Buzz List For December 3, 2018

Next lays out its 2019 tables, Etta is aimed at its demographic, vegan above Fifth Avenue, and holiday with Ina.

Etta/Facebook
Autumn pizza at Etta

1. NEXT FROM ALINEA GROUP

Next’s menus for next year have been announced; they are Silk and Spice, which is not a pair of African-American pro-Trump video bloggers, but a look at the cuisines that grew out of cross-cultural effects of the Silk Road trading route, that is, “Asia, Northeast Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and the Caribbean.”

Next up is Italia, “pastas, red-sauce, and classic dishes brought to life with modern presentation and technique. Barolos, Barbarescos, and ‘Big Reds’ will pair” with the food. And the last will be a collaboration with chef Jose Andres: “Spanish tradition, hyper-modernism, and global cuisine will combine for one mind-and genre-bending tasting menu.” Of course, Andres has been in the news for his humanitarian work in Puerto Rican recently, and—this is very cool—each night of the menu one table will be auctioned off, with the proceeds going to Andres’ World Central Kitchen. “Our goal is to raise over $250,000 in support of their mission,” Next says.

Of course, there have been two questions about Next lately, one being what the new menus would be, and the other who would replace executive chef Jenner Tomaska. The official announcement referenced “Chef-Owner Grant Achatz and Chef de Cuisine Ed Tinoco,” but as Friend of Fooditor @cayloe pointed out, Tinoco has been chef de cuisine for a while—he was an Eater Young Gun under that title. So the answer to who would replace Jenner Tomaska as executive chef is… no one is; they are apparently out of the business of building someone up under that title, only to have them exit with plans for a new restaurant. (Not that that isn’t something every good restaurant does, but Next proved to be a particularly big spotlight in Dave Beran’s case, at least.)

The place of theirs that does have a new executive chef is Alinea; it’s Simon Davies, though no one has written much about him. Ariel Cheung at least introduces us to him and how he got there from his beginning as an intern, at Modern Luxury.

2. VITTLES, 50

Once Time Out Chicago’s 100 best things we ate was an epic tale of our dining year in review, with dishes all over the city (though, being Time Out, with a definite downtown-hipsterville bent). Dining budgets are less now so it’s just 50 things, with a few repeats of restaurants in the list, but hat’s off to Morgan Olsen and Maggie Hennessy for a list that does a good job of saluting all the diversity out there, and suggesting some things you need to try.

3. ETTA BUNCH

Michael Nagrant finds etta solid but a sign of the times in its neighborhood: “Wicker Park of course is the new Lincoln Park and as such, purveyors of expensive picnic coolers seem to be the few who can afford the toll. There are also of course exceptions here like Taxim or Hot Chocolate, but the uniquely voiced restaurants are more likely to be found in Logan Square these days. So, at last, I say, maybe a great restaurant in Wicker Park? Sometimes.” Read more, I don’t want to excerpt this piece to ribbons, as it’s a rare example here, anyway, of a review looking beyond the plate and to the whole context of a very popular restaurant.

He and Penny Pollack talk about etta more here in the Dining Out Loud podcast.

UPDATE: And late Sunday night, a new review—for Free Rein: “Given that [chef Aaron] Lirette now has free rein at the St. Jane, I do wonder why his new menu reads like the greatest hits of GreenRiver, i.e. his uni saffron spaghetti and open-faced tartines are all here… Lirette and pastry chef Evan Sheridan are really talented. Despite some of the shortcomings in execution, their ideas and their techniques are advanced and exciting. But, they’re hampered by a substandard staff and a setting where their talent is likely to be overlooked.”

4. WINDSOME, LOSESOME

Joanne Trestrail writes a hymn to professional okay-ness at The Windsor from the 4 Star Group: “Sometimes we’re up for a high-energy, of-the-moment lunch experience, but when we’re not, we wish the unpretentious diners and coffee shops that once dotted downtown would miraculously reappear. This 125-seat spot, while neither a diner nor a coffee shop, accommodates that latter mood nicely. There’s no scenester-ism, no breathless grabbing-and-going, no iPad menus. You’ll find, instead, pub-like decor, an unobtrusive oldies soundtrack, capacious booths, table service, a well-stocked bar and efficient staffers.”

5. PAIK’S PEEK

Paik’s Noodle is a Korean chain with locations worldwide; Titus Ruscitti visits the first Chicago-area one in Glenview: “Paik’s specializes in both jjajangmyun (noodles with black bean sauce) and jjamppong (spicy seafood noodles)… a spicy recipe that calls for lots of Korean red pepper flakes. That said it isn’t anything that’s going to blow your nose on fire. Just warm you up from a cold or the likes. I liked the little rings of calamari and there was also some shrimp and mussels in there too. The broth gets infused with all of it. This is a classic Korean comfort dish and something that’s really easy to take a liking to. Which the same can be said for Paik’s as a whole.”

He also goes to Funkenhausen: “A plate of porky ‘charcuterie’ included an awesome chicken liver pate with bacon mixed in, some rib tips, and more. A dish made of sliced sweet potatoes with mustard green pistou, cider caramel, pickled mushrooms, and apple chips was pleasant. The Surfenturfen was a good example of the type of plates they’re making here. It paired scallops with pork belly, kraut puree, spicy mustard, marinated apples, pears. I thought it was a well done dish. Particularly of note were the perfectly seared scallops. Another great ‘fusion’ dish was a plate of ricotta dumplings with blood sausage. I wish that blood sausage was sold by the elbow.”

6. INSTANT INDIAN

Nick Kindelsperger talks to Chandra Ram about her Indian Instant Pot cookbook and what writing it did for her understanding of her family’s food: “‘I’m not the person to write the super-traditional Indian cookbook,’ says Ram. ‘Instead, I wanted to expand the idea of what Indian food is.’ That means including some dishes that initially look more Middle Eastern than Indian. As Ram explains, Bombay (now Mumbai) was a main port during the spice trade, so there was a lot of influence from other cultures. ‘I have a lot of memories in Bombay, and I could see the port where the Indian spice ships came in,’ says Ram.” (Tribune)

7. SKY FULL OF VEGAN

I’m not exactly Mr. Vegan, but I’m intrigued by the prospect of a high-end, ladies who lunch vegan spot opening in the Saks Fifth Avenue store, Althea, helmed by Matthew Kenney (not to be confused with Matt Kerney of Brass Heart), who is apparently a thing in that world. Kelp cacio e pepe, count me a fan! Anthony Todd, in the same issue of Dish, also recommends The Fooditor 99, demonstrating that he’s a man of wealth and taste.

8. ROYAL TANNENBAUM

David Hammond names the one restaurant you want to eat at at Christmas—after explaining why. Yeah, it’s kind of tired compared to what it used to be, but even so, it’s like a visit to Grandma’s. Find out which it is, if you haven’t guessed, here.

9. PLANDA BEARER

Mike Sula talks to a woman chef, Rocio Vargas, who started Planda Group, a cannabis catering company, specializing in pop-ups and private consultations with medical marijuana patients.

10. THIS JUST IN

Updates on a couple of recent stories: Andrew Zimmern issued a full-fledged apology, not a mealy-mouthed “I’m sorry if anyone was offended” one, for his attack on Minnesota Chinese food while talking about his new place Lucky Cricket.

And the Willamette Weekly dives deeper into the story of the Portland restaurant that was killed by a Thrillist story—or so the author, Kevin Alexander, claimed. What they find that Alexander never mentioned is that owner Steve Stanich was on probation on a domestic violence charge and had a history of drinking problems. There’s some very! heated! coverage of this story at excitable places like Jezebel, and I agree that if Alexander knew that part of the story, it’s no little thing and he should have acknowledged it. Still, the story wasn’t really about Steve Stanich so much as our media age, and certainly didn’t make him out to be a great guy (compare to anybody’s glowing coverage of 42 Grams, including my own). So for me, Alexander’s basic thesis remains true: small restaurants are owned by humans with their own issues, and the internet can focus so much publicity on them that those issues can crush the restaurants in the process of celebrating them.

11. ANDREW ALGREN

I mentioned the passing of Cherry Circle Room sommelier Andrew Algren last week, and here’s a very nice remembrance by Second City Soil’s Jon McDaniel, formerly beverage director at The Gage and Acanto next door.

12. CITY OF GOLD

Perhaps you would like to read more about the late Jonathan Gold; here’s a piece about him at the Los Angeles Review of Books, which is not a joke even if books, in LA, hold the same position that food did before Gold—”Food, one old story went, was not so much appreciated in Los Angeles as consumed like gasoline.” But this is very sharp:

“What was true of Bourdain’s career was also true of Gold’s, however: if you begin your writerly life ‘throwing rocks at the status quo’ and find some success, don’t be surprised if a new status quo that centers on rock-throwing emerges, with you canonized as a primal stone-tosser. Over the arc of Gold’s career, ‘ethnic restaurants’ and street food came to enjoy a visibility in Los Angeles dining they had not previously enjoyed, even as that term, ‘street food,’ started to raise questions. What street? Do you mean carts? Elote? Tacos? What about the street is supposed to be delicious? Is this simply about middle-class (or upper-, or wealthy) diners longing for some magical form of culinary transformation imparted by that often-empty black box of a word, ‘authenticity’?”

13. SPIDER SABICH

Easily the restaurant opening I’m most looking forward to in the near term is the Israeli restaurant Galit; we keep getting hints of a Zahav-level serious look at that cuisine, but only hints here and there. Sandwich Tribunal chases after another hint, the Sabich, a street food sandwich eaten on the sabbath (everything in it benefits from the traditional slow cooking of food for the sabbath). Great story, some actual finds in the real world, a terrific post.

14. MEDIA ALERTS

The documentary about the wonderful Ina Pinkney, Breakfast At Ina’s, will have a bunch of screenings on WTTW the weekend of Thursday the 13th through Sunday the 16th; check the listings here, and watch quickly for the Fooditor family getting our books signed!

Sauced has its Night Market Before Christmas at the CAA Hotel Thursday, December 6; details here.

And I was on Outside the Loop on WGN this past Saturday, as was Cynthia Clampitt, subject of a recent story on pigs here. Listen to it here.

15. WE’RE ALL ROOKIES

You may think there is very little in common between grizzled food writer me and 22-year-old fashion blogger and actress Tavi Gevinson, but I can think of two things: 1) we’ve both had Thanksgiving dinner at David Hammond’s house, and 2) we both have experience with the truths about digital media in 2018 that are in the letter she wrote announcing the end, after seven years, of Rookie, her online youth fashion and lifestyle magazine:

“In one way, this is not my decision, because digital media has become an increasingly difficult business, and Rookie in its current form is no longer financially sustainable. And in another way, it is my decision—to not do the things that might make it financially sustainable, like selling it to new owners, taking money from investors, or asking readers for donations or subscriptions. And in yet another way, it doesn’t feel like I’m deciding not to do all that, because I have explored all of these options, and am unable to proceed with any of them.”

If you’re interested in where digital media is taking us, I recommend reading the whole thing: she’s very thoughtful about how digital media promised us a world in which we could all have online presences tailored to our view of the world. But it didn’t guarantee that we’d make money at it—and it turned out to put demands on us to choose between doing deep content, doing frequent content, and doing the selling that it takes to make money at it. I’ve certainly been there: personal vision, sustainable business, a life—pick any two!

So I just keep doing Fooditor, and hopefully a few folks buy The Fooditor 99 and support my Patreon (you’re all wonderful and I appreciate you immensely, along with my few but mighty advertisers over the last 3 years), but it sure isn’t a career you’d recommend anybody go into. It’s closer to a Victorian gentleman’s butterfly-collecting, which I’m fortunate enough to have the means by other means to do—though it’s not fortunate for food writing if it increasingly has to be subsidized by the writer and is thus open only to those who can afford it. We see so much stuff right now about people wanting more women, people of color etc. in fields like food media—well, the first way to get them is to pay them enough to live and do their job. Half pay jobs that take full time effort and assignments that don’t cover expenses have a lot more to do with keeping a color/gender bar up blocking new writers than any imagined conspiracy of old white guys. And a lot of those who preach loudest have been complicit in that.

What is a career, apparently, is public relations—I was just reading that there are now six public relations professionals for every working journalist. More than a few writers I know who used to be frequent sights at food media events now work for the firms putting them on instead. My email box swells with pitches every day, more than I can even decline politely, let alone act on. It’s a firehose aimed at a thimble. Yet what I see suggests that we will have less and less food media before we ever reach a new industry where we have more and it actually pays, somewhere around the time Nexus 6 replicants are seeing attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

The area I see shrinking most quickly is, surprisingly, reviewing. You might think that reviewing is the killer app for food media, telling people about what to go eat right now with their own money, always of interest and always offering new material. But because it’s expensive paying for those meals, it’s the easiest thing to cut—which is why we have fewer and fewer reviews and more and more preview pieces, written from PR. They’re free—and free of the box publications painted themselves into where they wouldn’t attend media events, claimed anonymity (however dubious)  and paid for every morsel. (Phil Vettel does the former and doesn’t do the latter in this piece, yet going inside results in what would surely be a more interesting and informative piece about an important chef than a standard review.)

I try to remedy that a bit with The Fooditor 99. Michael Nagrant and Penny Pollack and others do also. But I also see what I do personally—I have a retinue of friends, and online-friends, who I know go to new restaurants as least as much as I do. And as soon as I see they’ve hit this or that, I’m asking them backchannel about the places they’ve been. There are places that have never been reviewed by mainstream publications that I’ve heard 3 or 4 detailed accounts of, from people I consider as expert as any reviewer. And of course, people do it with me, too—living in Roscoe Village, I was asked almost daily what I’d heard about Le Sud, when it was going to open, how it is, and so on.

So, I’m not sure what to conclude from all this. But we’re definitely in a time of evolution, and the evolution is toward something smaller, less definitive in food media, even if more people are involved in it (the redeeming benefit of the digital age). Tavi’s piece is thoughtful and important about where we are; she has a long life ahead of her to figure it out. I will be in my library in my smoking jacket, neatly pinning new restaurants to velvet and placing them under glass for the foreseeable future. If anyone else wants to start blogging their reviews again, I will spread the word right here. But we are in an age when there is more interest in restaurants than ever, and less and less of a sustainable model for meeting that interest with content that can sustain writers’ careers.

Like I said, read what Tavi wrote.

WHAT MIKE ATE

After all that, I better have a review, huh? Though honestly I’m in kind of a recovery period after getting The Fooditor 99 done. To that end, PR people dropping by with seasonal pumpkin beignets from Lowcountry helped with good Mikey’s revival and were a hit at home. (Apparently the answer to all the above is “Will Work For Doughnuts.”)

A friend was in town and suggested Boeufhaus “unless there’s somewhere new you want to go.” Not-new and comfy sounded just fine to me. The thing I didn’t know about was the ceci bean cavatelli—earthy ragu from housemade merguez, crispy fried chickpeas and chewy cavatelli—one of the best Italian dishes in the city, without a doubt. (It’ll go in next year’s book!) Not needing a big meaty meal, we shared sturgeon (I generally agree with the rare center thing for fish, but I have to admit, it seems underdone with that particular fish) and hanger steak (just right). As my friend wrote, “Every bit as great a place as ever.”

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