How bad can Yelpers get? This is an unknowable depth, but sometimes chefs and owners just have to break up with idiot customers, and that— flavored with a soupçon of beautifully modulated condescension— is what you get in this remarkable post from one “Matthew S.” who is upset with the Italian restaurant Ceres’ Table because he could not get a turkey burger at brunch, and chef Caryn Struif’s response as to why this is not a classic Italian brunch dish: “We try to offer a diverse selection of brunch style entrees, salads and sandwiches and we are sorry that you were unable to find something on our menu that you could fancy. We are just not prepared to make dishes that are not on any of our menus. It is not you, it is us. This is, again, why we need to break up.”


That’s among the memorable phrases in Mike Sula’s appraisal of the highly divisive Imperial Lamian—though honestly, the whole review isn’t that bad. (The phrase refers to the sort of color-coded dumplings.) Xiao long bao “sag like a breast implant with a slow leak. But with all that against them, every single dumpling I ate contained the requisite pool of hot broth. And the flavors are pretty good, even the oddballs such as the cheesy Gruyere, which as the least Chinese thing on the menu, could pass for ravioli.” But “Things get trickier among the higher-ticket items. A stingy portion of delectably crisp-skinned, pleasantly gamey Rohan duck runs nearly $30. A few ounces of cubed, crispy pork belly would be better served with a drizzle of sinus-scouring Chinese mustard than the insipid ballpark variety it currently comes with. Sliced turmeric-tinged New York strip, tenderized with the classic Chinese velveting technique (typically executed by marinating the meat in egg white, corn starch, and rice wine), is bathed in a sticky-sweet chili-garlic sauce and has all the appeal of beef-flavored chewing gum.” (Reader)


Out of the blue, two new reviews for Chicago’s most preciously wondrous drinking experience, the vintage-spirits-meet-confessional two-hour-slot at the Milk Room in the Chicago Athletic Association. The Reader’s Julia Thiel explains what the fuss is about: “Once inside it’s hard not to be charmed—not to mention impressed. As far as I can tell, Milk Room has the largest collection of rare and vintage spirits in Chicago. When I was there the reserve included Old Fitzgerald bourbon from the 1960s, Spanish chartreuse from the 50s (no longer available), and British Royal Navy rum from the 40s—rarities that make the Pappy Van Winkle 23-year-old bourbon also listed on the menu look commonplace by comparison. The cocktails are classics (or maybe extra-classic, considering the age of some of the ingredients). And because the recipes for some liqueurs have changed over the past several decades—Lillet is a good example—you may be drinking cocktails that taste exactly the way they were intended to, back when they were first created.”

Meanwhile, Anthony Todd, who last went there with me, returns with a potentially even more curmudgeonly sort: his father. “I figured that if anyone could poke holes in this place (and bring my rapture down to Earth) it might be him… ‘It was like a mini-grad school in spirits,’ he told me later. And all you have to do is ask, and none of it costs a penny extra. Well, beyond the $30 cocktail prices. We kept going for our full two hours, talking about the Chicago bar scene, tasting a couple vintage bourbons, trying a Bobby Burns (a great variation on a Rob Roy with some old benedictine) and watching everyone around us enjoy themselves. ‘A truly memorable night,’ my hard-to-impress father called it, and it was worth every penny.” (Chicagoist)


Phil Vettel is happy as clams in black bean sauce about the Chinese food, ranging from authentic to amusingly ersatz, at Duck Duck Goat: “The xiao long bao are as traditional and as well made as any soup dumpling I’ve had in Chicago’s Chinatown, arriving mad-hot in a bamboo steamer, plump with crab broth and pork. Shrimp dumplings are equally impressive, coddled by a koushuiji sauce (a traditional chili sauce usually used with chicken).” But wait, it’s called Duck Duck Goat, how’s the Peking duck? “The duck arrives, head and neck included, on a black platter; a separate plate holds sauces, matchsticks of radish, cucumber and fermented vegetables, and brown and white sugar. (Dredging pieces of skin through sugar creates a candied-bacon effect that some diners prize.) The breast meat is sliced, the leg-thighs are intact and every single bite is a treat.” (Tribune)


Nick Kindelsperger reports on a funky little hole in the wall Mongolian place in Chinatown that’s… what? It’s owned by Yum Brands? Yo quiero Mongolian? “Though founded in northern China in 1999, the chain was purchased by Yum! Brands (which also owns KFC and Taco Bell) in 2011. This is hot pot with some muscle behind it.” Despite that, he says it’s worth it, and offers a guide to how to cook and eat your own spicy stuff at the table.


Ever look at an empty dining room in a hotel where ordinary food is being served way too formally and think, I wish somebody would review this place? Me neither—yet stepping in to leave a record of a place that seems doomed to obscurity is Graham Meyer at Crain’s, writing about something called Adamus in something called the Silversmith Hotel. The Caesar salad seems promising till we learn it commits the blasphemy of “what the menu calls ‘melted tomatoes,’ tasting like grape tomatoes roasted only to nonexplosive partial deflation.” Hey, it could be worse… it could come coated in butterscotch sauce. “Reasonably priced sandwiches form the core of the lunch menu…” Sorry, I dozed off there for a moment. “We waited interminably to pay the check while our server changed other tables’ place settings (for whom?).” Dear God. Parts of the menu get praise, enough that Eater actually seemed to think this was a positive review, but everything about this review says stay away, and nothing to miss when it’s gone.


A big move for one of our favorite places–English meat pie makers Pleasant House Bakery, now both a commercial operation and (in Three Oaks, Michigan) a brewery, is moving from its modest start next to Maria’s in Bridgeport into the former Nightwood space, where it will be Pleasant House Pub. The good guys win… pleasantly. (Tribune)


Interesting piece by Sarah Conway at New City about a Somali refugee who found her way to the improbable (but nothing is improbable for immigrants to America) environs of Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, making pasta: “Pasta, or baasto in Somali, is something of a de facto Somali national dish brought over with Italians who arrived in the late-nineteenth century… With guidance from Hogsalt chefs, Mollim took easily to making from-scratch pasta, including ricotta-stuffed ravioli and orecchiette, an ear-shaped pasta originating in southern Italy. She owes her pasta-making skills to the nimbleness of her hands; in Kenya, she had made ends meet as a tailor and scarf maker. ‘At first making pasta was very difficult for me but after a month of training with the chefs I mastered making four types of pasta,’ says Mollim. ‘My secret is shaping the dough with my little index finger.’”


The ongoingly strange saga of Karyn’s Raw gets an update in a profile at Crain’s, morbidly interesting in its own right as well as confirmation of one of the core tenets of life in Chicago—that nobody has peddled  more snake oil salesmen than Oprah.


I never had true love for Trattoria Trullo when it was in Lincoln Square, but Phil Vettel falls hard for owner Giovanni DeNegris’ new Osteria Trulli in Arlington Heights, especially pizza: “A pass-through allows diners to glimpse the wood-burning oven that’s responsible for much of the kitchen’s output, including the marvelous blistered-crust thin pizzas. The Trulli pizza is bold and briny, topped with capers, anchovies and Gaeta olives; the burrata pizza is crowned with a huge ball of burrata cheese (burrata is one of Puglia’s gifts to the world) and curls of mortadella principe (the finest mortadella I’ve ever had) over baby arugula and cherry tomatoes. I’d come here for the pizza alone.”


Crain’s looked at Chicago media startups a couple of weeks ago—and somehow (not new) (not Chicago-based) Eater was among them and Fooditor wasn’t. I have a letter in response to that this week (4th one down).


All the Japanese food. More to come!