.” (Redeye)


That headline would have meant a bunny of the Playboy kind back in the day, but now it means Iliana Regan’s long-delayed micro bakery. Her pastries are likely to be part of the Bowtruss deal with the Park District to operate the stand in Mariano Park, the little triangle park in the Viagra Triangle, which not long ago looked likely to be gobbled up by one of the bigger businesses in the area. (Eater)


Phil Vettel reaches back to 90s places like Le Bordeaux and Yvette Wintergarden to explain what a change and throwback it is to have French bistro Cochon Volant in the Loop: “The restaurant is owned by WellDone Hospitality, which partnered with Les Nomades chef Roland Liccioni, in the process acquiring instant French cred and at least two killer recipes — one, Liccioni’s chicken-liver mousse, smooth enough to drink through a straw (and nicely augmented with toasted sourdough and confit cherries); and two, his coarse pork pate de campagne, with a terrific mustard and more of that good bread.” That said, for now he only gives it one star, so pig out selectively.


Nice piece at Time Out Chicago focusing on the corner of California and Augusta, where longtime neighborhood hit Rootstock has been recently joined by a flurry of new hipster joints, not all from Brendan Sodikoff. (It also mentions the coming-soon place from Mike Simmons, formerly of Rootstock, which apparently isn’t going to be called the Calaugusta Cafe after all.)


Kevin Pang aptly captures the dilemma for Ruxbin (it’s the old Parachute, basically) as it tries to remind everyone it exists at the 5-year mark: “On the occasion of its fifth birthday in November, Ruxbin is ready, once again, for its coming-out party… Unlike Parachute, where the cooking is more punchy and overt (bacon fat in its bing bread, a hot pot with crab and beef marrow broth), Ruxbin’s food is layered with subtlety and scholarship; [Edward] Kim’s dishes are composed more as ensemble acts than marquee billings.” (Tribune)


It’s been a good month for chef Joe Cecchino, a longtime Italian cook here who opened Ballaro in Highland Park earlier this month—and won Chopped last week.