One more Best of Best Lists item, pointed out to me by both Ari Bendersky and Lisa Futterman, both of whom contributed to it: Thrillist’s favorite new dishes of 2021. Here’s Ari on smelts at Dear Margaret:

As someone who is a bit averse to oily, hairy fish—like anchovies and sardines—I’ve also avoided smelts. Generally eaten whole, they’re a Midwestern delicacy, sure, but admittedly not everyone’s cup of tea. It wasn’t until I tried them tempura-fried in beef tallow at Dear Margaret, a polished yet rustic ode to hearty French Canadian fare from chef Ryan Brosseau, that my perspective began to shift. Served alongside fried pickled vegetables and a citrusy tartar sauce, I suddenly realized just what I had been missing all those years. And judging by the restaurant’s steady customer flow since opening in January, 2021, I know I’m not alone.


Lost Lake, the former Tiki, now “tropical” bar, will close after its last night, next Saturday. I would quote something from the Tribune article but despite my being logged in as a paid subscriber, I’m getting the “exclusive content reserved for our subscribers” pop-up blocking me. Heck of a job, Alden Capital!

Anyway, moving to Eater for a quote, they quoted a Facebook post from the bar:

“We’ve been trying to ward off this moment since #flattenthecurve, but as it turns out, a super-spreader surge that wiped-out what would usually be our busiest time of year was the last little straw this camel could handle,” ownership wrote Friday morning on Facebook.

On Twitter I suggested another cause for lack of business: the Tiki bar making a lot of noise about becoming an anti-Tiki bar, as Eater reported here. This immediately drew a couple of responses on social media arguing that I was imagining things—that customers were barely aware of, and did not care about, the Tiki/Anti-Tiki dispute (why would you break John Greenfield’s heart like that?), and other things were likelier to blame.

Well, look. There are literally infinite reasons why people do not go to a particular bar on any given weekend, and I don’t doubt that the pandemic is top of the list right now. But the issue is, did publicly switching to a woker “tropical” positioning draw anyone to the bar, or did it sap the enthusiasm of Tiki fans who like the fun and kitsch of the genre, and who were not exactly enticed by what seemed like a scoldy new attitude served with your Bitter Strawberry Frappe and your Kelp Daiquiri (actual drinks at the place—well, for a few more days, anyway).

It seems clear to me that what you can’t say is that the new initiative, launched around September and followed by the bar closing for good four months later, did much of anything to help drive customer traffic. It may be a hell of a rough time for bars, but none of the other drinking establishments Land and Sea Dept. co-owns are closing due to the omicron surge this week—only the one that deliberately courted controversy over its own concept, and passed itself off as more enlightened. If I want enlightening in a “tropical” bar, I’ll sit by the plaster volcano with a red bulb in it.


Well, sort of: in this Chicago mag piece about the Bamboo Room reopening, they still dance around the four-letter word a little:

The Bamboo Room’s basic concept hasn’t really changed, but [beverage director Kevin] Beary says that it has “focused” a bit in this new iteration. “Three Dots is a full-blown tiki bar, but Bamboo Room will do cocktails that showcase special rums. Simple isn’t the right word; these are more ingredient-focused rum cocktails, rather than big extravagant drinks in tiki mugs.” One example of this is The Bamboo Room cocktail, a new addition to the menu. While the Three Dots and a Dash was a classic tiki drink, and an easy addition to that bar’s menu, this drink is based on the classic Bamboo cocktail with the addition of “funky aged” rum. “It really shows off what we’re going for; it drinks like something rich and up like a Manhattan,” says Beary.

I mean, that sounds cool and all, and if there’s any bar I want to support right now, it’s this place, but there’s also nothing wrong with just a fruit-juicy drink with pineapple in it.


The New York Times quotes Friends of Fooditor David Hammond and Cathy Lambrecht, among others, in talking about how Italian beef is getting a multicultural spin:

…while deep dish is primarily for tourists, he said, and the hot dogs are sold in many cities, Italian beef belongs to Chicagoans.

“It is hard for me to imagine Chicago food without Italian beef,” Mr. Hammond said.

…But as the city’s demographics have shifted in recent decades, a new slate of sandwiches inspired by Italian beef has emerged. These creations incorporate a variety of ingredients, from garlicky longanisa sausage at the Filipino cafe Kasama to sweet-savory bulgogi at the Korean-Polish deli Kimski, to halal meat at the 1950s-style fast-food restaurant Slim’s.

Poignantly, they talked to Brian Mita, who passed away last month:

Like Italian beef, he said, niku dofu is a means of being economical with meat. At his restaurant, Izakaya Mita, niku dofu is stuffed into shokupan, or milk bread, and topped with giardiniera. Mr. Mita introduced the sandwich in summer 2020, making it a permanent addition two months ago because it sold so well.

“Really, it is an amalgamation,” he said. “I am half Japanese, half Chinese, but I grew up here in the States,” in Chicago. “That is a part of my culture, too.”


At the Crain’s Daily Gist podcast: David Manilow talks about what goes into raising money and launching a mid to high-level restaurant, interviewing a lawyer named David Silver who’s been involved with many opening projects including Smyth, Esme and Claudia.


David Hammond talks to Stephen Sandoval, former chef at Leña Brava, who did a popup under the name Entre Sueños, and talks about art and music influencing his cooking, also working in a mention of everyone’s favorite pop sociologist/futurist/whatever, Malcolm Gladwell:

I like what he said about the ten-thousand-hour rule, because success is not only the product of one’s environment but also the many hours spent honing your craft. I decided to apply this rule to cooking. I travel to learn different cuisines; I work with many different cooking media, practice my techniques, and research the science of the food. The more experiences you have, the more you can build an arsenal of flavor and knowledge over time, which translates into an ever-growing creative vision.


Mike Sula tells the story behind Moonwalker, a new cafe in Avondsle serving sandwiches and unique coffee drinks—like the unholy-looking Unicorn Blood, a latte spiked with beet juice.


A while back I mentioned a podcast going through the food in each official neighborhood in Chicago, 77 Flavors of Chicago. In their latest episode they meet up with Steve Dolinsky to talk about one of the city’s greatest food neighborhoods—Armour Square! Er, you might better know it by another name: Chinatown.

9. 250 DRIVE-INS

Here’s a list you’ll just have to bookmark until the weather gets better for road trips: a site called Burger Beast is trying to create a master list of drive-in restaurants all around the country. It’s a good list so far—yes, of course Superdawg is on it—but I was quickly able to think of places that aren’t on it yet in places I know, so feel free to send them ones to add.

10. 50 TACOS

PR people send me lists their clients just put out and I often find them laughable. Not so a list of the best taco towns across America by state, from Rent.com. I don’t necessarily agree with their pick of Cicero for Illinois—I mean, how do you even compare any city of a few tens of thousands to Chicago’s millions—but given the task, it’s an informed pick, and placing Illinois at #4 on a top ten states for tacos seems about right (I’d have to eat more in #3, Colorado, to decide if it really deserves to be ahead of us; I can’t argue with Texas and California taking the top two spots, again on sheer numbers).


There are a few new restaurants to check out but some are just too hard to get into—I’ll find my way to Esme and Rose Mary eventually, I suppose. But Friday afternoon came and I suddenly wanted to go somewhere that night, so I started searching for an open spot at somewhere newish and found a single 6:00 pm slot at En Passant, a restaurant from a Hogsalt veteran, Sam Engelhardt, so I grabbed it as fast as I could and off we went.

It’s a cozy Logan Square place, booths and tables stretched around a bar (though no cocktails, just beer and wine), with funky distressed walls and a very Hogsalt/Lettuce touch of some painted signage on old window frames within the room, calling out items on the menu. (It was kind of funny that they made us use Q-codes, the height of changeable menus, and at the same time they’ve literally got the highlights of the menu permanently painted on the wall.)

The cuisine tends to build on Asian flavors, in an eclectic way, but I found that only partly successful. Green beans in a miso-based sauce gave off a weird sensation of chocolate-covered green beans; more successful than that was cornmeal-dusted halibut in a gochujang beurre blanc, but even then I felt like the delicacy of the halibut and the acidic heat of the gochujang were a bit of a mismatch. On the other hand, a duck-apricot confit for spreading on toast was simple but first-rate. A nice spot for the neighborhood but not, as yet, a destination.