Buzz List for January 21, 2019

Fake dinner news, is there a French resurgence for Brindille to lead, Furious Spoon is twisting, and tacos by the mapful

Brindille/Facebook

1. DOUBLE GRUMPLE

It’s grumpy media week: Donald Trump fed a sports team fast food! Did national food media take the bait and immediately make themselves look to his base like snotty coastal elites who can’t appreciate the honest American joys of a quarter pounder, just like he wanted them to? Of course they did.

Nick Kokonas tweeted that he’d feed the team “an actual celebration” at Alinea. Did food media take the bait and turn this dinner, which only existed in a tweet, into a big Chicago food story? Of course they did. Phil Vettel even gave it four stars! (Joking. Maybe.)

Neither of these is an actual story. Don’t take the bait. Harrumph.

2. TURA SOTANO

More in grumpy media news: Steve Dolinsky offered a look at Rick Bayless’ Bar Sotano on ABC 7. Michael Nagrant, who has raised stinks about Dolinsky before, thinks he should have disclosed his relationship in a “business” with Bayless (assuming a podcast is a business). Here’s Nagrant’s case, what do you think? What I think is… disclosure is easy and worth doing; readers should know, you should have nothing to hide. But I can’t imagine Dolinsky’s piece being any different if they didn’t have a podcast together; it’s a preview, not a review or news.

3. BRINDILLE, YOU’RE A FINE GIRL

Is French food enjoying a resurgence? That’s Phil Vettel’s opening premise for his three-star review of Carrie Nahabedian’s Brindille, and I’m not convinced of it. But the restaurant, which has been around six years now, gets good marks now that Nahabedian and her cousin Michael have closed Naha and it’s their primary focus: “Seafood and game dominate the entree selections, particularly this time of year. The star is the Dover sole, which Nahabedian imports from Europe and treats with the care that this royal fish deserves: roasted in brown butter along with whole almonds, Parisian potatoes, diced lemon and capers, and topped with dehydrated spiced lemon slices. It’s a $57 indulgence, but it’s a one-of-a-kind experience. And frankly, I wouldn’t trust a sole at a significantly lower price.”

4. SPOONERISM

Anthony Todd provides a look at the history and evolution of Furious Spoon, perhaps the biggest success story out of Chicago’s ramen boom, as it prepares to shake up its menu with new items. Turns out growing had its pains: “Upon opening, Furious Spoon was so popular it often had to close early because it ran out of food. That antique noodle machine could turn out only 200 orders a day, which [owner Shin] Thompson thought would be more than enough — until Furious Spoon started receiving 300 or 400 orders on weeknights… Over the following months, Thompson and his team ironed out issues while new ones arose as the group expanded. He had never worked at a multiple-location restaurant before, and he had to focus on making sure the ramen that customers got in Logan Square was identical to the ramen they got in Wicker Park.” (Which, honestly, as a customer of both, I’m not convinced was ever the case—Wicker Park was always better.) Here’s hoping the evolution works out to make a bigger, as well as consistent, chain.

5. WISHIN’ AND HOPIN’

Graham Meyer looks at the new Wishbone, a few blocks east of where it was Harpo Studios’ cafeteria for a zillion years: “The new Wishbone maintains the high-quality, straightforward food of its former location… Where devotees might notice a difference is the atmosphere. The warm-colored lantern light fixtures, the surreal anthropomorphic animal paintings and the many, many chickens have made the trip across the neighborhood. The bold-hued walls and dim, cluttered diner look have not.” (Crain’s)

6. DIVERSEY INITIATIVE

Crain’s declared Armitage the new restaurant row three years ago, and now Ari Bendersky says the same about Diversey, at least around Logan Square, and the reason is real estate: “The area is less populated, allowing for people to secure cool, interesting spaces with cheaper rents, says Brian Laskov, managing partner at Kudan Group, a real estate brokerage specializing in hospitality and retail. ‘On Diversey the rents are better than they are on Armitage, which is starting to go up,’ Laskov says. ‘Milwaukee is in the $30-to-$40 range, but five years ago rents were around $20 a square foot. Diversey is under $20 a square foot.'” How many of the hot spots he names have you been to?

7. SMOKING LITTERING AND TACO EATING

Last month I mentioned that CityLab story on Chicago’s high rating for tacos and transit recently, and John Greenfield put up a map of tacos with good proximity to transit at the Reader (judging by the names of some of the people credited with helping, he dug deep into Reader’s archive of early LTHForum-era reviews). A reader of StreetsBlog Chicago (which Greenfield also contributes to) added his own pretty good list of favorites here.

8. HOLD ME BY THE GREAT LAKE OF NABOO

The J.D Salinger of Chicago pizzas, Great Lake, which closed in 2013 after national acclaim (and some fame for its prickly manner), will return for an event February 4 at Cellar Door Provisions, selling slices of square pizzas in honor of Cellar Door’s fifth anniversary. (Tribune)

9. TITUS UNSTOPPABUS

I’ve been kind of vegetating (and transcribing a very long interview for Fooditor this week) since I got back from Thailand. In the same time, friend of Fooditor Titus Ruscitti seems to have published 8,317 reviews. Here he is on a seafood spot in Old Town, Two Lights, where one of the best things was “Described on the menu as grilled Spanish octopus it also had some fresh Greek flavors going when mixed with the salad made of tomato, cucumber, onion, and Feta. This was cooked perfectly to where a spoon easily broke pieces of the octopus off.”

Buncha Hanoi is a Vietnamese place in Glenview offering the meat and noodle salad bun cha: “This version might not be as funky as some veterans of this dish might like but they offer two different fish sauces on the side for you to funk it up. I liked the addition of little slivered of fried garlic to the noodles which are always served room temp.”

And he hits a place that also made The Fooditor 99, Finom Coffee, where he tried their version of gulyasleves, goulash: “It’s a pretty soupy rendition to the point where it almost tastes like a perfectly made beef and vegetable soup. I actually had this just recently during that mini cold streak and it was just what I wanted as far as lunch on a cold winter day.

10. BABKA O’RILEY

I had heard something about a Jewish Mexican bakery coming to the south side but promptly forgot about it. Here, from a couple of weeks ago, is a site called The Nosher telling you all about Masa Madre: “Mixing Mexican flavors into traditional Jewish dishes, at least on the savory side, has been happening in Mexico for centuries. But not in dessert. ‘This isn’t something that is happening in Mexico that much,’ Unikel notes. Among Masa Madre’s diverse clientele, Jewish Latinos, in particular, ‘have been very excited to see the mix of the two [cuisines].’ Even Unikel was surprised to learn how many Jews from Latin America, or with Latin American roots, are in Chicago.” (H/t Jose Ralat)

11. MR. SCOTCH

David Hammond has a doable New Year’s resolution: drink more scotch. Here’s his guide.

12. THE NEW STANDARD

In the new Pizza City USA podcast, Steve Dolinsky talks to Chicago’s Rich Labriola about recreating Chicago’s classic pizza styles 

13. TRONCUILIZED

I can’t even face the latest stories about the latest oxygen thief executives at the Tribune who will get a big payout for doing nothing, or worse. Just go read this (h/t Nick Kindelsperger).

14. AUTHENTIZZY

And more in grumpy media: Someone named Sara Kay read 20,000 Yelp reviews to determine patterns in them, per her article in Eater. Ok, this should be good. The conclusion she came to: “I can tell you a lot about what I concluded about the depths of the internet, but I’ll start with this one: The word ‘authentic’ in food reviews supports white supremacism [sic], and Yelp reviews prove it.” Wait, what?

I’ll agree on two points: “authenticity” is one of those words that gets thrown around without a lot of thought of what it really means, and Yelp is full of a lot of thoughtless writing in general, worth every penny that Yelp paid for it. But how you get from that to “Seeking more authentic Chinese food than Panda Express makes you literally Hitler” is, well, a bit strained:

“While it might seem good to label restaurants as authentic, the usage of the term builds an authenticity trap where reviews reinforce harmful stereotypes that then become nearly impossible for restaurateurs to shake off. Negative traits like ‘gaudy signs’ and decor, as well as price, end up becoming necessary to maintain positive reviews for being ‘authentic.’ But those same traits impact overall Yelp review rating; there’s a negative correlation (-0.17) between star rating and the amount reviewers use the word ‘authenticity’ in Chinese and Mexican food.”

Right there I see a big methodological flaw: it’s by no means clear that the people downvoting a restaurant and those calling it authentic are the same people. Indeed, there might well be two groups using the A word, those for whom authentic is a positive and those for whom immigrant food comes with negative connotations. So calling something authentic doesn’t make you literally Hitler—what authentic means to you determines how Hitlery you literally are.

That’s a big but, as Pee Wee said. I guess I would say most uses of the A word are probably coming with unexamined assumptions, but let’s give many of these people credit for wanting to eat more Mexican-tasting tacos, more Chinese Chinese food, whatever. And in the process, supporting immigrant restaurants over chains and American industrial food. Surely that’s something we want to encourage—and the immigrant restaurants involved will not be happier if you make seeking “authentic” food something white Yelpers are afraid to do.

WHAT MIKE ATE

I cooked a lot, from all my new Christmas cookbooks, but even so I got out for a few things. Taqueria el Heredero is a solid taqueria on Armitage in Logan Square, not far from Scofflaw/Giant/etc., the best of several new ones I’ve been to recently. I also went to Egg-O-Holic, the Gujarati street food place that Mike Sula reviewed last week—there’s a real disconnect between the bar feel of the place (empty when I went, though it was doing some takeout business) and the very simple street food, which calls for more of a fast food feel, but I liked my egg bhurji enough to go back and try something else.

In 2017 I went to several restaurants in downtown hotels and the only one I thought was pretty good was the seafood-oriented Portsmith. So when I got a media invite to go for a Mexican dinner there… well, at first I was skeptical, then I was charmed by the whole story, which was 1) letting a Mexican sous chef take the lead on the menu, 2) building a theme around La Bestia, the route that immigrants take through different parts of Mexico, and 3) benefiting Roberto Clemente High School and featuring musicians and dancers from the school. And it was a charmer for all three reasons, with the added bonus of giving an undocumented student a chance to tell her story between courses. It was only for one night, but happily it sold out, and so they’ll do it again in February. The date isn’t up yet, but watch for the news here.

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