The Fooditor 99’s 2018 edition is here in time for holiday giving! Best story I’ve heard so far: a lawyer told my wife that this year they ordered two copies, because last year her son ran off with the copy they bought… because he said, “You’re not hip enough to go to any of these places.”

Well you are, so order it here. And come see me Saturday morning at 10 am at Culinary Historians of Chicago, where I’ll be talking about guidebooks, how to become a food writer, the time I had to wrestle a 40-foot-python in the jungle for my life and other thrilling yarns. Go here.


The subhead for Mike Sula’s review of Somerset calls it “Boka Group’s latest.” Too late—they’ve already opened another one, Bellemore! You can’t get ahead of those guys! Anyway, Sula takes the vague East Coast nautical theme to suggest Mar-A-Lago (all Boka did was call it country club-like), prompting him to express his Trumpian disapproval before getting to the nub of the gist in chef Lee Wolen’s food: “It amounts to the usual broad array of dishes appealing to a wide range of eaters and typically found at hotel restaurants: the flatbread, the salmon, the goddamn cheeseburger. Still, the menu does manage to reflect a number of trends habitual Chicago restaurantgoers have gotten used to seeing lately: the crudite plate, the charred vegetables, the squid-ink pasta with seafood. Most importantly, the flavors on the plate manifest themselves with the same engaging and intuitive grace as they do at Boka.” (Reader)

While at the Trib, Phil Vettel is happy with a slightly more casual but equally adept Wolen menu: “Wherever Wolen cooks (even back to his chef-de-cuisine days at The Lobby), memorable octopus dishes follow; at Somerset, the Spanish octopus is grilled, mixed with coins of grilled cucumber and laid on a bed of sesame yogurt. The rustic dish delivers smoky, charred and sweet flavors, and I would eat this every day.”


I once had a conceptual burger from the Alinea Group—it was the deconstructed burger on Next’s Childhood menu, which was bits of gloop and glop on a plate that tasted astonishingly like a Big Mac. So compared to that, making a burger out of A5 Miyazaki (which it would be a sin to grind, so tiny side point, IT’S NOT A BURGER, IT’S A FREAKIN’ STEAK SANDWICH) isn’t quite so amazing, though as Nick Kindelsperger observes of the $53 offering at Roister: “The meat is so tender, you bite through with the same effort as a McDonald’s quarter pounder. Yet, instead of having to contend with a gray preformed patty, you get a wickedly juicy slab of beef that puts most steakhouses to shame.” If that’s worth $53 to ya, go for it; I had the $60-whatever chicken there and it was all kinds of awesome. That said, The Loyalist burger is $16 and includes fries. I’m just sayin’.


In what must surely, finally, be her last review for CS (she left a while ago), friend of Fooditor Lisa Shames looks at glitzy new robotoyaki Katana Chicago: “There is nothing subtle about Katana, the new Japanese restaurant in River North—and that’s exactly the point. The eye candy starts mere steps from the door of the 13,000-square-foot space, formerly Bin 36, with the large square bar and the soft yellow-hued light surrounding it. Those futuristic-looking machines on the bar that chill glasses instantaneously with a glowing mist of CO2 add to the show. Freestanding curvy blond-wood booths dot the expansive dining room. There’s a moss and rock garden in the middle of the space and amoeba-shaped light fixtures overhead. Not far away, the sushi bar offers the six diners sitting at it a more serene, albeit still lively, setting. ‘I tell my friends, it’s like we designed a restaurant James Bond would take his girlfriend to,’ says General Manager Jason Chan.”


Maggie Hennessy says Heritage Caviar Bar brings caviar back to the people: “I sampled the slate-colored, German imperial caviar on its own first—pressing a spoonful to the roof of my mouth with my tongue until the eggs popped—its mild creaminess giving way to a nutty aftertaste. My dates and I spent the next hour methodically building our perfect caviar bites over and over while we sipped our drinks, griped about work and passionately debated everything from weighted blankets to the new dumpling emoji (‘It’s an empanada,’ one friend insisted).” (TOC)


Where’s the Chicago talent going? The hot restaurant scene in Nashville, reports Ari Bendersky in Crain’s: “‘We had a better shot in Nashville,’ [former MK chef] Tony Galzin says. ‘Even though there are so many new places coming in, it’s still easier than Chicago. If you’re going to take a risk on your first place, it’s still going to be less money than Chicago.’”


“When he moved to New York City, he says, ‘I was blown away by all the amazing restaurants, but I missed being able to form a human connection to the people who were making the food I was eating.’” That’s Nat Gelb, who runs a dinner club called Tasting Collective that’s now in Chicago too, but hey, it could be a lot of us. Read about his solution in Julia Thiel’s piece.


Fun, sharp-eyed piece about a form of traditional Chicago cuisine rarely written about—tailgating before a Bears game. (Reader)


Julia Thiel finds the cocktails at Beatnik better balanced than the riotous decor: “The drinks are as international as the decor, with spirits and spices from around the globe. Turmeric and tarragon are background notes in the Second Fiddle, a jazzed-up whiskey sour that balances sweet pineapple with lemon and tart sumac salt. Similarly, the coffee and lavender in the rye-based Multitasking at Its Finest—two flavors that can be overpowering—are extremely subtle, taking a backseat to the Spanish vermouth.” (Reader)


Congrats to Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti of the indefatigable Chicago Taco Tours blog (among other things), who got profiled by Chicago Mag on the occasion of the 1000th (honest to God) taco joint on his blog.


A fellow named Alain Maes has been writing down his memories of Chicago French restaurants at a Blogspot blog for several years, and finally published his last chapter covering the 1990s and, as he sees it, the final rise of the bistro and the near-end of classical French dining in Chicago. All in all, it’s a remarkable and exhaustive resource on a key side of Chicago restaurant history, well worth disappearing into on a rainy Sunday afternoon.


Remember the Chuck E. Cheese that kept making headlines for violence breaking out there? Sadly, it is no more. (Patch)


Not quite a food story—though when I was at Leo Burnett and other places attached to the Pedway, I used it to find lunch without going outside on forbidding winter days—but the BBC looks at Chicago’s Pedway as a neighborhood of its own. (Though I have to say, for underground cities nothing beats the endless networks of subway and train stations in central Tokyo, which boasts a truly remarkable range of dining—not least, a place called Jiro’s.)


I wasn’t convinced that selling doughnuts (made elsewhere) in a laundromat was really worth the space Janet Rausa Fuller and Chicago mag devoted to it… but damn if it isn’t a fascinating little slice of Chicago life, featuring my own old favorite, Somethin’ Sweet.


Anthony Todd is now doing Dish, and The Fooditor 99 and I are in the first one! Sign up for sure.


Sauced Night Market will be at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel selling hipster holiday stuff on December 12; go here.


Year-end closings and job shifts are starting to accelerate. We knew Hanbun was closing, but now they’re closing sooner (February) because of the mall they’re in, so no more late night tasting menus (but you can still have lunch!); Primehouse, formerly David Burke’s Primehouse, is shutting down; Pegasus is the second old school Greektown spot to close within a year, after The Parthenon late last year; Jared Wentworth (Longman & Eagle) has parted ways with Fulton Market upscale sandwich spot Regards to Edith, and Heisler Hospitality entirely; and after five years at Evanston’s Found and the newer The Barn, Nicole Pederson has left it and owner Amy Morton is looking for a new chef.


Trying to stay ahead of Boka Group openings, I went to a press dinner for Bellemore, the new restaurant in the former Embeya space, glamorously recast by Embeya’s original designer Karen Herold with a starry-white interior with an owl theme (but also more than a few visual hints of the seafood-dominated menu, like the “ribs” carved into the columns). Kevin Boehm told us it was meant to be Boka’s fine dining restaurant (or other one, along with Boka), and we were served a chef’s tasting menu that will be available throughout—though it’s still much more a big glamorous Boka Group place than something as intimate as, say, Oriole or Smyth.

Jimmy Papadopolous’ food falls somewhere in between, too—sometimes as conceptual as tasting menu food, sometimes just very well executed upscale restaurant dishes. Both made me happy; I was intrigued by a bowl in which a scallop was set off by a variety of flavors and textures you had to puzzle out, but just as pleased by a relatively straightforward roasted duck breast with an offal-filled cotechino (the first dish to recall Papadopolous’ time at Bohemian House).