LAST CHANCE TO STUFF A STOCKING WITH 99 RESTAURANTS

Christmas is just a couple of days away but you can still pull off the coup of the holiday season by getting an autographed Fooditor 99 for the stocking of someone who likes to eat well. Just give me a buzz at mikegebert at gmail dot com and we’ll make the arrangements to get it in your hands. Or visit the Sparrow Coffee shop in Naperville (they’re not autographed but otherwise, just as useful).

1. DANNY TZUCO

Jeff Ruby has high praise for the return of Mexique chef Carlos Gaytan at Tzuco and its two siblings: “If Mexique’s food was all heart, then Tzuco’s is pure cojones. The vast menu brims with brawny dishes reliably executed by chef de cuisine Andrew Kim (Avec, Acadia) in the open kitchen. From the guajillo-rubbed skate wing that feels plucked from a beachside shack in Puerto Vallarta to the poblano-smoked French onion soup bubbling with a blend of Gruyère and Chihuahua cheeses, everything seems brash and yet engineered to please.”

2. SPEED DATING

Something I wish the Trib would do more often than once a year is a quick roundup of interesting, overlooked openings that don’t necessarily warrant the full review treatment (but then I’m a staunch believer in reviews being as long as they need to be and no longer). Anyway, this year’s include Machine, Flat & Point (which we learn is moving its identity from barbecue joint to “Alpine smokehouse”), Brendan Sodikoff’s Ciccio Mio (“Say you’ve just watched ‘The Irishman,’ and you’re in the mood to eat like a Scorsese character…”), Gadabout, Papa Cenar (“feels very much like what it obviously is: a bid for a gentrifying neighborhood to love it after the previous concept fell flat”), Young American, and one of my favorites of the year, Cebu (“the real star among entrees is the Cebu lechon ($26), a three-hour, slow-roasted slab of Cheshire pork belly nestled into a bowl and curled around a mound of rice. It has a shatteringly crispy skin and juicy, tender meat, with all its fatty bits bursting with flavor. This is that show-stopping, jaw-dropping, camera-snapping kind of dish.”)

3. WAHLBURGERSNACHT

Crain’s is reasonably pleased with two new places to get a burgerWahlburgers (“Its ambiance swings toward the brightly lit and colored rooms of fast food, and its well-accoutered burgers situate themselves similarly”), and Dead Lawyer’s Pub (“The muscular burgers come with thick, well-browned patties on a soft, buttery bun”).

4. TRAVEL BROCHU

Ari Bendersky has the scoop on the place Andrew Brochu left Roister to open, and it’s built around a fried chicken sandwich and other Southern comforts: “I’ love the precision of the high-end scene… But once we opened Roister, I was diving deep down and saw what food I love to do. I love having people over for dinner, cooking outside, doing one-pot cooking. It’s like how I grew up with picnic tables with crabs (laid out) on them.’”

5. FISHY STORY

Before Tony Mantuano departed Spiaggia, David Hammond talked to him about the Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes: “My grandparents owned the Mantuano Food Shop in Kenosha. They came to the United States in the 1920s, and by the early 1930s, a very big Italian-American community had grown up in Kenosha because of the industry, the jobs. There was a Simmons mattress factory, then American Motors. If there were jobs, people would come. The Mantuano Food Shop was part of that community. My grandparents had a very large garden, and my grandmother was a hell of a cook. She made from scratch everything for Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

Becan X

6. OKONO MR. MIYAGI

John Kessler serves up details on the okonomiyaki that has made Gaijin a hot ticket: “Osakans describe their city’s gift to world deliciousness as a “Japanese pizza,” which isn’t exactly correct. Rather, it’s an enormously thick pancake crammed full of vegetables and meat, crisp on the outside, creamy within, painted with an exuberant flurry of sauces and crested with dried bonito flakes that shimmy from the heat.”

7. HOMER NOGS

Anthony Todd has five tips for holiday classics, including egg nog at Cafe Selmarie (“You probably can’t handle a second glass, but your cup will certainly runneth over with holiday glee”). Not to horn in on his act, but I picked up Kilgus egg nog at Local Foods and I’ve been making egg nog lattes (well, pouring a little coffee into a lot of egg nog) all week, check it out.

8. BUYING IN PULQUE

Speaking of funny-tasting drinks, Steve Dolinsky tells us about La Pulqueria, which serves the agave beverage pulque and has an ambitious menu: “Chickens are boiled for one of the restaurant’s signature dishes, mole negro. The skin is removed, then the bird is blanketed in a rich, intense, slightly bitter and sweet mole, containing more than 25 ingredients, among them, guajillo and ancho chiles, oregano, cloves and cinnamon; even some chocolate to balance the spiciness.”

9. TURNING JAPANESE

Titus Ruscitti went to Japan earlier this year and now he offers both Tokyo and Osaka guides, full of smart advice: “I suggest picking a spot for lunch each day and arriving there right around the opening time. People will get in line in Tokyo but for the most part those lines move pretty fast. But you can usually avoid them by showing up right before they open. If there’s people getting in line somewhere 2-3 hours before a spot opens I just suggest going somewhere else. Not to say that spot wouldn’t be good but there’s a lot of good to be found.”

10. YEAR END LISTS LIST

Mike Sula offers his best of eating 2019, sort of (“Journalism is on a starvation diet and as a result I don’t eat out nearly as much as I used to… but at least I can breathe when I bend over picking half-eaten burritos off the sidewalk”).

Steve Dolinsky did his seven best bites of the year on ABC 7.

Food and Wine has a list of the most important restaurants of the past decade—no, they’re not all from New York, as Next makes the list—and one of the most anticipated restaurants of 2020, which manages to miss a restaurant from a three-Michelin-star chef who had a popular foodie documentary made about him, Curtis Duffy’s Ever.

And Iliana Regan’s Burn the Place made Entertainment Weekly’s 30 books gift list, as well as winning the Chicago Review of Books’ award in the nonfiction category.

11. NEW JOBS (OR NOT)

Congrats to Ariel Cheung for landing at the Tribune, and to Joseph Hernandez who joins Bon Appetit as research director. Sorry to hear about Ernest Wilkins being let go at Mess Marketing, where he produced the popular Overserved podcast (and will continue to do so, per Ari Bendersky).

WHAT MIKE ATE

One thing I think about sometimes was the line in that John Kessler piece a year ago, about out of town visitors dining in the West Loop—the east West Loop mainly—and finding Chicago dining big and dull. Their fault, of course, for not going to Logan Square or even just the west West Loop, but it does make me think, okay, what would stand out nationwide, what would qualify as something you had to come here for and couldn’t get anywhere else?

Well, there’s an answer that just opened, and it’s a little surprising how little discussion it’s engendered yet. It’s Moody Tongue, the new iteration of Jared Rouben’s food-flavors-driven brewery with Jared Wentworth turning out bar food for one side and a tasting menu for a small, chic 30-person dining room.

It’s not surprising that Wentworth can make a really fine tasting menu, and his dishes range from lobster on a chawanmushi with a wort consomme to Berkshire pork belly on Carolina gold rice with harvesty flavors of pumpkin and chestnut. But what’s distinctive is the combination of this menu with Moody Tongue’s beers—a much more involved and complicated portfolio of flavor combinations than the brand started out with, as each pairing, as introduced by a server, was practically a science lesson involving local fruit, aging, barrels of some other liquor, and a process of blending.

A prosecco-light Asian pear saison with the lobster mentioned above, a “bruleed banana dunkel weizenbock” offering deep caramelly notes to cut the richness of the pork belly—the interplay of these combinations is eye-opening. Make a reservation—and then spend some time with a map to find the brewery’s decidedly obscure location a couple of blocks from McCormick Place, on a dead end next to the expressway. Though to judge by the bar side, people are finding it anyway.

Buzz List will be off until the weekend after New Year’s, but check Sky Full of Bacon on New Year’s Eve for Mike Gebert’s ten best of 2019.