There are lots of reasons why you might want to go to a restaurant, but it just takes one to keep you away—and in the case of Valhalla, it was the din of Time Out Market below (plus the smell of busy fryers) that made it hard to always love Stephen Gillanders’ tasting menu restaurant. Which makes it a smart move that Valhalla-Time Out Market is closing at the end of this month and aims to reopen in a new location in Wicker Park early next year. I got the news by email (so no link) but Eater has more to tell, including the location (the Mirai Sushi space at 2020 W. Division):

For a food hall full of casual concepts on the first floor, adding a fine dining restaurant with a tasting menu was unusual on the second floor (ascending toward bliss inspired the Norse mythology name). When announcing its debut at Time Out Market in September 2022, Gillanders compared Valhalla to Geranium, the Copenhagen restaurant housed inside a soccer stadium. His point was not to judge a book by its cover, and he vowed no compromise in ingredients, to create a unique and luxurious experience that could compete with Chicago’s upper echelon.

Well, the food was good but the noise made it tough. I look forward to checking it out on less aurally distracting terms. In other not-unrelated news, Valhalla’s ace pastry chef, Tatum Sinclair, who is nominated for a Jean Banchet award for best pastry program for S.K.Y., Apolonia and Valhalla, is leaving to open her own concept, “a dessert only restaurant with a curated pastry gallery in the morning and an intimate chefs counter dessert tasting menu at night, called Haven,” opening in 2024. (h/t Matthew Mirapaul)


Erling Wu-Bower was a big deal among local chefs/proteges of Paul Kahan and One Off Hospitality, but his shot for his restaurant, Pacific Standard Time, turned into a bit of a scandal and eventually became a spinoff location of Avec (where he was long #2). Now Erling is coming back with his own place, Maxwell’s Trading. Anthony Todd has a piece at Dish:

Wu-Bower hesitates to affix a label to the restaurant’s cuisine, and notes that in the past, he’s always had to cook within a label or a theme, be it Italian, Californian, or something else. While this restaurant has some Mediterranean footings, it also has Asian influences that draw from Wu-Bower’s own family. His mother, who is Chinese, traveled throughout Asia and brought influences home to his childhood dinner table, and his father’s Louisiana roots added a Southern twist.


I was talking with a friend about, I guess, the upside potential of certain cuisines, and whether they can be great great. He seemed to think it was vaguely racist to think there can’t be great food from Country X, and my response was that there’s a thousand miles across Eastern Europe and Central Asia where they eat lamb and rice, and it’s never gonna be 19th century France culinarily—or Thailand. Anyway that thousand miles of lamb is exactly what Cynthia Clampitt talks about at NewCity:

Because some of these food traditions began when many people were in nomadic tribes and most of today’s political borders did not exist, many menus list multiple cultures or countries represented in the foods offered. For example, Jibek Jolu identifies Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Russia as sources of their offerings. Though to be honest, this represents where these elements settled, rather than where they originated. My eggplant, for example, came up from India, while the kabobs likely swept in with the Ottoman Turks in the 1400s. Kebap, the origin of the word kabob, is Turkish for “roasted meat.”


After years of being the impossible-to-get-seats-for-one-of-his-events Ramen Lord, Mike Satinover has opened his own place, Akahoshi Ramen—and seats are still impossible to get, though one assumes that will finally calm down eventually. Anyway, The Infatuation has a capsule review:

Each of the four bowls is distinct, with limited toppings—every ingredient has room to showcase its flavor. The must-order dish is their namesake, the Akahoshi Miso.

Akahoshi also turns up in a piece called Are These Restaurants Worth the Hype?, the kind of listicle I normally wouldn’t bother with (my feeling would be, Are These Restaurants Good Despite the Hype?) But it’s interesting to see what’s hot, besides Akahoshi and the inevitable Warlord, among the people who think they’re on top of what’s hip and happening. I was barely aware of Costera Cocina Tulum but there’s not a word in the subhead (“An aggressively theme-y clubstaurant”) that says anything but “stay away” to me. Same for this description of Lyra:

This Greek spot is a party restaurant, infamous for TikTok-ready tableside preparations, and an 11pm weekend “ritual” where servers dance on tables with sparklers and everyone waves napkins around to clubby Greek music.

Gad. A review of Miru pretty much rips it a new one, given its sky-high prices:

The view of the skyline is incredible, but the most of the food isn’t. The long menu runs the gamut, from just-OK sushi to not-good-at-all entrees like burnt miso cod. So unless you happen to be staying here and have extra money to throw off said rooftop, it’s not worth the price. The desserts actually tend to be pretty good though, so stick to those—the view is better if you’re not distracted by mushy duck yakisoba.

And it feels much the eame way about the place that got us all eating black cod, Nobu. Anyway, it’s fun to read it shooting a few fish in a barrel.


Also eating at Akahoshi Ramen—Dennis Lee, who goes through the menu item by item:

In terms of the menu, it’s nice and tight, with no bullshit. There’s five cocktails and four types of ramen on the menu, along with a very tiny scattering of sides and extras, like extra noodles, a few rice bowls, and additional toppings. We ordered every bowl of ramen, because why not get our fill before the place gets so busy we can’t get back in?


Titus Ruscitti went to Smoque Steak and makes a comparison no one else would think of:

Not a bad deal at all but how does it taste? Honestly my first thought was “like beef jerky.” There’s a butcher in Michigan City called Langhe’s Old Fashioned Meat Market that makes a warm steak jerky unlike any other and that’s what I thought of when I took my first bite of beef from Smoque Steak. It’s pretty good but that said I’m not ready for smoked steak to replace grilled or broiled steak or any of the more traditional ways but it’s a nice change of pace.


You’ll get lots of luscious shots of potato pancakes frying in Steve Dolinsky’s piece on two veteran delis (Manny’s and Kaufman’s, of course) and how they make latkes this time of year

The miracle of an ancient temple, staying lit for eight nights with just a small amount of oil, sets the stage for a lot of frying, mostly in vegetable oil. And considering how tough the deli business is, it’s equally impressive visiting an 80 year-old institution, followed by a spry 60 year-old one, to see how they’ve been keeping tradition alive.

Bonus: you get to see sable smoking at Kaufman’s.


Not sure what prompted this, but some interesting observations about Next from the boss, Nick Kokonas, at Twitter. He asks the question, which different cuisines could work at Next, at the level (totally sold out) that he would prefer?

Next has about 70 seats (rounding) and a private dining room (PDR) that seats 12. With a large staff and a high level of execution what cuisines *do work*? It’s not surprising, but it is narrow — and has some broader market lessons.

1. French: Should be no surprise that French cuisine in the US is held in high esteem and brings in a crowd at a high price point. Also: tons of regions to explore. 2. Italian: ditto French, though a little less pricey.

3. Japanese: three theories here… a) people love sushi and the cost creeps up ($4 per bite++). b) sushi counter omakase is culturally appropriate for a tasting menu c) *** people tend not to make sushi / Japanese food at home but value it highly. / 3

He also considers the more conceptual menus (e.g., Childhood) as capable of drawing the crowds. Beyond that, he says other cuisines they’ve tried (Chinese, Thai, Mexican) don’t result in the same level of demand, or seem capable of convincing people that they justify a Next-level price—it is worth noting, incidentally, that after being at times the most expensive restaurant in town, Next has become more reasonable (and the rest of the world has gotten more expensive), in part by offering two levels of tasting menu—the current Tuscany menu offers a “tasting menu,” which does not specify number of courses but is said to run 1-1/2 hours, and a Tour Menu, which runs 2 to 2-1/2 hours. (So perhaps eight courses versus 12, or something like that.) In any case, his point is:

Can you do high end Thai food, Mexican food, Chinese food…. Certainly!! And you will get an appreciative crowd. But you won’t get that very last 10% of diners. And in restaurants, the last money in the door is the money that falls to the bottom line after all fixed costs/6

Now, here’s the interesting thing to me. I am curious how far back these conclusions can be said to have been observed. For Next’s first few years, we know that it was routinely sold out—and since it was a season ticket, it was sold out for three menus a year, no matter what the menus were. The Thai menu, for instance, was part of the very first season, which was so sold out that Michelin couldn’t even get in (it was obvious from their initial review of Next in their red book that at that point they had only been to the eighth menu, the vegan one). So Thai food sold out that time. It’s a reasonable inference that it didn’t sell out specifically because of demand for high end Thai—but it did sell out, under the circumstances that pertained then; they could have done an all-pudding menu and it would have sold out (and gotten three stars from Phil Vettel). At some point, there started to be enough variation in levels of attendance that you could draw conclusions—but not for some years.

But there’s another thing I would note about this. The idea of Next was to do something different every few months—and it was often quite experimental, with conceptual menus like Childhood and The Hunt (the best meal I had there), as well as showcasing the concepts of other restaurants around the world like El Bulli and French Laundry. But if you’re determined to achieve a sell-out every night, and analyze “what works” to the level of saying you can’t do this or that cuisine because it might only sell 93% or 97% of tickets, then aren’t you to some extent shutting the door to the experimentation that was at the heart of the concept? Maybe that’s inevitable with restaurants—you’re always going to learn things actually running a concept in the real world, and the result is often that restaurants and chefs wind up once burnt, twice shy. But I feel that, looking at the same data (or at least the general outline of it), Next’s unusual structure and its enormous success (hugest at the beginning, but it’s still obviously a very successful restaurant) made it, uniquely a restaurant that wasn’t dependent on the menu themes being what the audience expected, but a restaurant that was mostly sold out no matter what the themes were. The audience trusted the chef’s creativity, more than the type of food on offer, to a level unprecedented for restaurants.


I was just about to ask who the hell spends their own money (as opposed to expense account money) at a fancy hotel breakfast, but Amy Cavanaugh anticipates the question and answers it at the Lobby at the Peninsula:

Most mornings I’m satisfied grabbing a bagel or croissant, but on treat-yourself days, I opt for what I’ve dubbed the Fancy Hotel Breakfast. The Lobby at the Peninsula is a particularly good choice, with its many daytime delights, like the Chinese breakfast with dumplings and hot soy milk. But it’s the new aloo chole, hearty and deeply flavored, that I’ll return for soon.

The piece does not mention what this bowl of chickpeas and potatoes costs at the Peninsula: an eye-watering $28.


Well, this is sad but inevitable news: Vesecky’s, the last survivor of a row of Eastern European bakeries in Berwyn, has closed. I quoted the late local writer Norbert Blei in a piece I wrote for Serious Eats in 2014, and whoever maintained his blog after his death returned the favor by reposting the piece at his blog here. To quote a little:

Surprisingly, it was the simplest thing, houska, that I think proved the most satisfying in the end. It’s basically raisin bread, but with brandy-soaked raisins, I think, and a dough made with milk and egg (close to challah or a less rich brioche). Simple, as befits a people who watched a buck like it was Dillinger planning an escape, yet completely satisfying. As long as you can swing by Vesecky’s for that, Norbert Blei’s world isn’t completely gone.

Well, I guess it is now. Anyway, the Trib has an article and a photo essay.


Hey, Sandwich Tribunal has a real exotic one this time—it’s called Eggs Benedict. Well, you may know it  but do you know its origin story? Its much disputed origin story? It’s a fight between two fin-de-siecle New York dining institutions:

To muddy the waters though, according to Lemuel Benedict the version on the Waldorf menu, with muffin and ham rather than bacon and toast, was put there by Oscar Tschirky, the legendary maitre d’ known as “Oscar of the Waldorf.” Tschirky, who is famously credited with a number of hotel menu innovations including Thousand Island dressing and Waldorf salad, curiously never claimed to have taken any part in the introduction of Eggs Benedict to that instution’s menu. Notably, his job previous to the opening of the Waldorf in 1893 was–of course–as maitre d’ at Delmonico’s.


I realize this is not a question you are likely asking, but it’s one of my favorite small towns in Wisconsin, one of those places where the locals put effort into making things happen, and my friend Leslie Damaso, who I met a decade ago on a Milk Marketing Board junket visiting cheesemakers, wrote to let me know that she and her husband Keith Burrows have opened a bookstore in Mineral Point (The Republic of Letters) and the bookstore has now spawned cooking classes under the name The Book Kitchen, run by Nicole Bujewski, who also works for the French Pastry School. Check it out, especially if you head up that way any time soon!