It seems like we’ve talked about everything but restaurants lately, COVID and Tiki controversies and people getting shot, so this is a good week with lots of actual reviews. Find something and eat out this week!


“There has been so much sorrow in the food industry over the past two years.” But enough about trying to log in to the Tribune to read their restaurant reviews; it took another call and recovering two sets of emails and passwords to successfully log in this week, and I hope you all appreciate my tireless efforts.

With restaurants opening all over and hardly getting written about anywhere, the Trib’s reviewers do a quickie catch-up piece on four newish places. Jaleo, the Jose Andres chain restaurant, is just what you expect:

In Chicago, a display case of branded merch stands right inside the entrance of the former Naha space. You’ll find the foosball table turned into a dining table to your right. Oh look, there’s the bull’s head hanging on the wall, too.

Can’t wait! But Louisa Chu is wowed by some things anyway.

Kitchen & Kocktails is a black-owned place—all those K’s were a little discomfiting at first—in the former Benny’s Chop House spot, but after a lot of discussion about dress codes (onesies are expressly forbidden—onesies?) Louisa is again wowed:

To my thoroughly unexpected relief and delight, the experience was fantastic.

The Dream Eggs with blackened shrimp ($13), the restaurant’s play on deviled eggs, come topped with pristine Cajun seasoned crustaceans. The Key Lime Pie Kocktail ($15), with a graham cracker-dusted rim, sipped with a beautifully balanced and bracing citrus flavor profile.

Nobu is another chain from out of town, though something of a storied name. Nick Kindelsperger finds it slightly familiar for a place he’s never been:

Some menu items haven’t changed since Bill Clinton’s first presidential term. Even if you’ve never stepped foot in a Nobu, you’ve likely heard of black cod with miso ($42), a dish Nobu didn’t invent but certainly made obscenely popular. It arrives looking exactly like you’ve seen online, complete with a colorful pickled ginger sprout resting delicately on the fillet. Though I’ve tried many variations of the dish over the years, the Nobu original is meltingly tender and deeply savory, with a slight sweetness that kept tempting me on.

Finally, a pasta restaurant in West Town run by restaurant newbies, Provare, that is nevertheless packed, says Nick:

You can have a grand time at Provaré with nothing more than a couple of appetizers and a round of drinks. Start with the chef’s special calamari ($16) that includes loads of crunchy, tender pieces of squid mixed with fried pieces of banana peppers, jalapeños and red onions… Along with a fascinating menu, it’s easy to simply fall for Provare’s welcoming vibe. I can’t remember a restaurant where so many people looked so happy to be there.

I know which one I want to try after all that.


Time Out’s Ema Krupp raves in a five-star review of Dear Margaret:

Helmed by executive chef Ryan Brosseau (Le Sud; Table, Donkey and Stick) and owner Lacey Irby, Dear Margaret opened in early 2021 as a takeout-only venture, when COVID-19 closures left indoor dining off the table. I’m told Dear Margaret’s food stands up well as takeaway, but I can’t imagine eating it anywhere other than the sweet little restaurant itself. Warm and nearly always bustling, it’s the type of place that gives you a good feeling the instant you step inside, with wide-paneled wooden flooring, honeyed lighting and a smattering of homey decor befitting of its namesake—Brosseau’s grandmother, the muse behind the restaurant’s French-Canadian menu.

I noticed that Terry McNeese (DeQuay, Le Sud, Blackbird) had joined it as wine director, and so I will return sooner rather than later—I’ve only had it as takeout.


I’ve never been a huge fan of local favorite Pat’s Pizza, just because the super-thin crust pizza never seemed to go far enough to feed a family of four. Hold my beer, says Paper Thin Pizza: “I’m not sure it’s humanly possible for pizza to get any thinner, without the crust disappearing completely into the void,” says Nick Kindelsperger.

Buzz 2


Greek food seems stuck in the past, but David Hammond talks to local chain Avli‘s chef Nikos Kapernaros about making it more contemporary:

The dishes in Kapernaros’ degustation seem, on the surface, not to be very Greek at all. The amuse-bouche (itself not a common pre-dinner course on the Greek menu) is a pumpkin cube poached in orange juice with blood orange sauce and rose powder. This kind of paradigm-breaking bite is characteristic of many of the dishes served as part of the tasting menu. All the ingredients on this amuse grow on the Greek islands.


“Just when you thought you were out–of Italian and Italian-American restaurants to talk about–they pull you back in!” observes Grimod in starting a three part review of three new Italian spots on the scene:

The question is not one of “authenticity,” but of thoughtful engagement with a cuisine whose earliest manifestations–within Chicago–still survive. Do the chefs of Adalina, Elina’s, and Alla Vita take inspiration from the work that has come before them? Do they engage, wholeheartedly, in a creative process that enriches the appreciation of Italian food and its derivations? Do they channel a feeling of love for the nostalgia that anchors the public’s appreciation for such fare even if they deconstruct and reconstruct it beyond recognition?

First, Adalina:

Rounding out the “Piattini” is a dish that has become something of a signature appetizer for Adalina. (At the very least, you have found it to be the one offered most willingly by management as a welcoming gesture). Its form is not exactly revolutionary as far as cheese and charcuterie setups go. However, in a manner reminiscent of the tigelle that accompany Monteverde’s hallowed burrata e ham, Ahn’s preparation makes use of a doughy vessel largely unknown in Chicago. His gnocco fritto are an Emilia-Romagnan specialty frequently served in local salumeria. The puffed, pillowy fried bread–which once inspired an Alinea amuse-bouche–forms an ethereal receptacle for thin slices of meat and a schmear of cheese.

(By the way, people have complained to me—as, effectively, the pseudonymous Grimod’s public representative—how he goes on and on, which is true, and makes it hard for me to pick a representative paragraph, but where else have you ever read so incisive and informed an account of a restaurant’s wine program as he offers here? Throw in a discussion of crustacean pricing, and another of the roles bussers play, and his reviews are dense and deep in a way nothing else in town right now can match.)

Next, Elina, from two veterans of hot places like New York’s Carbone:

Though Carbone, certainly, has made its name by offering a tableside Caesar, [Ian] Rusnak and [Eric] Safin have smartly resisted imbuing their version with any needless flourishes. (You have already noted how Adalina quietly axed such a presentation, leaving behind a fairly ordinary example of the form). Elina’s rendition features well-dressed, not soggy, and–ultimately–refreshingly tangy lettuce dusted with enough grated parmigiano to provide a pleasing, savory undercurrent of flavor. The croutons are, as advertised, made from that same garlic bread toted out to the table. It is cubed and toasted a bit more–but not so much that it entirely loses its absorptive property. This Caesar might lack any compelling “twist,” but it shines as a precise execution of the classic recipe and, thus, a guarantor of pleasure for a wide audience.

Then, Boka Group’s Alla Vita:

A parallel can, once more, be drawn between [Alla Vita chef Lee]Wolen’s “Roasted Octopus” ($22) and [Adalina chef Soo] Ahn’s “Charred Octopus” ($23). When it comes to the titular cephalopod, the two portion sizes are more or less the same. However, Adalina’s preparation successfully executed a bold array of supporting flavors like horseradish goat cheese, fennel, cherry peppers, and pistachio to go along with a smattering of potatoes. Alla Vita’s version pairs the octopus with more classic flavors drawn from Castelvetrano olives, crispy chickpeas, salsa verde, a garlic aioli, and some crispy potatoes as well.

Texturally, Wolen’s rendition comes off well. The octopus displays a bit of char on its cups alongside the subtle chew you desire while, ultimately, being tender. The contrasting crunch of the potatoes and chickpeas, as well as the softer mouthfeel of the olive chunks, amplify the tendrils’ texture. The garlic aioli, which coats the bottom of the plate, also provides an enveloping mouthfeel that helps accentuate the other components. With regards to flavor, the dish contains all the buttery, salty, and citric notes you come to expect paired with the cephalopod. There’s also a pleasant undercurrent of umami (drawn from the salsa verde and aioli) that serves to enrich the meat. Nonetheless, while good, the “Roasted Octopus” does nothing new. It lacks the spark of creativity and ultimate complexity of Adalina’s dish. Likewise, it’s strange to see Wolen resort to using flavored aiolis across so much of the menu. Surely the chef has some other tricks up his sleeve.

As I say, just quick glimpses of the insights to be had in these seriously in-depth reviews.


Louisa Chu tells the history of Minneapolis’ Juicy (or Jucy) Lucy and points to some places here that do them well.


Nick Kindelsperger says he discovered the crepe-like jiangbing when a place opened in the Chicago French market, but I recall a short-lived spot in the Richland Center food court having them half a dozen years ago. Anyway, now there’s Monkey King Jiangbing, half-hidden on the second floor of a building in Chinatown: “You’ll know you’re in the right place when you pass a COVID-19 testing site.”


Steve Dolinsky knows this is soup weather, and talks to Prairie Grass Cafe’s Sarah Stegner about a different soup each day.


A party was turned away at a Pilsen bar, El Trebol, because one member was not vaccinated. What happened next shows how, as the manager puts it, ““The mayor puts us [workers] on the front line of this… This is how crazy this is, these people aren’t respectful. … [The mayor is] putting us in danger.” (Block Club)


Who remembers the Gold Star Sardine Bar—or at least its sign in the lobby announcing the stars who’d played there? At WBEZ’s Curious City, Monica Eng tells us about the place’s odd history—and its relation to the Treasure Island store that also used to be there.


Edward McClelland is known for clickbaity contrarian takes, amusing enough to justify themselves most of the time. And God knows I’ve made jokes about how if they save the Thompson Center, they should be required to preserve the authentic smell of stale fried chicken grease that is (along with Dan Quayle) Governor Thompson’s legacy. But no, just no. I understand the argument for not only having food halls with $17 sandwiches downtown, but the Thompson Center food hall has always been the lamest kind of chain fast food. It serves a purpose, but loving it as a cultural institution? Naah.

12. F-WORD 2022

Early in COVID times, Joelle Parenteau, a restaurateur with a place in Vegas, wrote a piece that went viral called Why Restaurant are So Fucked. Not all of that sky fell, but it had some good points about the severity of the challenge faced. Now here’s Part II:

Let’s start with the supply chain. Until recently, restaurant food seemed to just magically appear whenever we wanted it. We didn’t know how, or where it came from. We didn’t care. We were fed. And we were happy. But, all of a sudden…

“Why are you out of chicken?” chicken shortage due to COVID. “Why don’t you have bread?” the bakery closed due to COVID. “Where’s the Diet Dr Pepper?” aluminum shortage due to COVID. “Why don’t you have anything!?” Sysco has no truck drivers due to COVID. Do you see the common denominator here?

H/t Michael Lachowicz.


Sushi Suite 202 is a room at the Lincoln Hotel which offers sushi to four people at a time, sitting at a bar with a sushi chef. It’s also reportedly booked far into the future, so they opened Sushi by Bou across the hall in a former meeting space which has a more traditional bar bar, capable of seating 14 or 16, I didn’t count exactly, though the most I saw there was six people. More will be a challenge, because the place aims to serve an entire omakase (well, twelve courses of sushi) in 30 minutes, and that kept the chef, a veteran of places like Union Sushi + Barbeque Bar, hustling all through our 30-minute meal. (The press release says there’s also a 60-minute version.) There’s a short cocktail list (similar if not identical to Sushi Suite 202’s) and a list of sakes as well; the 30 minute version is a very reasonable $50 (I was invited to a media preview) and for the price range it seems, like Sushi Suite, of good quality and variety, assembled (quickly) by a veteran. Anyway, in a time when we want new experiences, often preferably without a big crowd around us, I think this will be a fun choice for people who want to grab a good quality bite and then move along—pretty quickly. (There are seats where you can hang out after your 30-minute sushi fix, but it’s not going to be an all-night hang for anybody.)

Junebug Cafe took over the Ruxbin space in West Town and painted it pink and purple to serve coffee and a few New Orleans-style foods like gumbo and beignets. They also took over a spot in Portage Park—a couple of doors down from this—and it looks like most of its morning business is takeout, but the minimalist inside is certainly suitable for ordering coffee and a couple of beignets and communing with your phone. The beignets were perfectly pleasant, but the thing we found most scarfable was a meat pie—or empanada—filled with spiced ground beef and served with a cup of remoulade for dipping. We paid it the ultimate compliment—ordering a second one after my wife ate most of the one I’d ordered for myself. The other ultimate compliment will be when I return for gumbo at lunchtime.