Most restaurant reviews are too long, so I’m always happy when somebody knocks off a bunch in fairly short, direct prose. The Tribune reviewers do that this week—they say they do it at the start of every year, which I never noticed, but they should consider doing it more often than that. Three of the five are different concepts within the Jose Andres complex opened with Gibsons group. Louisa Chu is wowed by Bar Mar:

Most of the menu, if not all, remixes greatest hits from other Andrés restaurants. I highly recommend ordering the Snack Like José seven-course tasting menu. It eats like a feast and may be the best deal at a celebrity chef restaurant anywhere in town

She picks and chooses for success at Cafe by the River:

Get the tarta de Santiago… Each slice of fragrant, golden almond cake bears the traditional cross of the Order of Santiago rendered in powdered sugar. It’s so simple yet rich, you’ll make a pilgrimage for more.

But she feels ripped off by Bazaar Meats:

…jamon iberico de bellota with Osetra caviar and gold leaf. It was sadly some of the worst caviar I’ve ever seen served in a restaurant. Either it came that way from the supplier, and should have been refused, or was mishandled to a slimy puddle. It should never have been sold, especially not at $16 for two paper-thin sheets of garnished seaweed.

Meanwhile Nick Kindelsperger suggests that you should give Big Star Mariscos more time to work out the kinks and dial down the spice:

Quality seafood certainly costs money. But when a single tostada goes for $20, it better be flawless, or at least served with a modicum of care. Sadly, while I’m sure the tostada de atun features a lovely piece of tuna, it’s completely coated in a salsa seca that steamrolls over the fish’s subtle flavor. One wonders why the kitchen needed to use such an expensive piece of fish in the first place.

Finally, Union, the American gastropub (I guess; do we still use that phrase?) from the team that also has Lardon (next door) and The Meadowlark. Nick:

…there are also real surprises. The confusingly titled Burrata + Cranberry pairs the gooey cheese with an honest-to-God funnel cake, albeit one that’s savory thanks to a beer batter and sage. This really shouldn’t work. Yet, there was something so tantalizing about how the crispy and hot funnel cake played off the cool creaminess of the cheese. It won me over.


Phrase you’ve never seen before, least at Chicago mag: “Tamil soul food.” But that’s what John Kessler says you’ll find in a strip mall in Deerfield, at Madhura Cafe:

But wowza, that thali — so generous it fills two plastic cafeteria trays — is some delicious home-cooked Tamil soul food. Among the dozen disposable bowls may be a dry okra peanut curry, a spinach and chayote dal, and paneer in tomato gravy. Sometimes there is a meat option, perhaps chile chicken for an extra dollar. There will be sambar soup, housemade pickles, papad, and a mound of rice to feed a family. And something fun, like spicy mini samosas or a handful of the colorful crackers called Fryums.


Michael Nagrant also offers some quickie reviews, starting with After:

I might break out a fryer to attempt cracklin-crusted duck legs with Thai-skewing flavors. But I don’t have to because After does all these things for you. The freight ain’t cheap, but as always the team here delivers value in producing things you can’t get anywhere else, or making common things uncommonly good, and that’s worth paying for.

And also popups Laos to Your House and Funeral Potatoes.


“There have never been more #tastingmenu/#omakase/etc options in Chicago; #finedining has also never been as boring as it is now,” says Fooditor contributor Brad Cawn in a rant on Instagram. “Where are the iconoclasts, the ones who challenge what works (and what it means to work)? @valhalla.chicago *could* be one.” He thinks Valhalla, the new restaurant from Stephen Gillanders (S.K.Y.) isn’t there yet, “But Gillanders and his team show flashes of the kind of playfulness—he called it “high/low”—desperately missing from fine dining these days.” He winds up going back and forth with some other commenters including friend of Fooditor Matthew Mirapaul (sounds like they dined together), and despite some points of disagreement (little to say about tasting menus devoted to non-European cuisines) it’s one of the most interesting and thoughtful reviews I’ve read in a while.


I bought three copies of Sarah Grueneberg’s cookbook Listen To Your Vegetables for Christmas, one for me, and one for each of my sisters, all autographed. Steve Dolinsky talks to the Monteverde chef about why vegetables are good on your plate:

“I like to think about what the vegetable wants. So I put myself in the shoes of the carrots or the kale,” said Grueneberg.

She tosses Dinosaur kale with grilled onions along with crunchy fruit and vegetables.

“Endive, the apple – I really try to cut thick and crunchy to give that really refreshing, juicy bite of apple with it,” she said.


Iliana Regan (Elizabeth)’s new book is out—Fieldwork: A Forager’s Memoir, from the delightful Evanston-based Agate Publishing. (Why yes, that is who I’m writing this oral history for.) Its first review—that I know of—was in last week’s Washington Post, and it’s very positive:

Regan also excels where her love for the outdoors and her skill as a chef meet. She writes about nature—espcially edible nature—with care and fervor. Her prose comes alive when she tells us how wild game tastes of berries and grubs. She describes rubbing down the tenderloin of a mule deer with homemade white bean and wild rose miso and then hanging it above an open fire. She calls on us to look at nature—and indeed at eating—in new ways and to reconsider what counts as an ingredient.


One of the most useful things Eater Chicago does regularly is a roundup of things opening soon—it’s good to have all that info (which is basically just PR announcements at that point) in one easy to reference spot. So check it out—for me the highlights include whatever Atelier turns out to be in the Elizabeth spot (Eater says “mystery chef” yet to be named—that’s PR for “we’re still looking for somebody”), the Boka Group complex including Little Goat, GG’s Chicken and Itoko, and (very excited about this) Thattu finally having a permanent home in Avondale. One thing though: this is at least the second time they’ve called Rodolofo Cuadros (Amaru) a James Beard nominee, and it’s just not true—that is, it’s gliding over an important distinction. He was on the semifinalists list in 2022, but did not make the final list of actual nominees. Maybe next year!


Last week wasn’t exactly designed to get you excited about Bonhomme group’s restaurants, but speaking of design, that’s where they most stand out, and at Resy, Maggie Hennessy has a piece on how Bonhomme’s Dani Alonso oversees the look of its places:

“The idea of creating a world better than the one I lived in has always been part of myself, how I am, and how I think,” says Bonhomme founder and creative director Dani Alonso. “This industry has given me and my collaborators the chance to focus on things we really love, which ultimately are culture, style, and travel. For guests coming in and giving us their time and income, the least we can do is create an escape — a place to indulge their own aspirations to seek culture, travel, and style through wonderful interiors, stories, dishes, drinks and, most importantly, warm hospitality.”


Here’s one to bookmark for road trip season: friend of Fooditor Cynthia Clampitt at NewCity with a piece on places in the region that have been around for a century or more, like the Village Tavern in Long Grove, Illinois’ longest-running restaurant at 175 years.


Table Donkey and Stick has been closed since a city crew trashed their connection to water lines—and of course it’s their responsibility to fix, not the city’s and not the landlord’s. They moved New Year’s Eve reservations to neighbor Dos Urban Cantina (my wife and I ended up going there for TD&S’ New Year’s Eve menu), but now they’ve got a GoFundMe going to support the staff while they hurry to find someone to fix it all. Block Club has a story here; you can contribute to the GoFund Me here.


The newest episode of Amuzed doesn’t have a guest, or a theme particularly, but there’s a lot of good stuff about trying to put COVID time behind restaurants in 2023, Muser’s new bar and secret space at After, aliens, and other things worth hearing about.

Meanwhile, onetime Chicago food writer Kevin Pang did a popup at Hofherr Meats in Northfied, aiming to make the world’s greatest Italian beef, and he talks about his theories of what makes the world’s greatest Italian beef on Proof, America’s Test Kitchen’s podcast—and among the customers who come in for it are a couple of familiar current Chicago food writers, not all of them Dennis Lee.

And the Joiners podcast talks to Lou Bank of S.A.C.R.E.D., about agave culture and preservation in Mexico.