Buzz List for April 8, 2019

Kumiko is a five-star marvel, Brass Heart is a three-star riser, farewell Penny's Noodles, and an April Fool's battle of the coastal elites

Kumiko/Facebook
Ora king salmon at Kumiko

1. LIRPA FOLO

There’s so much snark in food writing now that I’m a little weary of April Foolin’, but sometimes there’s a masterpiece that justifies the whole form. And the champ of April Fool’s 2019 in food was this L.A. Times piece parodying, with a fine-edged skewer, the kind of New York Times piece that can’t quite believe people actually live in places that aren’t Manhattan, something Chicagoans know all too well. Here’s the LAT finding New York City almost acceptable as a place to eat:

In Los Angeles, we’re spoiled by the breadth and quality of our dining options. In addition to outstanding year-round produce, I can get great huaraches, refreshing mul naengmyeon and impeccable chả giò within 15 minutes of where I live. But what about New York, a largely culturally bereft island that sits curiously between the Hudson and East Rivers at the foot of the Catskill Mountains? Sure, we’ve all heard of hot dogs, a staple of every New Yorker’s diet, famously gnawed on by rodent and human alike in that “toddling town.”

Read it all and drink in the deliciousness.

2. IKO KUMIKO

Kumiko is one of the best things to happen in Chicago lately, sweet, relaxed and sublime. And the opening analogy which Maggie Hennessy uses to describe it is one of the most enticing I’ve read in a restaurant review in a long time, too (I won’t spoil it, but you’ll be hard pressed not to want to make a reservation and go live it, pronto). Here’s something her five-star review at Time Out Chicago does say about the food: “My favorite dish by far tasted like sunny, foamy dawn on the beach after a storm. Pristine slices of charred-edge madai nestled with peppery nasturtium leaves atop a kelp-scented sabayon made from whipping eggs with seaweed-infused butter till rich and frothy.”

But of course, Kumiko is a bar, and it’s Julia Momose’s sake-based cocktail program that might be the real marvel: “My date sipped a woodsy, citrusy sudachi shochu with tonic, sage and kumquat, while I nursed an elegant blend of mellow aged junmai sake, shiro and apricot eau de vie that tasted like boozy blossoming fruit trees and melted snow.”

3. BRASS IN POCKET

Will Brass Heart turn out to be the tasting menu that could? It opened last year to decidedly not-so-hot buzz among many foodies, and reviewers stayed away at first, but Jeff Ruby’s review a few months back, even if it was kind of negative, found some strong points, and Phil Vettel finds enough more to give it three stars, not just the charitable two that means “meh” in Vettelese: “You’ll begin with [chef Matt] Kerney’s riff on caviar and blini. His take places a generous bit of golden osetra caviar on a quenelle of potato chip ice cream, itself on a bed of potato crumble and breadcrumbs. The ice cream bears the slightest bit of sweetness, offsetting the caviar’s brine; it’s a nice opening dish. Ham & Eggs also illustrates Kerney’s fondness for elevating simple constructions. Here we have a poached quail egg, astride a square of pan de mie and next to a couple of coins of breakfast sausage and dots of maple-vinegar gel, all surrounded by a country-ham consomme decanted tableside. The consomme is beautiful, but really comes alive once the fatty egg yolk and syrupy gel join in.”

The instant food scene rarely allows restaurants the chance to discover themselves after they open, but maybe that’s what’s happening here—which would be a good thing, for Kerney and the scene alike.

4. DOGGER DETROIT

Mike Sula says go have a Coney Dog, or any dog, at Lola’s Coney Island: “[Owner Jesse Fakhoury] offers well-executed Chicago-style dogs as well as New York-style dogs (sauerkraut, onions, brown mustard), both supplied by Vienna Beef. But it’s the coneys you’ll be coming for: natural casing beef and pork franks from National Coney Island, a Michigan chain that also supplies his chili. In the last two months Fakhoury’s made a half dozen trips to Detroit to keep himself supplied through his late R&D phase and the three weeks he’s been open. The dogs are salty and bouncy, and though not as firm and snappy as a natural casing Vienna, they’re still perfectly compatible with the chili. Together with its acidic and pungent flourishes it’s an admirable, even craveable, expression of the style.”

5. QUE CIRA

Stephanie Izard’s Peruvian rooftop spot Cabra has gotten all the buzz, but Anthony Todd says check out what that kid Chris Pandel is doing at Cira in The Hoxton too: “Cira draws inspiration from the entire Mediterranean, not just the flavors of France or Italy. ‘We’re taking the liberty of looking at all 21 countries that surround the Mediterranean and making a mashup,’ says Pandel. ‘We’ve got Spanish, Turkish, a touch of Israel and Syria, some North African stuff.’ Pandel describes his motivations for this as “selfish” – he wanted to play around with all those different flavors. For example, you’ll find a fiore de mugnello on the menu, an Italian cow’s milk cheese, topped with green harissa and olive oil. ‘It’s not traditional in any way to have harissa with Italian cheese,” says Pandel, ‘but it makes for a great dish.’”

There’s more about both Cabra and Cira in this Food and Wine piece, graced by some very handsome photos from Huge Galdones.

6. GO 4 FOOD ALREADY

Ji Suk Yi visits one of the more interesting spots in Chinatown: “The flavors at Go 4 Food, 212 W. 23rd St., can be best described as Cantonese fusion, reflecting the cuisine owner Wendy Cheung grew up eating as a little girl in Guangzhou, China, and in Chinatown after her family moved to Chicago when she was 12.” (Sun-Times)

7. BERG AHEAD

I’ve only been to The Berghoff once since it shut down and reopened (sans union, apparently the reason for the whole closing thing). It was okay, fun to show it to my kids but the food was pretty tired. The bar is now called Adams Street Brewery, but Crain’s Graham Meyer thinks it’s still the old Berghoff Bar in all but name: “The dishes that succeed best at Adams Street are those that seem to have succeeded already for decades. The bratwurst ($10.50), with caraway-dotted sauerkraut on a pretzel bun, exemplified a sausage lunch, although the accompanying potato chips were underfried. The Reuben ($13.95) was unimpeachable.”

8. MADREXICO

I’m still not quite sure how you get to try stuff from Masa Madre, the Mexican-tinged Jewish bakery that doesn’t have a permanent spot, but check out Aimee Levitt’s piece on baking for Passover anyway.

9. GUADA WAY TO GO

Titus Ruscitti went to Guadalajara, Mexico’s 2nd largest city and a major source of Chicago’s Mexican community as well; here’s his report, with a few dozen recommendations in it.

10. FEED ON BREAD

Count me among the fans of the new Middle Brow Bungalow, especially the breads and pizza from baker Jess Galli. She’s among the guests on a bread-focused show of The Feed—and fun fact, I was driving back from Minneapolis and pulling into a Panera while listening to it! (Panera’s baked stuff is just okay, obviously, but generally speaking, when you’re on the road in the midwest they’re a good bet for decent, not Charbucks-black coffee—certainly better than the boiled java at most gas stations…)

11. GOODBYE PENNY’S NOODLES

After a quarter century of introducing many newly arrived Lakeview residents to the concept of an Asian noodles shop, Penny’s Noodles’ last city location on Diversey will close on April 14, no doubt mortally wounded by this LTHForum review a mere 13 years ago. No, it wasn’t super-authentic, but it gave people an idea of pan-Asian flavors, and wasn’t bad. Best wishes to those involved (there was a Penny, who was Thai, at one point at least), and if you really crave it… there’s still one in Oak Park.

12. FLOWER AND STONE

Ashok Selvam at Eater Chicago has been riding 42 Grams chef Jacob Bickelhaupt hard, making sure to refer to his guilty plea for battery against his then-wife and co-owner, Alexa Welsh in headlines for any story about his new venture, Stone Flower. This story from last week raises very solid questions about the pre-opening dinners he offered, which were billed as benefits for a domestic violence charity called Between Friends—the very one that helped Welsh following the battery incident in 2017. Between Friends issued a statement that they were not involved in the benefit and only learned of it after the fact. Bickelhaupt’s social media (mainly Instagram) has been heavy on sounding like he’s in recovery and has turned a new leaf, but trying to co-opt the organization that aided his ex-wife gives off a whiff of tit-for-tat or even intimidation, as more than a few chefs observed on Facebook.

What will the reaction be when Bickelhaupt’s restaurant actually opens? There are chefs who’ve had tough guy reputations, one Chef Trotter in particular, and I’ve heard rumors about places where violence by staffers was ignored, but we’re in uncharted territory now for the celebrity chef era with people like Paul Qui (also charged with domestic abuse), Mario Batali and John Besh (sexual harassment), etc. And we will be in the middle of it, as much as any city, shortly.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I tried Vajra, the new West Town Indian spot aiming to make better-than-Devon Indian food using higher quality ingredients (such as Green Circle Chicken, seen in many upscale restaurants). The opening samosa was a bit bland, but I was favorably impressed by three different curries (one fish, two chicken) and in general it seemed to live up to the higher quality label—as did the check.

After reading about Chitown Sandwich Club in the Trib’s slideshow, I tried it for lunch but was not that excited about the thinly-sliced, somewhat rubbery corned beef. Higher hopes for Half Sour, I’ll try that next time I need a corned beef fix. And I was a judge at Friday’s session of Baconfest—and for the second year in a row, we gave the top prize of the night to Heritage Restaurant & Caviar Bar. Their pastrami-style bacon with pickled beets on a bao was out there in concept but totally delivered as a dish, even beating out the evening’s most popular offering, ramen from Mike Satinover’s Akahoshi, as well as strong entries from Vie, Table Donkey & Stick, Michael Lachowicz, Mike Sheerin at Taureaux Tavern and others.

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