Are we ready for an ironic steakhouse? “This is a restaurant that doesn’t so much turn its back on steakhouse conventions as it celebrates them, although certainly with a wink and nudge,” says Phil Vettel of Maple & Ash. “The menu also makes a few sly references to its Gold Coast location, in the heart of the guys-on-the-prowl district known affectionately as the Viagra Triangle. Seafood towers are labeled ‘semi-pro’ and ‘baller.’” I could question that “affectionately” but read it all as Vettel gets it up for one of his more virile pieces of late. (Tribune)


Michael Nagrant is pretty ecstatic in Redeye about the fish at the new sushi place in the former L2O private dining room, named for its chef, Naoki Nakashima: “Nakashima’s real prowess is on full display in a section of the menu called Naoki-style sashimi, which features a handful of lithe cuts of fish flavored with various sauces and garnishes. These composed plates are not your typical sashimi. They meld a sushi master’s fish-cutting precision with a four-star chef’s acumen for flavor and balance.”


Mike Sula likes “the Thai version of the south’s ‘meat and three’” at Immm Rice and Beyond (featured at Fooditor here), finding it impressively authentic: “much of the food—in all categories—is fearlessly seasoned across the spectrum of the Thai flavor rainbow. One variant of papaya salad, som tum puu pla rah—pounded with bits of salty black preserved crab and the fermented-fish-and-rice-powder seasoning pla rah—is one of the most powerfully funky versions I’ve come across, the deep oceanic soulfulness of the pla rah in stark contrast to the blazing, acidic lime and chile burn. Meanwhile, the boat noodle soup kuay tiew ruea, typically spiked with a bit of pig’s blood in other local restaurants, here is perhaps the most ensanguined I’ve ever encountered, its iron-rich minerality laying the foundation for sweetness and spice.”

When you’re done with that, also check out this piece in which he enlists help from the author of the She Simmers blog to translate hidden specials at a couple of new Thai places; after years of eating at the same places charted out by early Chowhounds and LTHForumers, we’ve got a Thai renaissance going on here and this kind of thing is a genuine service.


Coming off more like Grub Street circa 2011 than itself, the Tribune scores a fun behind the scenes photo essay of a party for the upcoming Stephanie Izard Chinese fusion happy joy restaurant, Duck Duck Goat. But People magazine got the other scoop—Chef Izard has a little goat in the oven, congrats! Having once had a conversation with her about the CPS high school admissions process, it’s not totally surprising….


Mike Sula has an experience at peripatetic chef Dudley Nieto’s (he comes up with an impressive list of his past places) Rojo Gusano that we didn’t have: “The most glaring thing about the food at Rojo Gusano, particularly the tacos, is how uniformly underseasoned almost everything is. Mounted on small but thick house-made tortillas that are very well done, nearly all the fillings—the chorizo with potatoes, chicken verde, guajillo-braised short rib, mushroom, and arrachera (skirt steak)—need a serious dose of salt, acid, and in some cases chile heat. It’s confounding.” We can’t argue with this: “I certainly hope Rojo Gusano steps up its game before Nieto makes good on the purported plan to open two new locations in other neighborhoods.”


Imperial Lamian is a chain bringing its first US location to River North, but CEO Vincent Lawrence insists to Eater they aren’t another Americanized Big Bowl or P.F. Chang’s: “Lawrence, a Jakarta native, promised the most-complete Chinese soup dumpling program in Chicago with Sichuan peppercorns and pork varieties. There’s also dishes like jasmine tea-smoked baby back ribs and Rare Tea Cellars will provide teas for infused cocktails. While the menu in Chicago won’t be exactly like the menu in Jakarta, the Midwest is still more ripe than ever for some of the items that Imperial Lamian will offer, Lawrence said. Items like pork cheeks and ears are now in the mainstream, no longer considered exotic.” We’ll see when they open March 4.


Blackbird vets name their west Randolph restaurant Elske, Danish for “love,” as in couple—so surely the headline should read “David and Anna Posey name their new restaurant,” Tribune. (Don’t blame Vettel, he credits them both.) Tim Graham has left Travelle in the Langham/IBM building hotel to open his own place, too, with wife/beverage director Rebekah Graham and partner Branko Palikuca (The Dawson).


The Tribune has hired food writers from out of town so often that it’s really worth noting that they just filled two dining positions—well, that alone is good news, but so is the fact that both positions were filled with figures known on the local scene who have done excellent work digging into food in Chicago and getting to know the city. One is Louisa Chu, most recently of WBEZ, and the other is ex-Grub Street/Serious Eats editor Nick Kindelsperger. Congrats to both, and  here’s hoping they get the brief to do what they do and bring more serious love of food all throughout Chicago to the paper. And speaking of Chu…


Now free from WBEZ, having basically switched jobs (Chu went to the Tribune), Monica Eng and Louisa Chu’s food podcast relaunches as simply “Chewing” (subscribe here). It’s great to have a serious food podcast back after WBEZ farbungled that for everybody, though it’s not a restaurant podcast—it appears to be much more about nutrition.

Which points to an issue—talking about restaurants is like talking about art, you can make up anything you want, but nutrition is at least somewhat scientific—and the opening episode talks to the guy who invented the paleo diet, and has now done a complete 180 and is against eating meat because polar bears and ice caps, basically. Eng takes his theories at face value despite the fact that it’s pretty obvious he’s been a complete quack coming and going on this subject for 30 years (there’s a brief mention at the end that no studies have ever backed up any of his new age diet advice). Eng’s been a terrific reporter but we’ll have to listen to Chewing as it develops to see what it brings to serious discussion of what’s often a scientifically dubious subject. Anyway, congratulations to both of them for getting this off the ground.


FW publishes a list of top women in Chicago food. See who you know, see who got left off! Chicagoist thinks harder than we did about the latter.