Example 1: A special tax popped up out of nowhere to help fund McCormick Place—just as they were talking about tearing down and rebuilding the Lakeside Center. (As Steve Goodman sang, “Daley built McCormick Place twice/because once was not enough…”) Okay, McCormick place is a driver of a certain amount of economic activity, so tax some Loop hotels—sure. But the exciting restaurant scene in Chicago is also a driver of attendance at McCormick Place events. And this tax plan laid claim to wetting McCormick’s beak from virtually the entire hot-restaurant map, all the way out to Logan and Lakeview, not to mention the hot West Loop, when the reverse might make just as much sense.

Do you believe that people at the Plumbing Parts Convention are taking $20 Ubers and eating at Giant or Resi’s Bierstube? No, but they might go to a Cubs or Bulls game– and the sports arenas were spared charging this tax, because this is just about extracting money from no-clout little guys even at the risk of harming our food and beverage scene. Fortunately, Mayor Lightfoot announced her opposition, and that seemed to slow it down, but it doesn’t seem completely dead yet. The Chicago Bars Twitter account has been good at following this and telling you how to contact your state rep and say no.

Example 2: It’s been a while since there’s been reason to slag on Most Visionary Newspaperman Ever Michael Ferro, but Tribune Publishing announced that it will distribute a $56 million dividend to stockholders. Which means $13.6 million for Ferro for all his hard work driving content into the funnel, or whatever it was. What tossing this money around means for actually doing journalism is too small to be detected by the human eye, but the Trib still hasn’t shown much sign of interest in its actual business, even with Ferro in exile for his bad behavior.


Graham Meyer looks at yet another business lunch fish spot, Ocean Prime, and asks: why? “So why would someone eat here, as opposed to, say, Morton’s (one block away), Smith & Wollensky (three), Benny’s Chop House (three) or any of the other dozen steakhouses in easy ambling distance? The argument the restaurant puts forward in its name—seafood—winnows out some of the rivals, but not Joe’s (three blocks away) or McCormick & Schmick’s (one)… For a business lunch, Ocean Prime fits right in with the copious competition. But in steak-mad Chicago, there are a lot of fish in that ocean.” (Crain’s)


At CS, Ariel Cheung went to Stephanie Izard’s Cabra, her Peruvian rooftop bar, and observes that “When a celebrity chef like Stephanie Izard opens a restaurant, it’s practically impossible to live up to the hype. But the keen selection of ceviches, sashimi-style tiraditos, street food snacks and robust large plates is, to boil it down, just good fun to enjoy. One gets the sense that Izard is having fun too—her pink bandana can be spotted from across the dining room in the open kitchen, as she expedites dishes and caters to the eight-seat ceviche bar.”


Amaru, a new restaurant in the former Lokal space in Wicker Park, run by ex-Carnivale chef Rodolfo Cuadros, aims to feature food of both his native Mexico and Mexican immigrants in America, writes Anthony Todd: “His plantain dish is inspired by an Ecuadoran technique of wrapping shrimp in plantains and frying them, but Cuadros’s version… is a play on bacon-wrapped dates, stuffed with sweet chorizo and wrapped in bacon. He brings a similar twist to his ‘very traditional’ charcoal-cooked chicken by bringing in the Japanese charcoal traditionally used in robata grilling. ‘I love Indian food, Japanese food, everything—and this is about being Hispanic-American, which means taking a little of everything and mixing it together.’”

5. DIVE!

You and I drive by them—Titus Ruscitti actually eats at dive bars, and lets us know how they are: “Small World Inn sits on the busy stretch of 106th street just east of the bridge. I’ve written about this Eastern European bar before over on Serious Eats. At some point during the past calendar year I became aware of a Tuesday night taco special going on. Small World’s location on the Eastside puts it in the middle of the Chicagoland deep fried taco pocket. An area where you’ll find a few spots on both sides of the IL/IN border where they make tacos this way. None of that store bought hard shell crap in these parts. Corn tortillas are stuffed with ground beef and held together with toothpicks while they take a bath in the deep fryer until golden and crispy.


Louisa Chu’s guide to banchan, the little appetizers that come with your meal in many Korean restaurants, is hardly the first time anyone’s done that—but it’s something worth doing every so often, so people don’t let confusion stop them from enjoying our considerable range of Korean restaurants. She runs through the options with Chef Andy Lim, of San Soo, the downtown spinoff of venerable San Soo Gab San.


At Viet Taste, Steve Dolinsky finds top-notch Vietnamese food on Harlem in Norridge, including housemade pate on the banh mi.


Friend of Fooditor Abra Berens was on The Splendid Table this week, talking her book Ruffage and how to salvage “faded” food in the fridge.


Hugh Amano helped write the Fat Rice cookbook; Sarah Becan illustrated it, and the Reader has a preview of their new project, a comic-style cookbook devoted to ramen.


…is the phrase that almost always bodes well for what a Mexican restaurant is making, because it means that they care enough to make tortillas by hand. Mike Sula has a list of places that do that, and asks for more suggestions—offhand I’d mention both Tortillerias Las Gamas and Taqueria El Kacheton.


A lot of notable spots seem to be exiting the scene this week. The big bummer is Twain, Tim and Rebekah Graham’s imaginative restaurant built around vintage midwestern recipes. I loved the concept and a lot of the food… but it kind of felt like it never had that one thing that everybody had to go try. Others: The latest, not entirely whelming incarnation of Lettuce Entertain You in the Pump Room, Booth One, is closing. Leghorn Chicken had its license revoked, leaving Element Collective with only  Nellcote and RM Champagne Salon left. And HB Home Bistro, started (but long since sold off) by the Hearty Boys, caterer-restaurateurs who had a Food Network show at one time, is closing after 14 years.


At a media dinner at Cafe Cancale last week, someone asked Donnie Madia why Publican Anker didn’t make it. “Do you think of us as a bar group or a restaurant group?” he said. We all said restaurant, and to his mind, Publican Anker was too much of a Wicker Park bar for them to do well.

Well, Cafe Cancale still has the zinc bar, but the coastal-France concept is a damn good restaurant, even in its first week. There were a couple of opening executional flaws (less salt in the chicken brine, guys), but not many, and in any case, the concept is so enticing you won’t mind—French food, driven by carefully-sourced seafood and with a delicate hand as to seasonings and composition. Meaty Chico Bay oysters from Washington, fat shrimp in a sauce bagnarotte, a lobster salad sprinkled with grated black lime that made a straight-up lobster later on pale by comparison, a salad with chicory, bacon and smoked eel that sounds incoherent but comes together beautifully in the mouth, steak frites with escargot and bordelaise… go and work your way through the menu of gently reinvented yet subtly complex classics, and you’ll be impressed by one after another.

In more casual dining I caught up with some recent modest-scale openings. My son and I swung by Arigato Market, the tiny butcher shop (all the meat is frozen, alas) with tacos; I liked the poké one best, but it was only after we finished that I realized that it was a beef-oriented butcher shop, yet not one of the tacos we had (and maybe only one on the menu) actually involved the beef they’re touting. That seems a missed opportunity (and one they don’t miss at, say, Justin Carlisle’s Laughing Taco in Milwaukee, for instance, where you get his dad’s fantastic beef on a $2.50 taco).

Better was Big Boss Spicy Chicken in Bridgeport; the hot chicken sandwich seemed to rank with the better ones, a little gloppy with cole slaw on the sandwich, but in a good way. What I really loved, though, was the side of housemade pickles—the perfect cooling accompaniment to your hot chicken.

And I finally got back to S.K.Y., probably close to a year since I’ve been. I could wish the menu would change a little more, but it’s such a solidly put together lineup I wouldn’t toss dishes out very often either, and the execution in a pretty small kitchen is always stellar. Besides the classics (the hamachi crudo, the lobster dumplings, the foie bimbimbap) new dishes included some fantastic Japanese pickled cucumbers—a wonderful refreshing lightness—and a fine swordfish entree. The biggest change I saw was in Tatum Sinclair’s dessert program, which seems fully blossomed by now into a harmonious assortment of inventive dishes. The place was packed and buzzin’, but service was warm and congenial throughout, and the bill is shockingly reasonable—this remains one of the best newish restaurants in town.