Buzz List for April 22, 2019

Vettel finds four star spice in the unlikeliest place, plus an Ecuadoran red sauce joint, conveyor belt sushi and a Jail Bird special

Les Nomades/Facebook
Nouvelle cuisine at Les Nomades

1. LE GRAND MEAULNES

I can’t think of a restaurant in Chicago that exists more out of time than Les Nomades. Its longtime fans, many still carrying the membership cards that Jovan Trboyevic issued them (for $1; the point was to have something that he could take away from you if you broke one of his rules, like working the room), go there for Roland Liccioni’s clean, precise nouvelle cuisine, his ex-wife Mary Beth Liccioni’s (she owns it) civilized service, and the feel of a restaurant that rambles over several rooms of an old house—something restaurants used to do in the 80s (Trotter’s was another one) and don’t any more.

Does it need reviewing by Phil Vettel at this point? Perhaps not, though foodies looking for the newest thing could do worse than checking out the old thing it came from. But the Trib is doing French food this month, so why not. And a little bit of spice in Liccioni’s cooking qualifies as a scoop:

I’ve eaten chef Roland Liccioni’s food just about everywhere he’s been, going back to his days at Carlos’, his 10-year run at Le Francais (during Jean Banchet’s first retirement) — even his consulting dalliances at Cochon Volant and the late Rhapsody. It’s not as though the chef can surprise me.

Except that, once or twice, he did. Liccioni is embracing hints of spice in some dishes, something I’d not seen before. A wonderful artichoke terrine — wedge-shaped and a half-inch thick, graced with shaved truffle and black-garlic puree — arrives with a light sprinkle of chile dust on the plate, a sort of choose-your-own-adventure bit of heat.

There’s also a touch of Sriracha in his aptly named caviar surprise, a potato-espuma cloud masking a mound of sturgeon caviar and a tartare of smoked and cured salmon; za’atar spice blend gives an edge to seared tuna, atop a pile of sauteed vegetables and tomato confit.

Four stars.

2. EVEN KIEL

I’m all for food writing about things other than restaurants, like our bounty of ethnic markets, and Mike Sula has an example this week on Easter kielbasa and the places that make their own: “These places all smell bewitchingly of smoke, pork, garlic, and spice, and all feature long rows of dangling meat, hung far out of reach behind the counter. Each individual expression of girth, length, and hue is labeled with its Polish name.”

3. LA MICHOARCANA

An Eater piece by Elias Cepeda poses a question—Why Hasn’t Michoacán Cuisine Had Its Moment Yet?—that the piece itself seems to refute by demonstrating how much Michoacán cuisine we have in Chicago, from carnitas to all those ice cream places named La Michoacana (or something just far enough off that trademark to slide by): “It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to go ten blocks in any direction in many neighborhoods in the city and not run smack dab into an ice cream store with ‘Michoacana’  in the name. If you’ve yet to try anything new in ice cream since Italy’s gelato became more widespread in Chicago, you owe it to yourself to try some of the fruit-churned flavors in Michoacán-style Neverias (ice cream ashops) or Paleterias (popsicle shops) — both typical of the ice-cream obsessed state.” Anyway, an interesting look at the particular regionality of much of our local Mexican scene.

4. LE CANARD ENTENTE

At The New Chicagoan Dominic Lynch approves of the new Entente in River North: “The meal really hit its stride with the second half of dishes: the shortrib, duck, and the desserts. The shortrib was served with more traditional Asian flavors and was incredibly, buttery soft. Serving it with chopsticks was a bold move (especially considering the chopsticks were set well before we knew what to expect), but Entente pulled it off. Finally, to cap off the entrees, was the Long Island Duck. The duck itself was straightforward (crispy skin, surprisingly undercooked meat), but it came with a pho consomme on the side that had deep, developed flavors that paired well with the plate. On the plate were also two spring rolls that, despite their traditional appearance and base flavors, came with a kick of mint that underscored their freshness and expert preparation.”

I have to say, though, that I’m most intrigued by what seems to be a secret menu—so secret they don’t tell you what anything is till you order it: “The secret menu contains 8 different and unique dishes and courses. Further, we wouldn’t be told what was on the secret menu unless we ordered it, and even then we would only learn as the courses were delivered.”

5. GET BACK JOJO

Graham Meyer subjects himself to the kaleidoscopic ice of JoJo’s Milk Bar, which is probably not suitable for a business lunch: “Even on a stretch of River North better known for nightclubs, JoJo’s swarmed with children on our two visits, during a popular spring-break week. Supervising adults gaped at the kids’ capacity for sugar, and then they turned to their own Brobdingnagian shakes. I don’t think it’s really criticism that’s unwelcome at JoJo’s. It’s the voice of reason.”

6. SUSHI CAT

John Kessler says to check out Japanese sushi conveyor belt import Kura, in Schaumburg: “Kura goes high-tech with a touchscreen and a second conveyor belt that zooms to you any item you select from the menu. The premium choices mostly deliver… Count me on Team Schtick.”

7. SNACK ATTACK

Others may love Diner Grill or Jerry’s, but my true griddle-breakfast-with-a side-of-Nelson-Algren love is Belmont Snack Shop, near the improbably fancy new Belmont station on the blue line. Other than me putting it in a Thrillist list once, I don’t think anybody’s ever written about it, so I’m delighted to see Titus Ruscitti’s paean to its central role as a place to get carbs at 4 am: “The item I find myself ordering more times than not is the ‘Jail Bird special.’ That’s what the longtime night cook calls the fried baloney sandwich… They take a big chunk of sliced baloney and sear it up on the flattop. I like mine with a fried egg and melted American cheese on toasted white.”

He also visits an addition to Chicago’s Veneuelan arepa scene, Sweet Pepper, and the Italian spot with a German restaurant look, Mirabella.

8. BUENA VISTA TACO CLUB

The Reader has a photo essay and portrait of a family-run Mexican restaurant in Lakeview, Buena Vista: “‘I spent three years working for somebody else after we open and then work starts growing and I have to work in the morning at Buena Vista and then run to my regular job,’ says [owner Benjamin] Ramirez. ‘I used to be working six days and then start working five, four, three until I tell the owner it’s time to go. It’s too much work, I can’t handle it.'” Photo essay-slash-essays looks to be a new thing they’re doing—sorry I missed calling attention to this one, about Lenten fish fries, in time to act on it, especially since it includes the local one (St. Andrew’s) I went to this year.

9. GALIT STATUS

Anthony Todd talks to Zach Engel of Galit about the newly opened New Israeli restaurant: “In addition to his ‘ethereal’ hummus, he raves about his falafel, describing it as ‘bright, spiced, crispy, herby, and funky’ and served with fermented mango. Regarding his shakshuka, made with coal-roasted sweet potatoes: ‘You might think you’ve had good shakshuka, but this is meant to be the best you’ve ever had. That’s what I’m trying to do.'” (Chicago mag)

10. BRONZED

Ji Suk Yi visits Bronzeville to check out beloved food spots including Pearl’s Place, Abundance Bakery and Fooditor fave Honey-1 BBQ. (Sun-Times)

11. RED STATE

Bon Appetit has a tribute to old school red sauce Italian, and what Chicago restaurant do you think is on it? Italian Village? Some Scorsesian joint in Melrose Park or River Forest? Try Addison street near the highway—no, not the Olive Garden, but across the street, the old German restaurant which an Ecuadorian immigrant who worked at Gene & Georgetti for a long time turned into an Italian steakhouse for regular people who don’t know nobody, Mirabella. Mike Sula offers his profile of chef Arturo Aucaquizhpi.

12. RIP BOB BANSBERG

Longtime Ambria sommelier and mentor to many Chicago wine figures Bob Bansberg passed away April 13 at 65. Phil Vettel remembers him, quoting many notable Chicago wine figures: “‘When I first arrived in Chicago as a young sommelier, I was told by many that Bob was the leading wine personality and figure in Chicago; if you wanted to be the best, you needed to be like Bob,’ said sommelier Alpana Singh. ‘He was, at our first meeting and forever since, as gracious and kind as one could be. We have lost a true gentleman, a leading icon and mentor to many in Chicago’s wine scene.’”

13. BLACK EATS LIST

Jeremy Joyce, who’s been chronicling his visits to African-American-owned restaurants at the Instagram account Black People Eats, has launched a site of the same name devoted to keeping a database of black-owned restaurants. The list starts with Chicago and Atlanta and plans to expand from there. Read about it at Eater Chicago, or go straight to it here.

14. INCREDIBLE UNCAGEABLE EGG

Some years back I was doing freelance for a lighting manufacturer and they were talking about how LED lights had taken off, sending prices down with manufacturing efficiencies. I asked what caused that—and they said, “McDonald’s.” When Big Mac saw what they could save on energy and started installing LEDs in 20,000 stores, that created an LED boom. And something like that is also happening in the cage free egg market, as Crain’s reports.

15. PULL MY DAISY

More than once I’ve heard brewers refer to a commercial hit (or the lack of one) as their “Daisy Cutter.” Josh Noel provides an oral history of the 10-year-old IPA that made Half Acre Brewery. As co-owner Maurizio Fiori puts it, “Daisy Cutter came out just 10 years ago, but it’s a million years ago in beer business terms. We were so passionate, but ignorant in the right ways.”

WHAT MIKE ATE

I’d been meaning to get back to Funkenhausen, which I admit underwhelmed me a few weeks after opening, and its place on Chicago mag’s best new restaurant list reiterated the point. And it’s a pleasure to report that by now they’ve built up a retinue of strong dishes that fulfill the promise of a funky German-Southern hybrid of comfort food. I think sturgeon is wildly underrated, and the cured sturgeon “pastrami” is a beautiful downhome deli dish, while tarte flambée with ricotta, smoked duck and peas and pea shoots is a weather forecast of spring.

The ricotta dumplings now come with rabbit (but still not enough dumplings to share; this dish needs a size option) and still pleases with a basically light profile with low notes from little lardon cubes, while the confit pork shoulder is a comfy dish to sink into with duck leg as well as the pork shoulder and smoked shallot jus (as one does). Most of this will probably change shortly as spring arrives, but go with confidence that whatever follows it will be smart, sophisticated yet funky comfort food.

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