Chicago’s proposed hike in the minimum wage law for tipped servers reaches the Wall Street Journal, who talk to a couple of local restaurant owners who have eliminated tipping and substituted a service fee:

Some Chicago restaurant owners have voluntarily started paying a set wage across staff, and said it is helping them attract and retain employees. Joe Frillman eliminated the tipped wage and instituted a 25% gratuity on dine-in checks instead of tips and fees at his Daisies restaurant in Chicago in late 2020. Distributing the gratuity to staff has improved staff loyalty and service, he said.

…The owners of Chicago eatery Thattu decided to forgo asking for tips on guest checks when they opened their restaurant in May. They instead charge more than other restaurants serving Indian cuisine, but many customers are pleased to not have to pay tips or other fees on their bills, co-owner Vinod Kalathil said.

Kalathil said: “Here is the true cost of dining out. You see it before you place your order.”


And speaking of Thattu’s service fee system, it plays no small role in Louisa Chu’s review of the restaurant:

“Even before we opened the restaurant, this is something that we really wanted,” Kalathil said. They’ve been working with High Road Kitchens, an organization trying to bring fair wages and treatment to all employees in the restaurant world. “I’m also an accountant, so I did a lot of calculations to figure out how we can make this happen. The way we do it, we price everything in.”

Employees get a percentage of the restaurant’s income based on their weekly hours, Kalathil added.

But honestly, who would care if the food wasn’t good? Chu goes through the not-too-long menu almost item by item, and it’s hard not to get hungry reading through what some of the dishes are, and the care that goes into them. An example:

The fish fry is a stunning main event. Banish any thoughts of a British colonial-style mashup. A pair of pristine fillets get the naked spice treatment, and then they’re offered with a watermelon cucumber salad, on an herbal fenugreek leaf chutney, with a supersized quenelle of chilled yogurt curd rice alongside.

They use catfish, unlike in Kerala.

“The most common fish there are Indian mackerel, sardines, pomfret and king fish,” Kalathil said. But at Thattu, they chose catfish, because it’s fresh and local.

Similarly, Amy Cavanaugh in Chicago mag calls out top dishes to try at Thattu while introducing a few basic principles of the Southern Indian cuisine:

“You cannot have Kerala cuisine without coconuts,” says chef Margaret Pak, who opened the much-anticipated restaurant Thattu with her husband, Vinod Kalathil, in April. “Kerala is tropical by nature and lined with coconuts.”

Oh, and it must be Thattu week, because The Infatuation reviews it too:

Unlike most restaurants that seem plucked from the latest issue of Industrial-chic Digest, Thattu radiates warmth. Yes, there are high ceilings and exposed pipes. It even succumbs to the basket light trend plaguing restaurants across the city. But it’s a neighborhood spot that feels like it’s full of neighborhood people, partly because of the way the owner (half of a husband-and-wife team that runs the place) treats everyone like the nice kid who shovels their driveway. There are tangible personal touches too, like photos of handwritten recipes from the chef’s mother-in-law, a reminder that you’re settling in for a meal reminiscent of homestyle cooking.


A lotta Steve Dolinsky stuff: first off, at NBC he discovers a trained pastry chef doing classic French goodies, not just baklava, for the middle eastern community on the southwest side at Cake’N’Bake in Palos Hills.

While on his podcast Pizza City, he talks to Brian Tondryk of Chicago’s Bartoli’s, who has pizza roots going back to the original Gino’s East.

But the big thing is that it’s almost time for Dolinsky’s Pizza City Fest at The Salt Shed, which runs August 26 and 27—twenty different pizza makers will be baking on the spot, not serving out of hot boxes. Here’s a story about it at WBEZ; and go here to get more details and tickets.


It’s been some time since Time Out Chicago had a restaurant review, but they’re back with a review of the hot new Filipino restaurant Boonie’s by Friend of Fooditor Maggie Hennessy:

Boonie’s hugs like a metaphorical grandmother in all sorts of ways, starting the moment you walk in and see bowls of individually wrapped Hongyuan guava candies in the entryway and on the host stand. The diminutive, low-lit space—warmly dressed in blonde wood accents and framed family photos and whimsical prints—offers a cozy contrast to the sprawling, airy restaurants that have punctuated Chicago’s buzzier openings of late. And, oh, that food—boldly charred, umami-rich and satisfying, balanced by mouth-watering acidity and sweetness.

By the way, speaking of Maggie, she has launched a Substack newsletter—at this point, who hasn’t, besides me—called Little Stories. Check out the intro here.


David Hammond on the lunchtime, take-out-only Italian beef at Smoque Steak:

Having the goal to improve the Italian beef seems to be asking for trouble. Messing with a classic is always risky. Chicagoans, many of whom have a lifelong affection for the Italian beef, may resist any effort to modify the paradigm and change their notion of what they believe a good Italian beef should be. “We just wanted to make a version of Italian beef,” says [co-owner Barry] Sorkin, “that would be appropriate to a steak house: somewhat elevated, but not a giant step away from what an Italian beef ought to be. We wanted the sandwich to be built on good quality ingredients by people that have a sense of flavors and balance. We weren’t trying to mimic an Italian beef sandwich; we wanted to take that sort of template and create our own sandwich.

Guess Jimbo Dreams of Beef should have waited before declaring his number one.


Is Michael Nagrant snarky about baller food at Miru, or envious? You be the judge:

Miru is the kind of place trader daddies bring the family during the week for a staycation at the St. Regis below and return for Saturday night dinner in their matte black Porsche 911 GTS’ with their sidepieces.

A little less envious when you read about the fauxs that they’re pas-ing:

I thought it was a blip, but when you order a glass of Moscofilero – which sounds like no other wine in the world – and they bring you Sancerre instead, no one is home. I’d like to say I knew this by taste, but I am not a Master Somm. It didn’t have the acidity I would have expected in a Moscofilero, but it was delightfully bright and tasted like sunbeams. It was only when I ordered “another glass of the Moscofilero” my server said, oh I thought you ordered Sancerre, so that’s what we brought.

They tried to charge him for the mistake, too. And:

The more luxury we invested in, the greater the disappointment. A rosette of otoro bursting with sea urchin gonads, aka uni, tasted like flat mineral-rich spring water. The side of rice crackers for dipping ate like stale styrofoam.

And onto sushi courses:

Both plates however were adorned with low grade horseradish-spiked green gunk instead of freshly-grated wasabi.

Speaking of Nagrant but not baller cuisine, last week he had a piece on Ryan Pfeiffer (Blackbird) and his involvement with Dusek’s. No sooner was it up than Pfeiffer had departed; Nagrant has had two pieces on that story, so read this and then this.


Omarcito’s, a Latin spot in a container in a courtyard, is one of my favorite ’23 openings, though I must admit my two visits so far were… two days in a row. And Omar probably thinks something went wrong the second time, since I have yet to go back. Far from it: the second day I had the fish sandwich, which shot to my favorite thing there. Titus Ruscitti likes it too:

…don’t sleep on his fish sandwich. It uses crispy cornmeal coated catfish as its base and that’s matched with a wonderful family recipe Ecuadorian salsa criolla (tomato, red onion, cilantro, lime juice) and a special green garlic sauce. It’s a top notch combination of texture and flavor and it’s available as a sandwich or can be served up on some greaseless discs of fried plantains. The latter of which is a delicious mess.


Dennis Lee and his girlfriend Davida got married, and to celebrate, they go for homespun Korean food at an Albany Park place called Ban Po Jung (I think I’ve been, but clearly with less knowledge to hand):

Every table at Ban Po Jung gets a plate of vegetable jeon (a savory pancake) for free, which is a really welcoming gesture to start your meal.

They’re pan fried, crispy on the bottom, oily, and slightly chewy. And if you’re new to Korean food, jeon is an easy introduction. After all, who doesn’t love pancakes? There’s a soy dipping sauce that comes with it, seasoned with sesame seeds, vinegar, and green onion, which is a perfect condiment for the starchy pancakes.

Maybe I haven’t been—I’m sure I’d remember that. Anyway, big points to anyone who picks up on the 70s teen novel reference in my headline.

Incidentally, after last week’s mention of jianbing, Dennis informed me that Monkey King Jianbing has apparently moved from Chinatown to Skokie. Their website still shows Canal St., but the Google listing address is on Dempster.


At Resy, Grace Wong talks to Chef Sangtae Park and his wife Kate (who translates much of it), of Omakase Yume and Tengoku Aburiya, about the rise of more expensive omakase dining in Chicago:

What’s special about an omakase restaurant compared to a regular sushi restaurant?

For us, we are serving omakase because we can show all the special, seasonal fish. If we don’t serve omakase, we can’t guarantee that we’ll use all the fish because people don’t order it. With omakase, [chef] can pick all the ingredients and seasonal fishes for the customers because he knows it’s good. He wants to share all these good ingredients with the customer. There are some very, very rare fishes that he orders so he can introduce them to people and they can enjoy it. Chef builds a menu every day with 13 or 14 different kinds of fishes, sometimes even up to 20.

They talk a lot about how diners have evolved in sophistication since they first opened Izakaya Yume in Niles a decade ago, though I have to say diners aren’t the only ones who’ve evolved—when I went to Izakaya Yume years ago, I recall watching in horror as someone prepped oysters by carefully rinsing all the oyster liquor out of them.


At WTTW, a story on Burning Bush Brewery, located by a river and run by a former pastor who was a home brewer. Of course, opening right before COVID felt like wandering the desert, if not quite for forty years:

In early 2018, he decided he wanted to try to open a brewery. His wife, he says, was a “true saint,” given that they had a two-year-old at the time, and his wife was nine months pregnant with their second child. Two years later, on January 30, 2020, he opened Burning Bush. Of course, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Raska’s original business plans came to a halt.

“That was quite a shock to the system, but somehow, we found a way to survive,” Raska said, crediting the ability to deliver growlers of beer to customers, as well as getting permission from their landlord to create a safer outdoor space with a “makeshift” patio comprised of Costco tables and folding chairs.


Not much of summer left, so all the more reason to take advantage of Ari Bendersky’s guide to top patio dining spots.


I was vaguely wondering what Shin Thompson had planned, now that Furious Spoon seems to be shrinking. Friend of Fooditor John Kessler sent me a link that explains it: he’s doing another style of Japanese food, but in Los Angeles. He already got a Michelin star for it, and here’s a piece on how he does yakiniku, the grilling style he’s doing:

Inspired by his childhood in Yamaguchi, Japan and his mother’s Japanese roots, Thompson has dedicated a large portion of his professional career to honoring one of his favorite forms of grilling, called yakiniku. Unlike using a gas grill hooked up to a propane tank for fuel, yakiniku calls for a small, usually countertop grill set up over a charcoal-burning flame, where foods like meat and vegetables get cooked to perfection.


Mi Tocaya Antojeria will host five other Logan Square/Hermosa chefs including Jason Hammel (Lula Cafe), Margaret Pak (Thattu) and Ethan Lim (Hermosa) on Wednesday for an event called Todos Ponen (“everybody pitches in”) benefiting A New Hope Bible Church, 1815 N. Kostner Ave., who have a community kitchen and food pantry. A story at Block Club tells more.

Won Kim’s latest video project, a series called Eatiots, will have a premiere party Monday at Marz Community Brewing (3630 S. Iron) at 7 pm. It’s free to get in, but beer and pies from Grumpy Pies will be for sale. You can see something else Won did recently in this episode of Sleeping is For Suckers (clearly), devoted to an art show and cooking stuff he did in Okoboji, Iowa.

And if you’re looking for an event to take your dog to, consider London House’s Wooftop Party August 26 from 8 to 10 am. Read the following and you’ll know if it’s for you:

Guests will enjoy complimentary morning beverages, pastries, puppaccinos, and doggies treats. Proceeds of the event will be donated to PAWS Chicago. You can also get a unique caricature of your pet from talented sketch artists, Water Pop — a memorable memento to take home. You can also pre-order your sketch and pick it up at the event.

Tickets are here.


As I mentioned last week I have had a summer cold, and I had no plans for the week, living mostly on hot soup, and scouting through my old photos for something to use at Buzz List this week. I just started getting better toward the end of the week—and at 5:30 one night I got a call from Otto Phan of Kyōten. (You will recall I dined at Kyōten Next Door a few weeks back.) He had guests who’d had to cancel because of flight delays, their dinner is already prepped, would I and my wife like to come eat their dinner at Kyōten (the OG side) in an hour, as his guests?

Why yes, we would. I went to Kyōten OG twice in the before times, but have to admit I’d been hesitant about dropping the big wad (vicinity of $500 pp with service, depending on which night you go)—especially because Kyōten Next Door had been so very fine for what seemed, by comparison, a very reasonable $140ish. How much better could it be?

Well, for starters you get Otto in person talking about what he’s offering that night, all of it sourced from Japan, much of it wild—this fish or that one might be in for the only time this year it will be available (another reason he didn’t want it to go to waste that night). The prep of the sushi part of the meal is basically the same as what we’re used to from Otto at either restaurant—that oversized rice he uses, the strong vinegar that the rice is tossed in, cool fish atop warm rice, meant to be eaten without delay. (He accepts that you’re going to snap its picture, this being 2023.)

What was noticeably different was the run-up to the sushi—a few courses of cooked, or cooked and raw dishes. Big hunks of lobster tossed in avocado with tarragon, very French, or cubes of cold wild sea bass in a warm white dashi, topped with exquisitely finely chopped chives. All this was different from anything I’ve had elsewhere, including in Japan, and shows how in a city whose sushi game has gotten much better in recent years, Otto Phan remains on a playing field of his own.

So should you spend the money for the elevated experience at Kyōten OG? This is, to me, an easier decision than you might expect. Kyōten Next Door is very good, and reasonably priced, go there first for an introduction to Otto’s style and level of quality. When you feel used to the offerings there, and have a baseline for comparison, then spend the money for the full Kyōten experience. You’ll be ready to appreciate why it’s so extraordinary. Who knows, maybe by then Michelin will have the experience to recognize what Otto is doing, too.

P.S. to Michael Nagrant: yes, freshly grated wasabi, unlike Miru. We watched him grate a fresh pile of it several times over the course of the meal.

Buzz List will be off next week and return on September 3.