1. WHO NU?

Every week I get emails—from people who’ve never looked at Fooditor, obviously—requesting that I consider their clients’ Candied Grapefruit if I’m working on any roundups for National Candied Grapefruit Month. I hate this sort of thing, one because it’s so tired and rote—Mother’s Day is coming! Let’s do five cocktails to get your mom plastered, again—and two, because it implies that writing about food is about servicing companies in the food business and not in any way writing about food culture or people or politics or anything that grownup writers writing about serious subjects write about. It’s an admission of hackdom in our field, to me, and suggests that food writers wouldn’t think to write about, say, meat production issues without a holiday printed on the calendar to remind them that there are any.

But… once in a while, somebody writes about a holiday, and manages to transcend hackdom. The Trib has a series on Hanukkah, by a new writer named Max Abrams (well, new enough that Steve Dolinsky had him in his Medill class), and so far—it’s only up to day 3 as I write this—the pieces are on the short side but offer pretty flavorful looks at area places that radiate Jewish culture, beginning with talking to Bette Dworkin of Kaufman’s in Skokie:

At this Skokie deli, patience runs as thin as the sliced pastrami. If you encounter any gruffness, think of it as an indoctrination into the playful underbelly of Jewish deli culture.

“My concept of a deli, which unfortunately shows my age, is where the deli guy talks back at you,” says Dworkin, who began working here in the early 1990s after her parents purchased it in 1984.

Subsequent pieces so far have been on Tel-Aviv Kosher Pizza in West Rogers Park, and kosher vegan spot Sam & Gertie’s, but keep watching all week.


Omarcito’s is a Cuban spot in Logan Square, thick with family heritage, says Louisa Chu, but also interesting for its location:

The space is unlike any other in the area. Murals cover the outside walls facing Fullerton and Hamlin avenues. But you enter off the side street through enormous bright yellow gates.

Omarcito’s can be found in the courtyard, in a shipping container-built structure. It’s a hidden gem within a treasure trove… “The concept for this building in particular was born from a place in Miami called 1-800-Lucky, which is in the center of a food hall like Time Out Market,” [owner Omar] Cadena said. “Kind of like Singaporean hawker stalls.”


A few weeks back a friend shared an article on Facebook on how truffles were basically a con. My response was that they often are (especially truffle oil, an industrial flavoring), but if you wanted to experience the magic of upscale fungi without just burning money, I’d go to Osteria Langhe around this time of year, when they’ll shave white Alba truffles on pasta at reasonable prices, and you’ll get the full effect of eating inside a cloud of truffle scent.

David Hammond has a piece on the same subject, and offers the same advice:

On a recent visit to Osteria Langhe, we greatly enjoyed the white-truffle tasting menu developed by executive chef Cameron Grant, paired with Piedmontese wines selected by owner Aldo Zaninotto, who came to love the truffle when he worked with winemakers and dealers in the Piedmont region of northwest Italy. “The Piedmontese winemakers would carry truffles in their pockets,” remembers Zaninotto, “they were so proud of them. Probably the best truffles in the world come from that region and they wanted to make sure you understood that their wines come from the same region.”

…I mention to Zaninotto that many of the dishes we were enjoying were wonderfully rich, and he tells us, “In Piedmont, the farmers have a lot of milk, a lot of butter, and the food has a creamy character, which suits the truffle. If you have a tomato sauce, a marinara sauce, and you shave some truffles on top, the truffle doesn’t do very well because the tomatoes are too aggressive. The truffle goes best with the simplicity of what the Piedmont region has to offer.”


Steve Dolinsky on a pair of new drinking spots that evoke the days when drinking in Chicago was an open secret:

…finding the Meadowlark can be a challenge. The Palmer Square address leads you to a non-descript door, just a few yards to the west of Lardon, the popular cured meat emporium on the corner. And that was the plan.

“You’re like, oh, this exists here? And then you come in and you’re like, ‘oh, I was not expecting this’ so that kind of like, surprise,” said Abe Vucekovich, the Head Bartender at The Meadowlark.

The Meadowlark is one, and Nine Bar in Chinatown is the other.


The Meadowlark also comes up in Michael Nagrant’s latest review, though it’s mainly about food at Scofflaw:

I could also go on and on about the wine-spiked ginger “Scandi” or the cardamom and juniper grapefruit nip of the “Past Life”, but I’ll skip instead to the real reason I came to Scofflaw last week, which is to check out the newish menu from Fred Chung, a Kasama and Oriole restaurant vet.

If you run out of the hot puffy garlic flatbread that comes with it, I guarantee you’ll be scooping out whatever remains of Chung’s pea curry dip, which tastes like Old Town Spice House exploded in your mouth, with your fingers.


Grimod offers an in-depth look at the post-lockdown era of Smyth, now operating under a new chef as well as its chef-co-owner, John Shields:

In the kitchen, that has meant the arrival of Luke Feltz as executive chef of both Smyth and The Loyalist. While, seemingly, hiring for such a role would make Shields himself redundant, the resulting division of labor has undoubtedly enhanced the restaurant’s operation while supercharging the development of its cuisine.

…Feltz had been a fan of Shields—whose Town House and Riverstead restaurants, readers may recall, transformed quiet Chilhowie, Virginia into a destination for East Coast gastronomes—before the Chicago chef joined him at minibar for a collaboration dinner with Sonoma’s SingleThread. But the evening offered a chance for the two to meet face to face and work side by side. This laid the groundwork for Feltz to eventually join Smyth in March of 2019—offering him little more than a year of calm before the storm but providing the kind of pre-pandemic experience that has paid dividends with the return to normal operation.

Rather than representing an abdication of his own role, Shields’s hiring of an executive chef has effectively broadened the kitchen’s range of expression. Feltz shares his senior’s molecular gastronomy chops—with [Jose Andres’] minibar, like Alinea, instilling not only an assortment of advanced techniques, but a rigorous process of inquiry through which they are channeled. But, more importantly, his time at Amass signals an essential grounding in the kind of sustainable, hyper-seasonal cookery that has come to characterize Smyth far more than deconstruction for its own sake.


Titus Ruscitti on some new tacos to be had, though he expresses some reluctance for the current state of the genre:

…the fact of the matter is there hasn’t been a ton of great openings. Mexican food in Chicago seems to have hit a bit of a speed bump. There’s still plenty of spots opening shop but it’s rare for one to immediately call you in. I’d hoped taquerias around town would’ve taken another step as far as offering something that’s not the norm (steak, chicken, “al pastor” etc.) but that hasn’t quite been the case.

I’ve felt that when I’ve been in an area and gone looking for something new in Mexican food, only to find overfamiliar burritos and tacos. That said, he just put some worth hunting out on my list.


Won Kim was supposed to be taking the fall and winter off while others used the Kimski space. So of course he’s testing out some new Kimski dishes at the Kedzie Inn this Monday, as Mike Sula tells at the Reader.


Anthony Todd on where to drink with a holiday theme.


At Plate, Kevin Boehm of Boka Group has a piece on the changing economics of the post-COVID restaurant world. (Those who recall Fooditor’s roundtables will remember how insightful he was on how Boka Group managed its costs across multiple resataurants.) Here’s a little of how he sees the world going:

As the industry has been forced to price-chase profitability during the recent inflation and supply chain issues, the new blended cost of goods sold benchmark has fallen in most cases to 18 to 22 percent. There are certainly exceptions in cases like steakhouses, where high check averages drive down labor, but for most mid-to-upper-tier stores, hitting around 22 percent COGS is a must. Labor has now moved to around 40 percent, and with that Holy Grail prime number still at 60, running a profitable restaurant becomes untenable without real price hikes…

This brings us to some good news. First: The economic climate allows us to raise prices without as much pushback as usual. Elevated prices rarely go backwards in the restaurant industry. Second: The soft market of traditional retail allows restaurants to negotiate better lease deals and sign more management deals.


Haven’t listened yet so I can’t promise, but it’s hard to imagine that truffles don’t come up at some point when purveyor of rare and cool foodstuffs Rodrick Markus (Rare Tea Cellar) is the guest on Amuzed.


Jose Duran is a cook at Schwa, and he was on his way home from work when somebody shoved him onto the tracks of the Blue Line. He’s okay, but has medical bills (and the perp was arrested, sleeping on the patio of Mott Street). There’s a story about it here at the Trib, but more importantly, you can go here to help him pay his medical bills.


Well, what Mike drank, first—I went to friend Michael Muser’s new bar, named After (ever… After… get it? My wife asked why the larger private dining room space was named Canvas and not Happily, and Muser explained, Happily would work for weddings but not business dinners.) (Also, obligatory disclosure, our visit was ultimately comped, as I suspected but did not know it would be. In any case, I refrained from ordering a big ol’ platter of caviar, which tops out the menu at a four figure sum.)

So it’s quite the posh drinking hole, with a design that echoes ever’s decor; there’s the elliptical bar that looks like you’re drinking in the Jetsons universe, as well as tables for four and a lounge facing a fireplace (it looks a lot like the man cave that Muser used to have in the Reve Burger space). Though for the real space age effect, you’ll have to wait for the Office-like private lounge coming soon, which will suggest a wealthy Victorian explorer’s library-slash-observatory. (I won’t spoil the best part of the effect.) The cocktail list draws heavily on classics, some undisturbed, others switched around for 2022 (e.g., a fig Sazerac), a few suggestive of Japanese cocktails which is what I guess we do now; I ordered one and got a tasty concoction the color of a WWII-era Jeep, prompting Muser (who shoots all of ever’s and After’s photography) to say that it’s the only one he refuses to take pictures of, because there’s just no way to make it pretty. (It still tastes good.)

The food side also leans a bit Asian, with a couple of baos (beef, maitake mushroom) and skewers (more beef) as well as a very good brussel sprout salad and, speaking of Reve, “Reve french fries.” It’s a short list for dinner, but that’s not a problem if you’re coming from or heading to dinner in the area. In all, it’s a chic, grownup getaway, and other than the French fries, it will make you forget that our chic Chicago scene ever had a moment when our posh places switched to takeout burgers and fries to survive.