I wasn’t sure this was real when the news came out on the evening of March 31, but Tock, Nick Kokonas’ restaurant reservations platform, has been sold to “internet giant” Squarespace. That’s what Eater called them, anyway, though if you’re not exactly sure who Squarespace is, and whether they’re the same as Square or will be in the new Space Jam movie, well, me either. (Apparently, judging by their website, they’re in charge of making all the websites look alike.) Anyway, they’re ponying up $400 million for Tock. How much is that in the restaurant, uh, space? I looked for some comparisons—the whole restaurant business in Illinois is about $30 billion in annual revenue, but there’s a lot of McDonaldses and Starbuxii in that. Here’s a piece on a (pre-pandemic) 2020 list of the highest-grossing restaurants, calling out the Chicago names on the list; add all their revenues together and you get about $300 million. So all those high dollar fancy restaurants represent only 3/4 of what Tock is worth—to Squarespace.

I think Tock is a good thing—I use it quite a lot, and starting as a service somewhat rigidly committed to an Alinea-Next model that honestly only worked for a small fraction of restaurants (it was somewhat more flexible from the start, but boy, it loved to talk that model up), it has steadily expanded its functionality and been particularly useful in the era of lockdown and to-go food; there’s no question that coming out of a restaurant group, it has been more responsive to the real needs of restaurants in this time.

But… it is just a sign of our times that capital flows to anything digital-y, including the completely spurious concept of owning a piece of infinitely reproducible digital artwork via an NFT, which I also don’t know what that is (but I suspect the first two words are “no” and a gerund). Anything that can claim a digital connection becomes where capital flows, while things that do real, handmade things—like restaurants, or just to pull one totally out of the air, publications that pay for food writing—start to seem like a chump’s game, a relic of the horse and buggy days, certainly not to be rewarded with the big money by our financial markets.

Yet there’s something in most humans that can’t be satisfied by the zeros after the dollar signs alone; they just don’t smell as good as a hunk of meat roasting in the oven, or a glass of good pinot, or make (most of) us as happy as being out with friends. Tock, unlike some of these things that attract the big bucks right now, offers a real service, and the guy behind it, of course, owns restaurants, a recognition that the service is a means to the end of another product, food and drink, and another service, cooking for you. Someday, perhaps we’ll value those things, real things, as much as the technology and the real estate market that they are bound up with—and that to a large extent call their tune.


Why do we need food writing? Sometimes, just to understand the concept of a new popup. Mike Sula explains Giống Giống, a Vietnamese-Guatamalan fusion spot:

Living in Vancouver in her mid-20s, Jeanette Tran-Dean was struck by the similarities between the food she grew up with and the food her Guatemalan friends ate. “I’d go over for their grandfather’s birthday party or something and they’d have, like, a tamale wrapped in a banana leaf,” she says. “I was like, ‘Vietnamese people wrap everything in banana leaves.’” Another friend’s mom regularly made the Central American-style quesadilla, which is a lot like a sweet, cheesy, rice-flour pound cake—and a lot like the Vietnamese cassava-coconut cake called banh khoai mi nuong.

“The Vietnamese love corn,” she says. “We have avocados. The countries have the same ingredients. They’re just so far apart that they don’t use them the same way. But I think if they were ever introduced it would make so much sense.”

In a second piece, Sula explores the dishes that helped inspire the popup.


Lots of lists these days at the Tribune, not much in the way of food stories. But that’s what a digital search engine likes from a newspaper! Here’s open rooftops and patios, here’s hot dogs, here’s places to go near Wrigley Field, and a bunch of new taco spots.

Speaking of baseball, because that seems to be the Trib’s main preoccupation at the moment, Chris Jones has a piece on how pandemic-era vending works at Wrigley.


Speaking of fusion, here’s Titus Ruscitti on a place called Asian Cuisine Express, known for… al pastor fried rice:

The first question I asked myself when I learned of this mashup was “Al Pastor Fried Rice?!” and the answer is yes! Sushi al pastor too! The latter of which needs to be ordered a day ahead with a minimum of five rolls being ordered ($12/each). I have yet to try the sushi due to having nobody to share five rolls of it with (he sent me the pics). I’m putting in an order as soon the world is partying again. The Arroz Frito con Al Pastor is exactly what it sounds like. Chinese style fried rice made with chunks of fresh shaved al pastor mixed with some pineapple on top. YES.


And still speaking of fusion, Brad Cawn advances a theory on why we saw so much of it during lockdown—because it was legal and serving cheeseburgers at a table wasn’t:

As symbols for the possible new paradigm of dining go, my personal favorite goes like this: there were times this past year when a former Gibson’s line cook and his mom could operate their own Indonesian restaurant and his former bosses, operators of one of the largest and most profile restaurant groups in the country, could not (at least not legally). So could a guy making Nigerian burritos and a couple exploring the fronteras of Polish and Columbian food. And a guy delivering onigiri. And on and on and on…

The pandemic was the ultimate black swan, of course, changing who served, what was served, and how it was served. Without the need for a physical space and all the capital that entails, cooks and entrepreneurs could work to scale: they could create a service model—such as taking orders on Mondays for delivery over the following weekend—that matched their capacity, competence, and/or crazy.


Steve Dolinsky has a video piece on a dessert at Dear Margaret, the Nanaimo Bar, but I find the piece more interesting as a sign of how hot new restaurants will be discovered in media in this new era. Five years ago there would have been a few different reviews of a new place with an unusual concept—but no mainstream publication publishes reviews any more. The closest is Titus Ruscitti’s report, and my stray comments here, and reporting like Dolinsky’s—all independent sources, now. Maybe if they served hot dogs for baseball season…


Joe Frillman of Daisies is among the chefs interviewed by CNN about making it through the pandemic and the hopes for help from the restaurant grants administered by the SBA.


Beverly Kim (Parachute) is teaming up with other local chefs for a fundraiser to support a group fighting anti-Asian hate, Dough Something. (Eater)


The only burger I had in Istanbul was kind of like kefta kebab in burger patty form, but Sandwich Tribunal explores the “wet burgers” of Turkey, the Islak Burger:

Islak is a Turkish word meaning “wet,” and these “wet burgers” are just that, soaked inside and out with a garlicky tomato sauce before sitting in a steam cabinet awaiting purchase… Islak burgers are widely praised, even by their detractors, as the ultimate drunken snack. No stranger to drunken snacking, patron saint of street food Anthony Bourdain tried one in a brief segment of a 2009 No Reservations episode… He remarked, “Ooh! It’s like a big, spicy slider!”