Buzz List For February 4, 2019

The power of awards at George Trois and Temporis, a Harold's list rival, Finom-enal, and a deep Filipino food dive

Temporis/Facebook

1. MICHAEL TO CLOSE, VIVE LE GEORGE TROIS

You can’t say awards don’t have influence! Michael Lachowicz is the chef-owner of Restaurant Michael, Winnetka’s generally well-liked French restaurant. Having been there a couple of times, I’d call it a very good suburban restaurant, which is to say that it has a calm, classy feel for an older clientele—but wasn’t ever going to draw a hipster Randolph/Logan crowd out of the city (unless Mom and Dad were paying). He started a pop-up in his private dining room with a more innovative style of light but luxurious French cooking, called George Trois. Fooditor was one of the first to write about it, and it has since enjoyed four star reviews from both the Tribune and Chicago magazine—and then a couple of weekends ago, George Trois was a surprise winner for Restaurant of the Year at the Jean Banchet Awards.

Now Lachowicz is capitalizing on that buzz by announcing that he’s shaking everything up. Michael is closing as of March 2 after 14 years. George Trois will reopen in May—but Lachowicz is being cagey about his exact plans, only suggesting that there will still be two concepts in the space. In any case it’s a savvy move, which might accomplish what Michael (or pretty much any North Shore restaurant since Trio closed) hasn’t done—convince city folks that there was a special experience to be had on a getaway to the burbs (I will point out that the Metra to Waukegan stops just a couple of blocks away).

2. SAVED BY THE TIRE

You can’t say awards don’t have influence! Anthony Todd has a nice story on Temporis, the tiny West Town tasting menu spot, which was just plugging along until Michelin gave them a surprise star—and changed their lives: “The call came on a Wednesday last fall. Before that big moment, the restaurant had a total of zero reservations booked for the next day. After the news broke, Temporis locked in 362 reservations in 12 hours — enough for it to break even for at least three months. ‘We were here 16 to 20 hours a day,’ says [chef Don] Young.” That’s allowed them to get past mere “keep the doors open” pressures and hire staff as well as develop aspects of the restaurant, including a fermentation program, that had been on the back burner.

3. EVERYBODY’S TALKIN’ ‘BOUT CHICKEN

Last week I mentioned Jeff Ruby’s assessment of many of the region’s Harold’s Fried Chickens, and the general grumbling that accompanied it. This week they’ve done a cool thing—after several people mentioned a local YouTube personality named Larry Legend as the Harold’s expert, they invited him to offer his own best Harold’ses list as well as some comments about eating there (“The customer service is not always going to be as great as the food. In fact, the meaner the cashier, the better the food. This is Haroldʼs science.”) I will just note that last week, I told you that I kind of prefer rival chain Uncle Remus’s. Please note that his number two choice of local Harold’ses is… Uncle Remus. The man knows his fried chicken.

4. FINOMENON

Mike Sula gets the origin story for the odd combo of coffee and Hungarian food at Irving Park’s Finom Coffee: co-owner Rafael Esparza “knew nothing about Hungarian food, but that didn’t faze him. The flavor profiles are nothing most are unfamiliar with. He had a more primary concern. ‘Coffee-shop food sucks,’ he says. ‘And it sucks to me that people are OK with really shitty food. You paid $7 for a shitty sandwich? It’s expected. We have to change the way people perceive this food.'”

Okay, that still doesn’t explain why Hungarian, but never mind when, say, the goulash is “a warming, unleaded beef stew (built on meat from the underappreciated knuckle bone) with parsnips, carrots, and onions; a defense against the Chiberian punishment we’re grappling with.” (Reader)

But Hungarian dishes aren’t all they’ve been playing with—when they opened somebody gave them a bottle of Malört, but Esparza and co-owner Danny Speer don’t drink, so they invented… the Malort Chai-town Latte. Louisa Chu explains.

5. CASATIDAY NIGHT AND I AIN’T GOT NO PARTY

The Trib’s Restaurant Week reviews cover more places you probably know—Phil Vettel has brunch at GT Fish & Oyster, Nick Kindelsperger digs into schnitzel at Funkenhausen—but there is one new place I haven’t seen anyone write about, and that’s Casati’s, an Italian spot in Lincoln Park which Alison Bowen went to: “The first course shone. A chickpea puree and chickpea salad had just the right mix of flavor complements with olives and Sardinian feta. And the mozzarella dish was similarly tasty, a generous portion of the cheese, made locally, accompanied by squash and pickled cauliflowers, watercress and balsamic.” Subsequent courses didn’t equal the start, making it only a fair choice for Restaurant Week, but “it seemed a great place to dig into an appetizer and try one of the pastas.”

6. TAUREAUX TAUREAUX TAUREAUX!

Graham Meyer finds reasons to be excited about Taureaux, a new downtown spot near when the bulls and bears frolic, headed by chef Michael Sheerin: “Every Taureaux dish we tried with beef, we liked. In addition to the already-mentioned wagyu beef dip, the steak frites ($29) presented a tender hanger steak, rosily medium rare, cut into kebab-ish pieces and served with herb butter and bearnaise. Even the French onion soup, swimming in densely flavored beef broth, delivered.” Just one thing: isn’t it weird to call a restaurant named for bulls the “sister” of another restaurant (Cochon Volant)?

7. MUNNO PARK

Titus Ruscitti goes to a favorite find of ours, Munno Pizzeria & Bistro (2018’s “Best Restaurant You Never Heard Of“): “They wanted to create something that felt like a neighborhood spot in Italy. So they make a handful of pizzas and offer a handful of pastas both of which were wonderful on a recent winter night. The pizzas are Neapolitan style but are made in an electric burning oven that reaches up to 850 degrees. This might piss some purists off but I thought the pizza we were served was one of the best pies I’ve had in a while. I couldn’t believe how good it was. Not bc I didn’t think this place was capable of making a delicious pizza but bc I really hadn’t heard anything about it. Usually if a place in Chicago is making pizza this good it gets popular pretty quickly. Super legit.”

8. RETURN OF CHEESE TEA

On ABC 7 Steve Dolinsky talks more about cheese tea (after Mike Sula’s review of Bingo Tea last week) as well as a new spot for baked sweets in Chinatown, Tous les Jours. There’s also a visit to Shan Shaan Taste in the Richland Center food court.

9. SPEAKING OF CHINATOWN FOOD COURTS…

Crain’s has a story about developers looking to make something of one of the big old factory buildings just west of Chinatown. Hotels and other things are mentioned, but I’m more intrigued by this comment at LTHForum which claims a New York-based Chinese grocery chain is looking to bring a bunch of New York-based Asian food businesses to the development (a la HMart or others). How legit is the info, I can’t say, but one can dream…

10. WINERS FROM THE HEARTLAND

Will midwestern wine ever reach the top ranks? Well, it’s been served at Alinea: “Next’s sommelier and floor manager Joao Alves De Sa knew it was risky to serve a Michigan wine at one of the city’s most exclusive restaurants. But he was captivated by the wine’s balance and remarkable likeness to the burgundy styles hailing from France, with bold fruit flavors that complemented the potato’s classic comforts and helped the skate dish explode on the tongue.” Maggie Hennessy tells the story of midwestern wines competing in the big leagues—and the resistance they’re up against—at Chicago mag.

11. YUGENNA EAT THAT?

Okay, so last week I was hard on Eater National writing about Chicago, so I’ll say that there was a considerably better piece this week from them (the author Grace Perry) on Mari Katsumura and Yugen that offers a credible account of the Japanese restaurant in the former Grace space and in particular, some interesting details on her life growing up as the daughter of the owners of Yoshi’s Cafe: “Yoshi and Nobuko Katsumura — the executive chef and business manager, respectively — sought to shield their children from the grueling work of restaurant ownership. ‘They did everything in their power to make sure I didn’t go into cooking,’ says Katsumura. ‘They knew it was such hard work and you have no holidays off, and on their days off they were so exhausted they couldn’t adequately spend time with us.’ That’s why they lived above Yoshi’s Cafe, she adds: to maximize family time. She never worked in the kitchen at Yoshi’s; she just helped out with tasks like coat check from time to time as a kid. But as a young adult, Katsumura realized cooking wasn’t just her calling, but ‘an obsession.'”

Given that Yugen has yet to have a single published review, you could argue that its claims that “her ascension to West Loop culinary excellence seem almost predetermined” are a tad premature, but it’s an interesting piece—and a tribute to the resourcefulness of Yugen’s PR firm who, faced with a client (owner Michael Olszewski) who was none too popular among the conventional food media, have shown ingenuity in finding new places to get their story out.

12. DINO AND JOE

Ashok Selvam at Eater Chicago looks at some northwest side pizza places (on Higgins around Harlem) and contrasts them plugging away serving their neighborhoods with the attention that tavern-cut pizza is suddenly getting via Steve Dolinsky and others: “’Tavern-style pizza, what’s that?’ said Dino’s third-generation pizza maker Joey Henniges. ‘Is that an old term that’s come back, or a new term that’s now popular?’”

13. FILIPINO RADIO

A really strong episode of The Feed this week looks at Filipino food and (the perpetual question) whether it’s finally going to break through to the American public. It starts with Rick Bayless—who now has a business partnership with the people behond Jollibee, the Filipino fried chicken chain, to expand Tortas Frontera internationally—talking about a visit to Manila’s main farmer’s market with the chef who was his guide, Margarita Fores. After that they talk to a couple of Filipino restaurateurs, including the owners of Chicago’s Bayan Ko.

14. PACKED

If you’ve ever been in 680 N. Lake Shore—either for a pediatrician or Playboy—you’ve probably seen the remaining space of The Gold Star Sardine Bar, the tiny—tiny—jazz club owned by one of the guys behind recently-collapsed Treasure Island. It’s a colorful, shady story, which Monica Eng and Curious City tell here.

15. SUDSAPOLITAN CITY

When Metropolitan Brewing started a decade ago, Julia Thiel notes, “the only production brewery in Chicago at the time was Goose Island.” She looks back at the growth since then, and as Metropolitan co-founder Doug Hurst observes,”I think there was a perception, at least among the old-school beer nerds in the city, that breweries didn’t last in the city, they couldn’t survive… I felt that that perception was incorrect—and it turns out it was.”

WHAT MIKE ATE

Not a lot of restaurant-going by anybody last week, but happily we started to thaw by the time of my reservation at Erick Williams’ Virtue in Hyde Park, and it was packed Friday night. The danger with an upscale attempt at something like soul food is that you can lose the working class charms of joint food by fancying it up. But almost everything we tried hit the sweet spot of tasting like grandma made it, while showing off superior kitchen skills (Williams was longtime executive chef at MK). So there was beautifully cooked catfish, and delicate fried green tomatoes with shrimp remoulade, and a tender pork chop big enough to take a nap on, but also terrific greens with smoked turkey that were straight from grandma’s pot, and damn near platonic ideal of banana pudding.

Got a tip or a link for Buzz List? Send it to [email protected]