GIVE THE GIFT OF BETTER EATING OUT WITH THE FOODITOR 99

Can you think of anything people will appreciate more through the whole year than the new, substantially revised edition of The Fooditor 99, giving them new ideas of where to eat all year long? Yeah, us neither!

There’s still time to get yours from Amazon before the holidays, just $7.99, but if you cut it close, there are two more options. There’s a large quantity at the Sparrow Coffee shop in Naperville, and there’s a similar quantity in a box at my house! I will happily autograph ’em if you come by to pick one or more up. Just give me a buzz at mikegebert at gmail dot com and we’ll make the arrangements.

Now on to what’s buzzin’ at year’s end…

1. CALLING TIME OUT

In another age the Tribune might have been skeptical of the food hall with the branding of a magazine and vice versa, but the Trib’s guide to Time Out Market really hits only one dissenting note: “We also question the market’s claim that it offers ‘the best of the city under one roof,’ considering there isn’t much representation on the marquees from chefs in Chicago’s black or Latino neighborhoods.” Well, that’s progress in its own way—I doubt any publication was saying Water Tower Place didn’t have enough of the south or west sides when it opened.

Take what they have on its own terms, and the praise is high and mostly deservedly so: “It’s hard to argue with any of the chefs selected. No other place in town has collected Abe Conlon (Fat Rice), Bill Kim (Urban Belly), Dana Salls Cree (Pretty Cool), Thai Dang (HaiSous) and Brian Enyart and Jennifer Jones Enyart (Dos Urban Cantina). Just know you’ll pay for this convenience.” The piece, by Louisa Chu and Nick Kindelsperger, goes stall by stall to pick the best, and it’s a worthy guide for first timers looking to spend correctly at the pricey venue (which, if it’s too expensive for you, good news: the Trib also reviews a new Bacon BBQ Burger at McDonald’s!)

2. BUTTER ‘EM UP

Maggie Hennessy visits the tiny but charming Butterdough bakery, newly opened in McKinley Park, which serves both well-made croissants and other baked goods, and some lunch items: “Butterdough’s savory offerings comprise several breakfast and lunch sandwiches, sautéed dishes and a salad. In the breakfast sandwich, hard-scrambled eggs, thick-cut bacon and melty cheddar osmose into springy, mildly tangy multigrain bread. I dabbed the edges in G-Sauce, a roasted jalapeño-tomato salsa that imparts equal parts sweetness and fiery char. Squishy ciabatta anchors a satisfying lunch sammie composed of limey, peppered chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and another hefty smear of G-Sauce.”

3. PHO BUSINESS

Wicker Park’s Phodega was practically guaranteed to do well by bringing pho south of Lawrence, but as Nick Kindelsperger writes, it’s better than mere emergency pho: “Each sip of the beef-based pho bo ($12) is deeply meaty and comforting, but also clean and unfussy. This isn’t some chef-y take on pho; instead, it’s a straightforward version of the classic, which nonetheless still requires hours of simmering to make the broth. Each bowl comes loaded with bouncy meatballs and thin slices of brisket and rib-eye, along with crunchy beans sprouts, a few lime wedges and aromatic basil and cilantro. The only twist comes with the noodles. Instead of super thin rice noodles, Phodega goes with a thicker cut, the size usually reserved for pad thai.”

4. WORLD NEWS

Ross Henke of the late lamented Quiote has his new gig lined up—in another late lamented space. He’ll be the chef in the former The Blanchard as it becomes Mundano, which will take off from Mexican but (as the name suggests) range a little more widely in the world, per Anthony Todd: “Mundano isn’t going to be Quiote’s second act. Henke describes the offerings as ‘New American, with some leaning on Latin ingredients and techniques.’”

5. EMPANADA OF THE NORTH

Friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti makes his Chicago magazine debut with a piece outlining an empanada trail—and while I assumed that meant up and down Southport between Addison and Irving Park, it actually ranges over a lot of the north side to take in Mexico and half a dozen South American countries, like the Ecuadorian ones at JJ Mini Store on Pulaski: “Made from scratch each Wednesday, J&J’s empanadas come stuffed with salty melted cheese and, if requested, sprinkled with a little bit of sugar fresh out of the fryer. Sip a morocho — made from morocho corn, milk, cinnamon, sugar, and raisins — or try an Ecuadorian-style horchata, which is tea-like and pink in color. Make sure to ask for their housemade red pepper ají sauce on the side — it’s one of the city’s best condiments.”

6. TALARD BOY

Fooditor is always a fan of writing about stores as well as restaurants, and Mike Sula has a look at a new Thai grocery in Uptown (in the former Golden Pacific space), Talard Thai Asian Market: “[Co-owner Supasan] Ratchadapronvanich points out that Chicagoland suffers no shortage of Thai restaurants but has had to make do with only two small Thai markets: PNA in Lincoln Square and Thai Food Corporation in Uptown. Golden Pacific had the city’s best selection of Thai products but its broad spectrum of southeast Asian goods meant it wasn’t a specialist. Good luck finding a consistent—or even existent—supply of ka-prao, makrut lime leaves, cilantro roots, or any number of ingredients critical to Thai cuisine.”

7. OKONOMIYAKI-TALKIE

Steve Dolinsky visits Paul Virant’s Gaijin for ABC 7: “You’ll need a tiny spatula to cut up these massive pancakes, but the mess and the riot of flavors delivers a unique punch of umami, or savoriness, plus a riot of textures from everything going on inside. ‘It’s a lot going on, but it works,’ Virant said.”

He also checks out Panango!, the bakery next to Carlos Gaytan’s Tzuco: “Karen Trejo has been working for months on the recipes at Panango in River North. Located next door to Tzuco, she said she begins with an all-natural starter containing wild yeast, which she uses to to make traditional breads like conchas, pan dulce and a handful of pastries. ‘Mexico is a lot of colors and ingredients and many mixes of flavors,’ she said.”

8. PARENT-CHUTE

I found something I disagreed with right at the beginning of this piece at the James Beard site about Beverly Kim of Parachute and Wherewithall: “The suburbs of Chicago are known for many things, but top-notch Korean food is generally not among them.” Hey! What about Niles and Morton Grove and… okay, she grew up in Downers Grove. Anyway, I can’t argue with this from Kim at the end: “A restaurant is not on autopilot, ever, and same thing with your kids… Once you accept that and understand that, I think you can go really far in this business.”

9. WONK I M

Won Kim (Kimski) is one of my favorite characters among Chicago chefs and this piece at Red Bull’s site, by Marissa Conrad, captures the chef-artist-DJ’s edgy, impulsive outlook well. I liked this aside: “These days, he’s no stranger to profanity; chatting for an hour on a Wednesday afternoon, he uses the word ‘fuck’ 68 times.” I think I have an hour-long interview with him that could top that!

10. LA LA LANGER’S

After a massive tacos in L.A. list, Titus Ruscitti serves up a nearly as massive things-besides-tacos-in-LA list, a good guide to bookmark the next time you get flown out to take a meeting at ICM.

11. CORDILLERA GETS REAL

Sandwich Tribunal tries its hand at a Bolivian sandwich called the trancapecho: “Breaded steak, yolky fried egg, and a pico de gallo analog are a natural combination for a sandwich, and who wouldn’t want fried potatoes of some kind to go with that?”

12. OPENINGS

So many openings coming! The big one is Momotaro Italia, which is less nutty than it sounds: Japanese takes on Italian food are a big genre in Japan, and mentaiko spaghetti, among others, has been on the Momotaro menu for a while. The Trib has the story.

Ariel Cheung has pictures inside the dilapidated, soon to be renovated Ramova Theater in Bridgeport. As a music and food venue, it will be competing with another new south side spot, Radius, in Pilsen—which nabbed Henry Hill, ex of Dusek’s, as its food provider. And a Belgian chocolatier cafe, Chiqueolatte, is coming to Logan Square. (Block Club, all 3)

14. MORE BEST OFS

The Tribune calls out its best cookbooks of the year, including local ones like Ruffage and Let’s Make Ramen!

Chandra Ram offers Plate’s best books, including Iliana Regan’s Burn the Place… but we’re going to have to have a talk about Kevin Alexander’s Burn the Ice (see why here).

Eater Chicago named a chef of the year (Dave Park of Jeong), restaurant of the year (Virtue), and Design of the Year (Tzuco).

15. CONGRATSES

Congrats to Chicago’s top food awards, the Jean Banchet Awards—the wildly popular January show, benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, is officially sold out. Watch Buzz List for a morning-after take.

And congrats to ex-Reader-ite and Soup and Bread founder Martha Bayne on a perfect new gig—editor of South Side Weekly. We couldn’t think of a better choice for a paper covering the most interesting part of town, including its food.

WHAT MIKE ATE

So when I finish an edition of The Fooditor 99 I seem to go through the same pattern: I never want to see the inside of a restaurant again, Thanksgiving is coming up, and I do a lot of cooking. Then, about the time the leftovers are done, I start getting hungry… and curious about restaurants again. Even willing to eat a big tasting menu! Last week I talked about one new fave, the much talked-about Hermosa, and this week I dove back in in a big way.

The biggest was going for my birthday to George Trois, the highest-end fine French dining third of the former Restaurant Michael in Winnetka. I love the idea of going away to a restaurant in the country, which is what things like Le Francais and Le Vichysoisse were back in the day, but it doesn’t really exist any more in Chicago. But at least going up to Winnetka, which is quiet enough by 6:30 pm that it might as well be in the woods, is something of an escape from the city. And it’s worth it—a quiet, cozy white-paneled room (we were comparing it to the end of 2001) where they serve an over-the-top lush version of French cuisine, full of luxuries like foie and caviar, but also rooted in simply respectful treatment of things like sturgeon and lamb and A5 beef (served in a mock pot-au-feu, normally a very humble dish using stew beef, lifted to new heights).

Impressive too were the wine pairings, exceedingly well-chosen classical wines that went beautifully well with the courses. (Also worth noting in 2019—no stinginess with the bread service here.) This is where I ought to note that we wound up being treated by chef Michael Lachowicz—not expected when we planned the dinner—but I will say that we were prepared to pay the (certainly up there) price and wouldn’t have regretted a bit of it. If you’re looking for a place to blow a wad and feel a million miles from the office, there’s really nothing like this in the city, including for feeling not in the city.

I also went—with PR—to WoodWind, the new restaurant in the GreenRiver space atop a Northwestern hospital space, again developed by a group from New York but with Don Young (ex of Temporis) running things locally. And after a bit I had a pretty good handle on which dishes were his and which weren’t—and liked his (complex but fundamentally straightforward treatments of ingredients like maitake topped with bonito or pan-roasted chicken) over the corporately-conceived ones, which could be overly cutesy (a bao modeled on a Big Mac, with foie, was as bad an idea as it sounds). Anyway, nice views, some good dishes (and even a good cheeseburger, no foie), prices on the high side given the neighborhood; if you were a fan of Young at Temporis, here’s to hoping he’ll take over the whole menu in the coming months.

Now on to more modest things. I too have been to Phodega and liked it a lot, both chicken and beef pho-type soups and the fried chicken skins; the one thing I don’t seem to get anywhere is Hainanese chicken, even in Bangkok it just seemed bland. (The best place to have something like it is the chicken with rice at Ca Phe Da.)

And the next place that’s going to be the talk of food media, as Phodega is this week, will, I predict, be J.T.’s Genuine Sandwich Shop, on Elston just south of Irving Park. I’ve only had one thing off its menu of midwestern-inspired sandwiches, a roasted pork and broccolini sandwich, which I suspect is more Philly than midwestern—but it was great, full of flavor and tasting like pure scratch cooking. This place zoomed onto my top sandwich spots list, and I can’t wait to try more.

Finally, I searched Yelp for somewhere new to get breakfast and found a little place in McKinley Park called Pocho’s. It’s definite square plate Mexican, but it had me at “breakfast pambazo,” and the service, if not polished yet, couldn’t be sweeter. Bonus: they get their croissants from Butterdough nearby.

Becan X