One of the things you have to watch out for, writing restaurant reviews, is reviewing what you wish a place was, not what it is. It’s too easy to take it easy on a place by imagining the better place it could be in six months—because it probably won’t ever be better. Still, the possibility does exist—if Boka Group pours a bunch of money into a name chef’s downtown French place, it’s distinctly likely that they will keep tinkering till it works better—and so John Kessler wrestles with Le Select as it is now, and what it needs:

You’ll pay a high price for entrées, which arrive on shiny porcelain plates imprinted with the restaurant’s logo. The undisputed star is fat sea scallops quivering in a magical state between raw and cooked and set over a thick, creamy curry. Yet that expensive chicken is more of a bore than its Armagnac, prune, and bacon set would suggest. I’ve tried the (cough, $58) steak au poivre twice. Ordered medium-rare, it came out a very wiggly rare once and barely pink the other time.

Alas, these issues have a way of piling up. The pommes allumettes are some soggy-ass french fries. A duck breast has a rubbery texture and soft, fatty skin. A dry, underseasoned meat pie called tourte alsacienne comes out barely warmed, like something you’d enjoy from the pastry case at Brioche Dorée but not as a plated appetizer. An intriguing jellied terrine of skate and crab comes with two lobes of uni that are spoiled one time but great the next.

He notes that chef Daniel Rose has already recruited Pat Sheerin to help turn things around:

I hope this new hire will help Le Select reach its potential, but it has a ways to go to earn my loyalty. Though Rose lives in Paris, he intends to spend the next months here getting it into shape, maybe even earning its stripes as a Chicago classic. This place is important to him as a Chicagoan, he says, and “we intend to be here for a long time.”


The Sun-Times has a piece about 90-year-old Moon’s Sandwich Shop, which you’ve driven by on Ashland countless times:

Walk into Moon’s Sandwich Shop on any given morning, and you’ll be greeted by the delightful symphony that can only be heard in classic American diners: bacon sputtering and onions caramelizing on the flat top grill, bread popping out of multiple toasters, stainless steel spoons stirring sugar and cream into white ceramic cups filled with coffee, the drip, drip, drip of the Bunn-O-Matic coffee maker.

I admire calling out the brand name (Bunn-O-Matic) which, to any veteran coffeeshop hanger-outer, screams diner coffee.


Louisa Chu makes Bloom Plant Based Kitchen sound intriguing—not just adequately compensatory:

At Bloom, golden nuggets fried hard held their crackling crunch under a fiery housemade habanero hot sauce, finished with feathery bits of fried garlic. Instead of just breading and frying the cauliflower, Cuadros pickled it first, adding complex flavor with his chefs’ labor.

“Besides acidity, we add a lot of herbs and spices,” Cuadros said, plus a little bit of nutritional yeast to get umami into the vegetable. “Because we don’t use egg or egg substitutes, we make like a backward tempura. We do flour, batter, flour, then fry,” Cudaros added. That extra final flour dredge gives each bite a remarkably crunchy texture throughout.


Fact I did not know: the co-owner/chef of the Sushi by Scratch chain, Phillip Frankland Lee, is the grandson of Sgt. Bilko himself, Phil Silvers. (If the name doesn’t mean anything to kids today, try It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.) Grimod finds this is kind of revealing of the showmanship that has made its way to an upscale sushi chain.

Nobody less than Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times would review Scratch | Bar in March of 2014. The dearly departed critic would term the restaurant “a welcome bit of comic relief” in a “restaurant scene dominated at the moment by extreme localism, modernist trickery and the marriage of European and Asian technique.” Gold likened Lee to “the wiseguy telling jokes in the corner while the popular kids forage miner’s lettuce and make buttermilk cheese with a centrifuge” while sagely observing that “hyper-intellectual cuisine has its place, but parody can be more fun.”

Reading Grimod’s own review, it’s hard not to view it as more parody of California/Food Network rock star dining than an attempt at serious Japanese food, yet our garrulous reviewer admits he booked a return visit before his first visit was over.


At Resy, Grace Wong (ex-Tribune) writes about Second Generation. The format at Resy wants to hype up how difficult it is to get a seat at certain restaurants, so be sure to use Resy. Which is nonsense; when I went it wasn’t at all hard to get a seat (as you can see in this past Buzz List photo), and you have to use Resy anyway, unless you’re going to phone for a reservation, like a savage.

But the part of the chat with co-owner Vicki Kim about what to order is pretty good:

The Midnight Pasta was birthed out of a chef’s late-night cravings. What do you do after a long night of service? You go home, you open up your fridge and you see what’s there. You want something that’s full-flavored and will stick to your ribs.

It has a scallion ginger base with anchovy breadcrumbs, and an onsen egg which gives a really great, unctuous coating to the noodles, and some shaved bottarga on top. So it’s savory, a little funky, and complex. It’s just delicious. It’s something you crave late at night.

I liked this umami-bomb dish a lot.


John Ringor at The Infatuation visited Itoko, the new Japanese restaurant in Lakeview:

Iconic Momotaro dishes like the momo maki with tuna and octopus along with grilled chicken skewers make a cameo, while Itoko exclusives (like XO scallop hand rolls) are delicious and come on cute branded wooden holders. It’s a perfectly fine place for a nice dinner, just come prepared with a game plan for the order since it’s easy to rack up the bill.

Meanwhile, Michael Nagrant also went, but he gets hung up on the designer of the room:

A cursory search of the other projects completed by Itoko’s design firm Brand Bureau confirms this. Almost every one of their client designs includes the same maple wood slatting and an aesthetic they refer to as Japandi, a portmanteau of Japan and Scandinavia (personally I would have gone with Scandipan).

…Still, I’m a fan of modernism, and so in the end I appreciate the warmth and the clean lines which compliment chef Gene Kato’s sashimi.

I suppose that’s the point, which is to say Itoko is not a grand artistic sushi palace meant to change the way Chicagoans think about raw fish or architecture. It is intended to be the neighborhood sushi joint Boka group principles Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz desired when they were raising their families in Lakeview.

7. I LOVE L.A.

Steve Dolinsky was in LA for a pizza fest, and did a piece on Chicago transplants in L.A.:

Meanwhile, the Boka Restaurant Group made a big splash a couple of years ago near downtown, by opening the second Girl and the Goat with Chef Stephanie Izard.

“If you look around where we are here right now at Girl & the Goat in the Arts District, it feels like the West Loop or Fulton Market,” said Gabe Garza, the chief development officer of the Boka Group.


It’s an Asian food week—and we don’t mean Chinese or Thai—at Titus Ruscitti’s site. First, Filipino at Boonie’s in Lincoln Square:

The ‘Sizzling Sisig’ is one of those dishes I’m still thinking about weeks after having it. It’s crispy pork hash with secret sauce and egg served on a sizzling hot plate and it’s a fatty, spicy, citrus bomb of flavors. Add a side of garlic rice and you got a complete meal. One of the best things I’ve ate of late.

Then, Sri Lankan food in Rogers Park at Cafe Nova:

You’ll find a few of the Sri Lankan classics like the Kothu Parotta which comes with a fiery chicken curry on the side. Kothu Parotta is chopped up flatbread that’s pan fried with eggs, vegetables, spices. It can also be called Kottu Roti in reference to the flatbread used to make the dish. I always enjoy this and I’m glad to have an option for it within city limits.


Or so said Walt Disney when his backers wanted him to crank out sequels to The Three Little Pigs. But Dennis Lee wants pigs and more pigs from Henry Cai’s 3 Little Pigs ghost kitchen concept:

One of 3 Little Pigs main specialties is the char siu pork ($11.95 small, $19.50 full), and if you’re a waffler like me, you can get a combination box with both the pork and your choice of chicken in it ($14.95).

You can really tell that this pork is well-tended to. It’s got some chew to it, but it isn’t tough, and it’s got a bark around it that gives it some extra flavor and texture. The barbecue sauce on the outside is notably more nuanced than the red stuff you encounter at most takeaway Chinese places, and it really hugs each piece of meat without being overwhelming.

Dennis also points us to a video Munchies did about 3 Little Pigs here: The Best Secret Chinese Restaurant in Chicago.


Don’t suppose there’d be much point in Food & Wine running a recipe for birria from the Zaragoza family, since 99% of readers would bail at the idea of acquiring and roasting a goat. But barbacoa just calls for beef cheeks and chuck roast, not too exotic, and so they run a DIY recipe for barbacoa from Jonathan Zaragoza:

“Barbacoa isn’t just a dish; it’s deeper than that. It’s a method of cooking, an ancestral ritual, and for many, a religion,” Zaragoza says. “The recipe I’m sharing with you is an adaptation for the adventurous home cook. Think of this recipe as the rabbit hole into the beautifully diverse world of barbacoa and Mexican food.”


What’s the rarest thing in food media? I’d say anybody writing about one of Chicago’s not-so-hidden glories: Polish food. Okay, it’s kind of plain, and there’s not a lot to say. But Nikki O’Neill at the Tribune approaches Polish food from a new direction—Turkey:

Poland has had historic connections with Turkey for over 600 years. One current case in point is Polonezköj, a Polish neighborhood in Istanbul that’s been documented by a few YouTubers in recent years. Situated on the transcontinental city’s Asian side, this small community was founded shortly after Poland’s 1830 uprising against the Russian Empire, when the Ottoman Empire offered the area to Polish exiles for settlement.

This connection remains embedded in classic Polish cuisine. Gołabki is like a larger version of dolma, but with a Slavic spin, featuring ground pork. Pierogi supposedly came to Poland in the 14th century with the Tatars, Turkic nomadic tribes from Central Asia. Steak Tatar, a popular Polish appetizer that drops the “e” of France’s tartare, is another tip of the hat to history (although it’s debated whether its origin truly is Tatar or French). When Asian culture was in vogue in Western Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries, coffee and Middle Eastern sweets such as halvah became the craze in Poland; today you’ll find it renamed as chałwa in lots of sweet shops in Poland.


At the Reader, a piece on CHAAD—Chicago Hospitality Accountable Advocacy Database, an organization which is advocating for fairer treatment of workers in the restaurant industry. It sounds good so far as it goes:

Alongside the workshops, in fall 2022, CHAAD hosted a hospitality workers’ town hall in partnership with Studio ATAO (All Together at Once). Workers came together at employee-owned bar Beermiscuous in Lakeview to discuss and radically imagine what the future of accountability systems and sustainable systems based on mutuality could look like.

Not entirely sure what all of that means in English, but it’s probably good. I’m less convinced by this account of recent food industry history:

The hospitality industry historically has played a part in facilitating and allowing problematic individuals to thrive. In the summer of 2020, the whisper network found an online community through sharing information. Social media accounts such as the @the86dlist gave hospitality workers a space to anonymously share their stories of injustice, racism, and abuse in their workplaces. In the wake of this movement, the CHAAD Project became a parallel effort, not to call out abusers by name but to provide information to hospitality workers about what systemic justice in the industry can and should look like. The CHAAD spreadsheet functioned as a diversity and business ethics database. It included what restaurants were (and were not) making statements and promises regarding Black Lives Matter, the racial and ethnic makeup of the staff, and whether they were BIPOC-owned.

That’s not the impression I got of @the86dlist, which seemed to be a place where you could slam your boss anonymously, some undoubtedly deserving of it and some plainly unfair (like the attack on the owners of Honey Butter Fried Chicken, some of the most earnest advocates for treating restaurant workers decently). After building itself up as a revolutionary force in the industry, @the86dlist promptly went dark after a couple of months and was never heard from again. (Don’t agree with my views on @the86dlist? You can read its whole history at Instagram.)

CHAAD seems more realistic in many ways than that, though reading that they’ve pushed for a $28 minimum wage for restaurant workers strikes me as incredibly out of touch with the post-COVID restaurant world’s attempts to work toward a new economic model. It would be interesting to hear what restaurant owners who’ve had some dealings with CHAAD think of their approach—and we get one, Briana Hestad of Ørkenoy. She seems sympathetic to the organization’s goals, but CHAAD’s Molly Pachay says “in the handful of times when we reached out to groups or independent owners, we haven’t gotten the best response. They’re interested on a surface level, but when you get down to the nitty-gritty, they don’t engage, and they just kind of drop off.” I’d be very curious to hear from some of those owners about how well they felt CHAAD was responding to what they see as the issues facing their businesses after COVID.


A couple of months back I saw that a circus-themed gelato place was coming to Lincoln Square. I was just wondering what happened to that the other day, but now Block Club has the story of Sideshow Gelato, with backing by Penn Jilette.


Michael Nagrant is on Amuzed, mostly not talking about food, except when it flickers into the conversation for a moment, and then out again. Instead they talk Ever logo beanies, Chris Rock and the slap, a certain TV show that just shot at Ever, a certain chocolate cake, going to school with Pedro Pascal (Muser did), and more. Aliens? I’m sure aliens turn up at some point.


Bondiola is Argentina’s version of coppa, and Sandwich Tribunal makes a bondiola sandwich, albeit with coppa because that’s what he could find:

This was a terrific sandwich–a bondipan it is not, but that chimichurri gives it at least a little Argentine flavor. This sweet coppa is flavored with black pepper, allspice, and nutmeg, whereas an Argentine bondiola would be flavored more like a capocollo, with paprika and pepper. It is otherwise a dry-cured and aged meat much like bondiola though, and its concentrated flavor is powerful, best sliced very thin and combined with bread in a sandwich, or with fruits, cheeses, and nuts on a charcuterie plate.