I was just finishing this up when I saw the news of the passing of Lin Brehmer, longtime WXRT radio personality. Personality is exactly what radio hardly has any more—wonder why podcasts have taken off—but Brehmer was one, not only for radio but for Chicago, a city he embodied by being a fan of its music, sports and, not least, dining, in a smart but sunny and uncynical way. We first met when we were both judges for Chicago Gourmet’s Hamburger Hop, chatting about rock and roll (we talked about our respective kids turning us onto Titus Andronicus), and pre-COVID I’d see him around the scene occasionally—at a party for Heaven on Seven, I sat and chatted with him, Terri Hemmert and Bill Jacobs (Jacobs Brothers Bagels/Piece), which made me feel like a real Chicagoan if anything in the last 35 years ever did. He was back on the radio after cancer treatment, so it was a shock, but not really a surprise. As with the passing of another radio voice I’d met on the food scene, Andrew Patner, a few years ago, or Studs Terkel, who I waited behind in line for pickled herring at Tre Kronor’s Julbord, my city is a little grayer today.


First, an interview with Iliana Regan about her book Fieldwork, in the Wall Street Journal; I liked this pairing of items, since it shows her inspiration in one of the most out-there cookbooks I own, and then how she brings it down to home cooking:

A book I often turn to is: “Fäviken” [by Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson]. We have a lot of the same ingredients where we are, so I like to look through it for inspiration. Something he did in that book was age vinegar in a tree stump. I was like, “Oh yeah, I’ve really got to do that someday.” I even got a circle-cutting saw.

My pantry is always stocked with: homemade vinegar, ready for use or in the works. By homemade vinegar, I mean fruits or leaves or something I’ve mixed with honey and water, essentially making hooch, and then allowed to turn to vinegar. Always sauerkraut. Always something being salt fermented.

And then another in the Chicago Review of Books, a little worrisome that the question is longer than the answer, but worth reading:

Throughout Fieldwork, you beautifully narrate your family’s history of food and foraging, and how you all created culinary traditions combining your European heritage with the flora and fauna of Indiana. At one point, you describe your great-grandmother Grandma Sciara who, upon emigrating from Italy, “brought her memories to America in the form of food.” Do you think recipes are the main place family memories—the good and the bad—are stored and passed along, if we look (and taste) closely enough?

There’s a lot of grandmothers and great grandmothers in the book and grandmother Sciara was my dad’s friend’s grandmother. My great grandmother was Busia from Poland. But to your point, I think everything comes along with us, especially in the form of nourishment. Sort of like that saying “we are what we eat.” I think there’s something to that.

But here’s the big news: Regan will be back in Chicago! Before Atelier opens under its new chef (see below), she’ll be guest-cheffing in her own former space with a Milkweed Inn pop-up from Saturday, February 4 to Tuesday, February 14. The tasting menu is $160 per person with optional pairings. Go here to reserve.


Two reviews for Indienne this week! At the Trib, Nick Kindelsperger has reasons to like what Sujan Sarkar is doing at Indian tasting menu Indienne: it’s not larding the price with luxuries:

Though Sarkar has grand ambitions for Indienne, he is also adamant the prices not get out of control. “I want people to try my food,” Sarkar said. “When I was a young cook, I could never afford to go to those expensive places. Plus, a lot of those places aren’t really cooking. They are curating ingredients. I want to be a cook.”

One way Sarkar does this is by wisely avoiding the trap of automatically parading out the usual luxury ingredients. I’ll never complain about eating caviar, but I also don’t think every tasting menu meal has to lead off with a hefty scoop of briny fish eggs. When I see foie gras, it’s usually the least interesting course. Yes, there are truffles, but they are kept to a reasonable amount and their funky, earthy aroma works to elevate both courses.

At Chicago, John Kessler says Indienne authentically captures Indian food… in London:

It feels like a posh meal in the British capital, which boasts seven Michelin-starred Indian restaurants. From the moment his version of chaat — a street snack reimagined as a construction of textured yogurts, dollops of colorful sauce, and fried potato wisps — hits the table, I was reminded of meals I had mostly enjoyed in the U.K. and in fancy hotels in India. Meals that were beautiful, playful, and indulgent, if not always complexly spiced or soulful.


Grimod joins those praising Stephen Gillamders’ Valhalla as one of the best new restaurants in Chicago—even if it’s in the not-very-permanent-feeling balcony of Time Out Market, with its marketing concept of curating and offering what’s talked about in the magazine (which barely exists):

When Time Out Market says that it offers “the city’s most delicious dishes, cooked by some of the most decorated chefs in the Midwest,” consumers know they are listening to an infomercial. When the venue touts “a hand-selected array of everything you could want to eat, drink and see in Chicago, all under one roof,” no gastrotourist really thinks they are going to substitute a trip to Alinea, Oriole, or Smyth with something served out of a stall. Placing financial interest front and center while abandoning any pretense of ethical purity ironically reads as trustworthy. You do not mind being sold to, but you do rue those who—while posturing as independent voices—subtly manipulate your taste in line with their own, unstated vision of social engineering. There’s something shameless about what Time Out is doing, yet it remains a thousand times more palatable than what its peers—draping themselves in the banner of the Fourth Estate—perpetuate.

He has a lot to say about the state of food journalism that Time Out Market doesn’t so much represent as take to the nth degree, as well as a lengthy digression on caviar around town that would have made its own piece, but it eventually gets to Valhalla (including the wine program by Jelena Prodan—the one whose Jean Banchet nomination was rescinded after a protest on social media). An example on one dish, using branzino and the crispy sticks of shredded phyllo dough:

Diving in, it is quite striking to see how the light-, golden-, and dark-brown tones of the crisped kataifi contrast with the gunmetal tones of the black lime sauce and the plate itself. The colors almost work to challenge what you typically consider “edible” (at a purely visual level), with the white flesh of the fish—upon being revealed—serving to connect the various shades. Attacking the lubina with fork and knife, the fillet breaks apart cleanly and takes a neat shard of the kataifi topper with it. The latter element, upon hitting your teeth, is perfectly crisped while the bass itself displays a moderate firmness that yields to a gentle flake. The fregola sarda, when it works its way into your bite, offers a creamy, faintly chewy consistency that joins with the bouncy bits of razor clam to enhance your perception of the fish’s mouthfeel. The black lime, meanwhile, paints the lubina’s mild flavor with tart, tangy notes that are backed by a surprisingly musky finish. This latter element helps to emphasize the fregola’s nutty quality and imbues the dish with an overarching savory character that is highly enjoyable. The “Katafi Lubina” is beautifully conceived and perfectly executed.


Only Michael Nagrant would get to a Korean barbecue spot, Roy Choi’s Best Friend, in Vegas by way of the late rapper Juice WRLD and his own recent experience not getting laid off in a corporate layoff (no, he does not work for Eater). The food part:

Because this is Vegas you can ball out with the $160 cowboy ribeye or the $49 truffle-sauced sunny-side up eggs, but most things on this menu are under $30, a relative steal when the Fiji water in the Aria hotel mini-bar costs $25.24.

I can also guarantee that the $69 (that price is no accident) per person chef menu which can easily feed two is one of the best tasting menu deals in the country. It includes a selection of old school K-BBQ banchan including napa and radish kimchi as well as sesame-flecked marinated broccoli that even your most disapproving halmoni would love. There’s also a sweet glazed soft roll that makes you wish King’s Hawaiian would hire Choi as a consultant.


A few years ago I remember hearing about a restaurant where the table came to life with animated characters on the plate. Now it’s hear and David Hammond says Le Petit Chef, at the Fairmont Hotel, is at least more engaging than that immersive Van Gogh thing that was here last year:

It all starts with the projected image of Le Petit Chef, standing on each plate, introducing each diner to the experience to follow. The first animated sequence, I must admit, was cool. It was an abbreviated story of the tomato, how it was cultivated in South America before moving north to Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that would become present-day Mexico City; animated conquistadors invade and trash the Aztec capital, grab some tomatoes, and we see their boat cross the ocean back to Europe, where the tomato is transplanted in a European garden.

I looked around the room as this was happening, and I must say, everyone seemed riveted to the action on the tabletop. Finally, as the story of the tomato faded away, servers quickly moved into the room to present each diner with a tomato-forward salad.

And that’s the way our dinner proceeded. A course, briskly followed by another animated sequence that set up the next.

A journalist sitting next to me said, “This would be excellent for introverts. You could just look at the table in front of you and not make eye contact.”


Dennis Lee goes off the beefen path at Mr. Beef, by recommending… the Italian sub:

But in my mind, the best thing outside the Italian beef are the deli sandwiches, which are served from a separate area.

These things are hefty as fuck and are worth the price of admission. If you order one, a surly employee will come out from the back and will slice the meat right in front of you. The Italian is my favorite if I’m in the mood for cured meats, but the turkey sandwich is great too. It all depends on how much sodium your body’s capable of handling in one day. (Speaking of, don’t forget the giardinera for some zip.)


Atelier, taking over the Elizabeth space, announced its chef, Christian Hunter:

A native of Lexington, Kentucky, Hunter was most recently the Executive Chef at Community Table in Litchfield County, Connecticut. He holds a culinary degree from Paul Smith’s College in upstate New York and has cooked at Relais & Châteaux’s Lake Placid Lodge and The Weekapaug Inn in Rhode Island. He also spent four years in Charleston, South Carolina, cultivating relationships with local farmers along with his own culinary identity.

Hunter’s signature style focuses on infusing New American fare with unexpected global flavors. He is intrigued by sustainable food production and nutritional anthropology, and strives to utilize the utmost of everything he brings into the kitchen.

Opening night will be February 22.


Chicago Restaurant Week runs from January 20 to February 5 (look, it hasn’t been a week-long week for a long time). Anthony Todd used to do an insanely complex analysis of where the good deals and the bad deals were; he hasn’t done it for a while but others are taking a crack at it. The closest to Anthony’s spreadsheet was one worked up by a Reddit user named Summergal4285, which comes up with the best deals at multiple Restaurant Week price points and so on. Here’s Eater, finding deals at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba (because a 35-year-old restaurant in Lincoln Park is exactly what restaurant week is for finally checking out), Big Jones, The Publican and others. And here’s The Infatuation, with a few new spots I’d never heard of (Dell Rooster?)


I find Dry January of little interest, but a non-alcoholic bar trying to accomodate people who want to socialize without booze makes sense to me, so I liked this Reader piece on Bendición Dry Bar, which aims to provide that atmosphere (though it’s only an event space for now):

“When I first got sober, I realized I had nowhere to really go. I found myself sitting on one of the benches by the eagle statue in Logan Square in mid-February at like 8 at night. I was like, ‘I don’t want to go home, but I also don’t want to go to a bar because I know I’m going to drink. I can’t go to a café, because most of them close at 4 or 5. There’s not another space for people like me,’” [owner Cristina] Torres recounted.


Louisa Chu encapsulates Chicago’s Chinatown in a one-day visit—with a lot of walking, since one of the early treks on her itinerary sends you from snapping a pic of the Chinatown Gate to a half mile west over the bridge to 88 Marketplace for dim sum, passing a lot of good stuff on the way (including dim sum at Dolo). But make your own travel plan, the stops suggested are good.


Not a big fan of hot pot, which I consider more a social experience than a culinary one, but it keeps coming to Chicago—here’s Steve Dolinsky on two new places, Qiao Lin in 88 Marketplace and Shoo Loong Kan on Wentworth.


Axios checks out how cashless drive-through works at Portillo’s. Not that great!


Eye-opening piece at the Trib from the NY Times: if you work in a restaurant, you’re supposed to take a food safety class, often from a company called ServSafe. What does ServSafe do with your class fees? Fund lobbying to keep your compensation down:

For years, the restaurant association and its affiliates have used ServSafe to create an arrangement with few parallels in Washington, where labor unwittingly helps to pay for management’s lobbying. First, in 2007, the restaurant owners took control of a training business. Then they helped lobby states to mandate the kind of training they already provided — producing a flood of paying customers…

During the Clinton and Obama administrations, the association was a major force in limiting employer-provided health care benefits. And though pressure from liberal groups has grown and workers’ wages have fallen for decades when adjusted for inflation, the group helped assemble enough bipartisan opposition to scuttle a bill in 2021 to raise the federal minimum wage for all workers to $15 per hour over five years.


The acid-tongued fine dining satire The Menu is on HBO Max now, and the thing that seems to be wowing people is the burger that chef Ralph Fiennes makes for skeptical diner Anya Taylor-Joy when she says his fancy food has no love or pleasure in it. Buzzfeed has a piece on all the different publications that have taken a whack at imitating the burger we see in the movie, and claims to have the original recipe:

The set of The Menu was stacked with major players in the food world so the courses (and actors who “prepared” them) would look as legit as possible. Case in point: Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn worked with the team to bring the menu to life, and the creator of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, David Gelb, consulted with the filmmakers to create those impeccable shots of each course. The pro responsible for the burger, in particular, was Savannah, Georgia chef John Benhase, who is a partner at the street-food destination Starland Yard. And if everyone’s collective cheeseburger frenzy is any indication, it’s pretty evident that he knows how to make a great one.

To be honest, it’s a pretty standard smashburger type. When the recipe suggests putting a ball of meat on parchment paper and using that to flatten it with your hand, well, that’s a technique I observed in high school at Bionic Burger in Wichita. Didn’t need a Michelin star or Dominique Crenn to come up with that; a fat guy named Duke or Clem or something had that down 30-plus years ago.

But there is something upscale-chef-ish I noticed along the way. As an excellent piece in the Reader documented some weeks back, a lot of the inspiration for the movie came from the co-writers’ experience of Chicago restaurants like Alinea and El Ideas. But as I looked at the picture of The Menu’s burger in the Buzzfeed article—like the one that comes after the picture of Ralph Fiennes at the beginning of the piece—it reminded me of another Chicago burger, the one-time Dirty Burg at The Loyalist in the West Loop, a deliberately imperfectly-shaped burger on a bun dotted with sesame seeds (compare with the picture in this 2017 Bon Appetit piece).

The Loyalist is, of course, the other half to Smyth, the very upscale and avant-garde dining experience that is, like Alinea and El Ideas, the kind of restaurant that inspired this movie. So I’d say, if you want the true The Menu experience, eat at Smyth and then go downstairs for a burger! Not that I expect Smyth to get up to The Menu-style mayhem—it is in fact one of the most warm and relaxed upscale spots in town, making a Menu-style Smores-pocalypse or Smoredammerung most unlikely.