When I went to Jonathan Zaragoza’s Calli in SoHo House, not only was he there, his parents showed up that evening too. That wasn’t the case for Nick Kindelsperger, and it colors his whole review:

For years, I’ve longed for Zaragoza to settle down and show us what he’s got. I thought Čálli, located in the swanky Soho House in the West Loop, would be the spot, especially since the restaurant’s name means house in the pre-Hispanic central Mexican language of Nahuatl. Talking to Zaragoza ahead of the opening, he said he was “inspired by places in Mexico that made me feel at home.” It’s a great image.

But instead of a comfortable refuge hidden in the West Loop, Čálli comes off as overly professional and reserved. Instead of a warm hug, Zaragoza wants to keep us at arm’s-length.

Well, we agree on one thing for sure:

Much better are the enmoladas, where multiple kinds of mushrooms, including some that pick up smoke from the grill, are wrapped up in handmade corn tortillas. It’s then ladled with dark black mole poblano, the complex specialty from Puebla that combines dozens of components like chiles, dried fruit, chocolate and nuts to create a savory, spicy and ever-so-slightly sweet sauce. Since the Soho House is completely nut-free, Zaragoza had to experiment with the traditional components, adding puffed amaranth and pepitas to get the right texture. Comforting yet complex, it’s the highlight of the small menu.

That’s one of my top dishes of the year.


We have Indian tasting menus, so what’s next? Persian, says Mike Sula, at a place called Maman Zari (no relation to long-gone Avanzare):

They officially open on Thursday with an eight-course tasting menu of reimagined dishes—with wine pairings—on a stretch of Kedzie Avenue in Albany Park that’s also home to two of the city’s most established and beloved Persian restaurants.

But you won’t find anything like [chef Matteo] Lo Bianco’s compressed watermelon salad with balsamic pearls on the menu at Kabobi, nor his double-smoked mirza ghasemi, served with crunchy saffron-tinted rice chips that mimic tahdig, the crispy bottom-of-the-pot layer of basmati rice that every Persian family fights over. Noon-O-Kabab’s menu sprawls, but you won’t find any deep cuts like Lo Bianco’s abdoogh khiar, a chilled yogurt soup with cucumber, walnuts, and raisins; or his mahi sefid, a saffron-battered, gently pan-fried branzino filet, served with smoked dill-parsley-cilantro-flecked rice and saffron beurre blanc.


I keep hearing about a new French restaurant in the Loop called Bistro Monadnock—which should tell you exactly where it is. Michael Nagrant is the first to write—or rave—about it, also revealing who one of the guys behind it is—Craig Sindelaar of Band of Bohemia (the chef is Johnny Besch, ex of BLVD—but I already knew that):

I don’t know if I’ve encountered a chef who is better at salting food. Besch more than almost any chef I know understands how to season right to the very edge of perfection without going over, something I noticed at BLVD. He’s spinning the same kind of magic at Monadnock.

There’s a particular sorcery in his bouillabaisse, rich with lobster stock, and a half- foot-long crouton topped with a Guy Fieri-esque spikey crown of peppadew-packed rouille. It tastes a little like Romesco and adds an acidic punch to the heady brew.


Smash burgers are big; Steve Dolinsky visited a bunch of them and offers a roundup of five he thought were particular standouts:

Nothing thick and juicy about these… but it’s the technique of literally smashing the burger on the flat top, resulting in a crispy, lacey edge, which adds wonderful texture but maintains that optimal bite ratio I’m always looking for in a sandwich.

Is a burger a sandwich? Anyway, one of Dolinsky’s picks is in my hood of Roscoe Village, but Chicago magazine calls out another one in my hood (some would say officially it’s in West Lakeview, but it’s definitely the commercial strip used by Roscoe Villagers), Bitter Pops. Peter Gianopulos:

When it comes to smash burgers, I’m a charred-edges man. Two ultrathin patties, please, each singed around the corners until they flake like South Side burnt ends. Suffice to say, they smash ’em good at Bitter Pops: one part takeout beer emporium, one part family-friendly taproom. There are no froufrou toppings, just grilled onions, American cheese, and a dynamite Dijonnaise, which marries a garlicky aïoli with a sharp mustard.


Titus Ruscitti visits an exotic land—the north shore. He admits that Ferris Bueller country is not a land of culinary wonders:

Todays post is exclusively a collection of food stops from the North Shore which I’ve always considered to be just the suburbs north of Chicago that touch the lake from Evanston to Lake Bluff. It’s a peaceful place but it’s also vanilla when it comes to options for food and fun. That said there’s still spots worth a stop should you need to eat before or after you beach. Just don’t expect them to be life changing.

Myself, if I have to head up that way I usually check to see what there is in Indian food near where I’ll be. And then I usually wind up at some vintage hot dog or burger stand.


The Infatuation recaps the draws at Asador Bastian, then provides the consumer guide you need:

If all of the above sounds expensive, well, that’s because it is. But Asador Bastion [sic] won’t leave you wondering where your money is going. This place pays attention to details: cute marrow bone holders cradle custom-made knives, and that Boeufologist will make sure you know exactly where that cecina came from, along with its credit score. Plus, you can absolutely trust the kitchen to not fuck up a $200 charcoal-grilled steak.

Fair enough, though I still hold to my iconoclastic advice for this palace of beef: order the fishy things.


While Persian goes tasting-menu upscale, Indian food goes Americana at Kama Bistro, according to Eater’s Ashok Selvam:

[Owner Vikram] Singh, a native of New Delhi, calls his restaurant “Indian-influenced Americana.” While customers will find meats from the tandoor and traditional North Indian fare like rogan josh, Kama also serves tacos (in tortillas, not paratha or another Indian flatbread; Singh became enamored with Mexican food while living in Houston), beef ribeyes (steaks need more than salt and pepper, Singh reasons), and sometimes baby back ribs (they’re a beloved special). Seafood options like sea bass and lobster bisque are also on the menu. A ravioli uses makhani (the sauce used for butter chicken) instead of marinara or red sauce. Kama has even expanded its vegan options, substituting ghee for olive oil to make items dairy free. A roasted cauliflower will make vegans and vegetarians happy, Singh says.


I wound up giving quotes to two different outlets about the Michelin awards this week, though your ability to find out what I said is someone restricted (the same goes for me). WBBM has a podcast called Looped In: Chicago and I was one of three people interviewed (the others are Graham Elliott, who you hear the most from, and writer Samantha Nelson). I’m in it pretty briefly, and not really that much about Michelin, but it’s interesting overall to hear how a chef (in Elliott’s case) reacts to getting Michelin attention.

Then, apparently Michelin is coming to Atlanta, and so John Kessler wrote about Chicago’s experience with Michelin for his old haunt, the AJC. I’m reportedly quoted in it—it triggered my Google alert—but I can’t actually see what I’m said to have said, because it’s only accessible to subscribers and I don’t really want to subscribe to a paper from a city I don’t live in just to read one piece, something I have reason to say all the time these days. Newspapers really need to find a way to sell me just a little of their content, not make a lifetime commitment.


Chicago tends to get a little dismissed these days, so it’s impressive that we ranked two spots on a Resy list of “the ten restaurants that define American dining in summer 2023.” One is definitely new, but the other, a 20-year veteran, has a cookbook coming out, so I guess that’s why for Lula Cafe.


Speaking of John Kessler, he has a piece at Food & Wine on what he learned about grilling when he lived in Japan and traveled around Asia.


When someone told me Aikana was “temporarily closed,” I had to think what it had been while open. It’s the third restaurant in the space that was Grace and Yugen, though I never knew if it was still under the management of Grace/Yugen owner Michael Olszewski or simply subleasing the space. Anyway, the South American concept never got much attention; the only review it ever got that I can find was this one in The Infatuation. Now comes this announcement:

The Aikana Family is honored to have the recent opportunity to grow and expand our experience.

To allow this to come to life, we have to take a momentary pause in operations.

Whatever that all means. Maybe there’s a new concept coming. But even the need for one suggests that the once-three-Michelin-starred space is now a cursed location where nothing can seem to do well.


I went to two restaurants as a guest of the house this week:

The Graceful Ordinary is Chris Curren (Stout Barrel House, Blue 13, Fulton Market Kitchen)’s restaurant in St. Charles—and to judge by Saturday night, St. Charles is happy to have it. As in a lot of places in the suburbs (and the city, too, let’s be honest) the entrees tend to be a list of greatest hits proteins (steak, Slagel chicken, salmon—though squab is unusual these days), while the most interesting part of the menu was the smaller plates above it—octopus carpaccio was nice (and gave my nephew, who lives out there, his first taste of cephalopod); and tuna crudo, cubes of seared tuna and watermelon sitting in a spicy “conserva dressing,” whatever that is, was outstanding, and the most thought-provoking taste of the night, with different drips and dabs all over the plate (is that a pistachio creme plopped onto the tuna?) A pea shoot salad with burrata could hardly be improved for seasonal dining; there are only two pastas on the menu, but both were first-rate—orecchiette with fennel sausage and broccolini was good, and ramp pesto cavatelli with artichokes and hazelnuts was even better, complex and deeply satisfying. Dessert-wise, nephew—who says he loves bananas so much his doctor told him to go easy on the potasssium (something no one ever hears)—had the peanut butter banana bomb, which was something Elvis would have ordered, while my wife and I went, more restrainedly, for a simple butterscotch pot de creme. So all in all I found it a near-perfect restaurant for where it is, assuring comfortable eating for its audience while quietly pushing them a little with peak seasonality and skillful cooking (much of it done on a hearth visible to the main dining room). If you’re looking to eat in that part of the world, check it out.

I’m not a fan of Gibsons Italia—not that there’s any sign the very busy spot will suffer from the lack of my business. But I think, when I went, that it was our arrival being radioed up to a higher floor that made me feel like it was mainly a machine for making people feel self-important. Anyway, not the place for me, but I certainly gave then-Chef Jose Sosa credit for cranking out vast quantities of very capable Italian food and steak. Now Sosa is opening a restaurant of his own in partnership with Carlos Gaytan and Mexican backers, Ummo (which means “smoke” in Italian), in the old Rockit location on Hubbard. And I went to a media preview Thursday night, with a bunch of other Chicago food media people I mostly hadn’t seen since before COVID. (Looking around, I said to Frank Sennett that we looked like the Senior Tour.)

Anyway, I wondered going in if it would be more Italian restaurant, or steakhouse. (Smoke Steak.) More the former, beginning with some lushly over-the-top apps and primi dishes—octopus carpaccio (the It dish of summer 2023, apparently), a burrata ball wrapped in avocado and topped with caviar, a plate of risotto with wild mushrooms, black truffle slices and drizzled balsamic (the last was unnecessary, the rest were very nice), some tortellini, amply stuffed with ricotta and topped with pesto. Entrees included a platter of bistecca alla fiorentino, two different cuts of grilled steak dressed with an upright bone—very satisfying, and a wood-fired halibut, which was a bit underexciting save for the excellent summer corn scattered around it. The end was a showstopper dessert—a well-known Mexican pastry chef devised the program. The description was “tomato raspberry & vanilla compote,” which means so far as I can tell there was a ball of vanilla something with a runny raspberry center and a tomato-flavored skin, paired with basil sorbet. Sounds weird, but it was quite delicious and interesting (maybe to the point of stealing the thunder of the skillful but relatively conventional dishes before it). In any case, a media dinner like this gives you who knows how much of an idea what actually dining there as a customer will be like, but Ummo will be worth watching for seeing where someone who’s probably served more meals than 95% of chefs in Chicago goes, now that he’s the master of his own destiny.