“Two words: beef omakase,” says John Kessler, but I must admit I need a few more words, along the lines of “what” and “why,” before I go eat an all-beef coursed menu at Bon Yeon, from the chef of Omakase Yume, Sangtae Park:

Bon Yeon is a new West Loop restaurant that takes its lead from a style of high-end dining popular in Seoul and serves a chef’s tasting counter menu of small bites much like that you’d find in a premium sushi bar. Instead of sea urchin, tuna belly, and goldeneye snapper, here you sample tenderloin, ribeye cap, and outside skirt steak, each with its own flavor-enhancing garnish. The meal begins when a chef, standing in front of you by a downdraft gas grill, shows you the cuts of beef in an artful display in a wooden box, and then proceeds to sear, cut, and plate them.

…The beef itself was largely served grill marked just enough for it to render some fat and release aroma but raw centered. I best liked a serving of ribeye topped with aromatic slices of black winter truffle and set over a sauce made from ssamjang — the fermented bean paste that is Korea’s version of miso. The push and pull of these flavors brought out something animal and bloody in the beef.


Looking for anything at the Trib site can be such a crapshoot (and weirdly heavy on stories about the southwestern suburbs), so I missed this December review of Atelier (which I like a lot) by Louisa Chu:

[Chef Christian] Hunter connects culinary threads across continents, countries and cultures at Atelier, often through a burst of heat from Latin America to India to Africa, and even a bit of giardiniera.

…“This is my first 12-course tasting menu,” said the chef. And it’s not always trying to impress you, he added. Despite that, Michelin also named him a Young Chef Award winner this year. “I sometimes just want to give you a really good strong hug and say here’s some good food.”

Meanwhile, Chu is among the reviewers offer short takes on several recent openings, including Taylor’s Tacos, Marina’s Bistro and Rum Bar, and Rebecca Johnson on Egg Tuck:

The Korean-inspired street food at Egg Tuck — touted as some of the best in Los Angeles before making the jump to Chicago — lived up to the social media hype.

Co-owner Nicole Kim opened the Michigan Avenue location last month with the help of the chain’s founder Ryan Son. While visiting L.A., Kim said she tried the food and thought it could become a popular brunch spot in Chicago, as an in-between of sit-down and fast food restaurants.


Steve Dolinsky visits two newish ramen spots in Logan Square. First, Monster Ramen:

It’s a dream come true for Katie Dong, who grew up in China on beef noodle soup, but perfected her ramen technique at Japanese shops. The focus here is on beef stock.

“It’s more velvety and it’s actually lighter than pork bone stock,” said Dong.

Then, Mike Satinover’s Akahoshi Ramen:

A half mile away, Mike Satinover makes two types of noodles in the front window of his brand-new Akahoshi Ramen on California, where lines form well before 5 o’clock, and for good reason. He’s been obsessed for 13 years, ever since studying abroad.

“Hokkaido – Sapporo, Hokkaido is known for miso ramen. It’s one of the dishes that emerges from there,” said Satinover.


No more ballyhoo, said George Plimpton in Good Will Hunting, but John Kessler finds ballyhoo, but not shenanigans or tomfoolery, at Ballyhoo Hospitality’s DeNucci’s, one of several thousand new Italian restaurants in town:

Walking by, my wife and I admired how this newcomer filled out its corner space. It looked like it had always been there, beckoning folks inside with the words along its roof: “Pizza. Aperitivo. Classics.” We went in. The menu offered a canny mix of old and new — from minestrone to artichoke Vesuvio. We liked our food well enough: an old-school chopped salad, ice cold and bright with sweet pickled peppers; (slightly gummy) housemade tagliatelle with a rich Bolognese. The portions were huge, the leftovers good enough to box.

And sometimes that’s enough.


Meanwhile I thought Kessler might be reviewing another newish place I know he likes, Johns Food and Wine. Instead Michael Nagrant went to it, and though he’s sympathetic to restaurants trying to figure out new models via service charges for health care and the like, and reducing staff (who you can’t find anyway) by making customers order via their phones, the end result was dicsouraging, of both the diner and, probably, more ordering:

…what if you were charged a service fee, and there was no service?  Well, that’s pretty much what happened at John’s Food & Wine a few weeks ago a new Lincoln Park restaurant now occupying the old Nookies Too space.

No service? Certainly, this a metaphor, right?


I mean I’m all for independent restaurants copying some of the best practices of corporate groups, but if you’re aiming to build a neighborhood gem in the form of one of your previous employers, aka the legendary Gramercy Tavern in New York, maybe don’t start with the worst aspects of a Panera.

At Panera at least they give you one of those cool flashing buzzer things that discos across the table on vibrate. At John’s, you walk in with good cheer and are suddenly forced into a tense negotiation with your friends over what to order while standing uncomfortably near the bar and the drafty entrance.

That’s because there are no servers at John’s, basically just food runners.  You have to place your order before you are sat. You are then given a sexy QR code to order more food or drink as needed.


The vegan Korean restaurant Amitabul has been around forever and I’ve never been there. (I’m fine with vegetarian, but vegan is often a veg too far.) But Dennis Lee went there, as you or I might join a health club for the new year:

The dishes at Amitabul are vegan, but they’re generally not traditional ones you’d find at a Korean restaurant, except for a few items like mandu (dumplings) and bibimbap (mixed rice bowls).

Instead, what you’re getting are things like stir-fries, noodles, stews, and salads, with a decidedly Western lean to them. The dishes have interesting (sometimes cheeky) names, like 9 Ways To Nirvana Soup (miso-based broth with tofu, seaweed and veggies), and Tibetan High Noon (a spicy Tibetan curry dish). But while this might sound like hippie stuff, don’t worry—it’s not.


Cohasset Punch has a lighthouse on it and is named for a town in Massachusetts. Despite that, it’s a Chicago thing—from the 1890s to the 1980s, anyway, a liqueur usually served over a canned peach half. When I included it in a Thrillist piece on Chicago specialties, the only current version of it I could find was an attempt at modernizing it by Charles Joly at The Drawing Room. But now it’s coming back as a bottled spirit from a Chicago liqueur enthusiast named Greg Shutters, and our own classic Chicago food and bev enthusiast, David Hammond, tells more at the Tribune:

Based on historical documentation, Shutters recreated the taste of Cohasset Punch. It was not always easy.

…Some original ingredients were no longer available. The New England rum called for in the recipe, for instance, is out of production. So, Shutters had to blend rums from the Virgin Islands, Trinidad and Jamaica to approximate what he believed to be the flavor of that now defunct East Coast rum.


Michael Altenberg, chef of Bistro Campagne until his early death at 48 in 2012, is a name that rarely comes up any more, but he’ll get a nod as one of the farm to table pioneers among Chicago chefs in my book—like Rick Bayless and Bruce Sherman, he was one of the ones who had already built the connections with farmers that Green City Market would rely on and expand. Anyway, he gets some mention in Mike Sula’s piece on Monday’s FoodBall event, which includes pastries by Angel Chavez, who learned pastry under Altenberg and in addition to being Bistro Campagne’s pastry chef, runs Au Levain Bakery, a French pastry popup:

Chavez quickly started putting hands in the dough, and Altenberg didn’t hold him back.

“That’s how I learned about being seasonal and local,” says Chavez. “He said, ‘If you want to go to school, you have a job.’ Then, ‘If you ever need anything, we’ll always be here.’ If I ever quit somewhere, he was like, ‘Do you want to pick up shifts here? You’re more than welcome.’”

Chavez, who’s 32, has more or less been head pastry chef at Bistro Campagne ever since. That is, in between classes at the erstwhile French Pastry School and extended stints at the Boarding House, Nellcote, and Benny’s Chop House. That’s where he was working when COVID struck, and he returned to Lincoln Square where the neighborhood mainstay never shut down. It also allowed him to open Au Levain Bakery, which turned out to be one of the most enduring pastry porn pop-ups of the pandemic, selling classic French pastry with novel riffs every Sunday—currently out of the window at neighboring Due Lire.

Au Levain is supposed to be getting a permanent location soon, and I’ll add it to my most-looked-forward-to openings of 2024.


When I was a kid we had one of the devices Sandwich Tribunal talks about in his latest piece, a pie iron, but we got bored with it quickly enough. We didn’t know about the Flying Saucer sandwich, from Hawaii:

Japanese-descended individuals are currently the second largest demographic in the state of Hawai’i and make up almost 20% of the population of Kaua’i as of the 2010 census. Japanese influence is threaded throughout the culture of Hawai’i, from the Spam musubi lining the refrigerated shelves at every Japanese 7-11 to the Buddhist temples that dot the islands. Among those is the Kaua’i Sōtō Zen Temple in Hanapēpē, where according to Hirata’s interviews with elderly locals, the first Flying Saucers were developed by two local school cafeteria managers after they’d tasted a hamburger cooked in a pie iron–another name for the type of handheld sealed sandwich press represented by the aforementioned Toas-Tite–at a local festival. They first served these sandwiches on an unspecified date at yet another festival at the town park, but also, according to Hirata, at the 75th anniversary celebration for nearby Waimea High School in 1957.


One of the great things about Chicago’s restaurant scene, even if you’re only an onlooker like me, is how chefs and restaurant crews support each other—not least with food, as Lisa Shames wrote before Christmas at Time Out:

Cooking in Chicago since 2006, Lawrence Letrero of Ravenswood’s Filipino-Cuban Bayan Ko distinctly remembers the first time he was on the receiving end of a gifted family meal.

“I was a young line cook at Perennial and during service, we had 50 McDonald’s cheeseburgers delivered,” says Letrero, who believes it came from another Boka Group restaurant.

Since then, he’s returned the favor many times, including for Dear Margaret. “I’m good friends with the chef,” he says. “They had just opened and were crushing it, so I sent over a bunch of Cuban sandwiches.”


New Orleans is famous for king cakes at this time of year, and they can be found around town. I’d never heard of the Mexican equivalent, rosca de reyes, but when I was in Mexico City a couple of weeks ago, I had it at a coffeeshop—and got the plastic baby, so I’ll be making tamales in February. Anyway, WTTW has a piece on king-themed pastry, including a few suggestions of where to find it—you might be able to spot rosca de reyes at local bakeries, since it’s typically decorated on the outside with candied fruit.

Also at WTTW, from just before Christmas: Lisa Futterman on where to find Central Asian food around town, a fairly invisible but far from uncommon slice of our cuisine scene, at places like the Kyrgyz restaurants Bai Cafe in my own Roscoe Village (I just noticed the name Bai on another new spot the other day, but of course, do I remember where or can I find it now?):

Bai Café in Roscoe Village is a dumpling wonderland. Pelmeni resemble tortellini filled with chunky meat and potatoes and served in a “red” tomato broth. Manti are fist-sized, pleated ground meat dumplings steamed and served with sour cream, while vareneki are mashed potato-filled crescents that recall Polish pierogi. There are even noodles that are dumpling-like: oromi is a handmade noodle in the shape of a big, fat donut that is stuffed with fillings.


Here’s an event, a week from Monday, that sounds fun:

La passeggiata is an Italian cultural tradition of an early evening stroll to celebrate the joy of human connection, the appreciation of beauty, and the embrace of the present moment. On Monday, Jan. 22, Dimo’s Cafe and Le Midi Wine take it as inspiration for a special wine dinner in stroll-friendly Lincoln Square.

Well, judging by today I’m not sure how stroll-friendly any part of Chicago will be in January, so fortunately you don’t have to go out the door to enjoy the six-course meal from Dimo’s chef Steve Hofstad and the Italian wines from Le Midi’s Craig Perman and Seth Wilson. Go here to get tickets.


I was on Outside the Loop early Saturday morning on WGN Radio, talking about how our food scene looks for 2024. Go here to hear it.

Paul Fehribach talked about his book Midwestern Food at The Splendid Table; listen to him here.