Buzz List for March 11, 2019

Yugen gets good press, an alternative to the Cat fight, Italian Village justifies its existence, and Bar Kumiko is a critic's church

Yugen/Facebook

1. VIPS, THEN AND NOW

We’ve all heard about the Cat Cora Vs. Nick Kokonas business. You want a recap? Go here. But in the meantime, far less noticed, Kokonas took to social media… and shared some drawings made by a customer of his father’s long ago West Loop diner, James Lunch. The guy, known only as “Paulson,” would sometimes pay for his lunch with a cartoon summing up the rough and tumble atmosphere of a 1960s Greek diner—and they’re full of old Chicago atmosphere. Check them out starting here, and I like one tweeter’s suggestion: “James Lunch should be a Next menu with cartoons and all.”

2. YUGEN CALL ME AL

After Michael Nagrant’s fairly-described-as-damning review a couple of weeks ago, Yugen gets a couple of better notices. Phil Vettel acknowledges the restaurant’s bad karma history, but seems fairly wowed by Mari Katsumura’s food: “Katsumura’s first two menus… have been impressive. Her opening salvo dazzles: an assortment of imaginative canapes, consisting of butter-poached crab motoyaki, topped with osetra caviar; choux-pastry balls of mushroom gelee topped with braised octopus and Perigord truffle; tomago cubes with red togarashi and a bruleed-sugar crust; and a seriously upscale beef jerky. (No, really.)”

But he also acknowledges the inherent challenge: “What did arch my brows was the price. Yugen exclusively offers a tasting menu, priced at $205; add the optional $135 beverage tasting, and dinner for two, with tax and tip, will run close to $900. That puts Yugen in the price range occupied by Acadia, Oriole and Smyth (two Michelin stars each) and the Salon menu at Alinea (three Michelin stars). That’s a tough pack of dogs to run with.”

Ariel Cheung raves in a review in CS: “Between beautiful takes on Miyazaki wagyu, grilled octopus and sashimi are interpretations of family recipes Katsumura grew up making or watching her father—the late, beloved French-Japanese cuisine pioneer Yoshi Katsumura—whip up. The crab rice, served right after the miso soup, counters its predecessor’s levity with bold, funky, salty flavors gleaned from egg yolk, roe and puffed grains. It’s a re-creation of an after-school treat Katsumura used to make for herself as a teenager. Japanese curry, the final savory course, is forged from a version Katsumura’s father would frequently make in winter. The butter-yellow pool with curls of parsley oil perfectly complements morsels of Slagel Family Farm beef cheek, and its curried warmth reaches the depths of your soul.

3. THAT’S AMORE

“The most impressive thing about Italian Village is that it even exists,” Jeff Ruby says, as he skips out on new openings to see if the Loop’s three-story throwback to vintage Chicago dining is still worth a visit. There is a little bit of a new-news hook in a new chef for Vivere, and Ruby finds that the best case for relevance: “Emily Phillips took over the kitchen in December and has quickly made the Capitaninis’ crown jewel relevant again. Her dishes are precise, often winkingly clever. She charcoal-grills Spanish octopus until it’s purple and tender, dresses it in port wine, and nestles it among pan-fried purple potatoes on a creamy purple garlic aïoli. The flavors bounce and snap, and it looks like something Prince would have demanded from his personal chef.”

4. ON A STICK

Mike Sula writes on a subject close to my heart, new restaurants in Chinatown—I’ve been eating there like mad for a couple of months for a Fooditor story coming this week, I hope. Anyway, he focuses on two new places offering chuanr, spicy skewers of lamb and other things attributed to Northern China. He says Gao’s Kabob Sports Grill is “a bit more open to offering the off bits, including, e.g., whole grilled lamb feet, square-angled joints of chewy cartilaginous connective tissue crusted in the blend of cumin, chile, salt, and sesame you’ll find pasted on much of the chuanr you’ll encounter anywhere.” While at Friend BBQ, “I was particularly taken with the ribbons of chewy chicken skin and the cylinders of glistening pork belly wrapped around snappy enoki.”

5. SOMEONE SAVED MY LIFE TONIGHT

Michael Nagrant is rescued from the slough of despond by the precision and thought behind Julia Momose’s cocktails at Bar Kumiko: “She not only tends bar. She is the creative director. This is her show. Everything at Kumiko, whether borne of experience or experimentation, is a deliberate intensive distillation… Kumiko is a church, a temple of service, the kind that anticipates your needs before you ever knew you had them.” As for food, “The a la carte menu only has eight choices. If you are hungry, you should order all of them. Which is to say, every dish, developed by Mariya Russell and Noah Sandoval is perfect, and also, in many cases, as intricate and worthy of the Michelin two-star offering at their sister restaurant Oriole.”

6. MFING K

Lakeview’s mfk. is Graham Meyer’s reward for writing about many mediocre business lunches: “Virtually every dish on the menu sings, blending bold flavors and strong textures. The tapas de jamon ($10), which on our visit skewered very good ham, manchego cheese and a pickled mushroom, outdoes any house-party toothpick appetizer. The hanger steak ($32) with shallot butter and salsa verde revealed advance-prep pampering in its tenderness.”

7. THOSE WERE THE DAYS

David Hammond talks with Greg Borzo, author of a stroll down Chicago restaurant memory lane called Lost Restaurants of Chicago, and Doug Sohn who contributed the foreword. Sohn on places he wished he had gone: ““The Bakery and Charlie Trotter’s. Why? So I could stop being embarrassed about having never been to either.”

8. KOREAN TOWN

I am 100% in favor of the Trib’s monthly theme this month, Korean food. So far the slide show has mainly been greatest hits (BBQ at San Soo Gab San, wings at DAK), maybe with the exception of the health-focused Ssyal and its chicken-ginseng soup for all ailments, but based on staffers’ Instagram accounts, it’s clear they’ll be delving into the real mother lode of Chicago Korean, in Niles and nearby burbs, as the month goes on. Check it out here.

9. NOT UNCURED

Ed Behr at The Art of Eating has a polemic against so-called uncured meats (actually cured with nitrates and nitrites from supposedly more natural sources), quoting Tom Mylan of Brooklyn’s The Meat Hook who calls it “an exploiting of USDA labeling law loopholes.” Anyway, besides being interesting in itself, the experts in the field he talks to include Rob Levitt of The Butcher and Larder and Jonny Hunter of Madison’s Underground Collective and Chicago’s Brothers and Sisters.

10. INTRODUCING PIZZA

It’s one of the oddities of the city that few of Chicago’s neighborhood pizza styles can be found in the downtown area. But now Steve Dolinsky’s Pizza City USA book (which we talked about here) is the inspiration for a series of pop-ups at Revival Hall: starting March 18, My Pie, a vintage deep dish spot, will pop up for three months, followed by Pat’s with “uber-thin tavern cut,” Dante’s with New York-style foldable slices, and Palermo’s on 95th for south side tavern cut.

11. LATIN SQUARE

Ji Suk-Yi looks past the usual hotspots of Logan Square to focus on its Latino restaurants, from high-ish (Mi Tocaya) to family-run (Taqueria Moran, Pan Artesanal). (Sun-Times)

12. MACZKI A PACZKI

I always think it’s weird that paczki, which are available in bakeries all over town 365 days a year, become a media frenzy every March. But this entry from Chicago mag is at least novel—photographer Brittany Sowacke visited a bunch of bakeries for a sugary photo essay.

13. THE REGULAR GUY

Jesse Badger, chef of West Town Bakery and Homestead on the Roof, is the first chef in a new series at Chef’s Feed called The Regular, about memorable regular customers: “He’d sit at the biggest table, plug in his laptop—and it wasn’t near the wall, so he would run the cord across the aisles—and spread out every print periodical and magazine over the entire table. He’d drink a cup of coffee for six hours or so, and when that place would close and they kicked him out, he’d go to another coffee shop down the street.”

14. MADRECAST

The two women behind Mexican-Jewish bakery Masa Madre are guests on a podcast called The Big Schmear.

15. SUPER CHICKEN

How often do menu items change at Superdawg? Close to never, I’d guess—so meet the latest, the Superchickemidgee sandwich! Expect it to come in Nashville Hot by about 2050.

WHAT MIKE ATE

The great thing about Younger Son having his driver’s license is that we can go to a brewpub like Middle Brow Bungalow and I don’t have to worry about sampling some of the beers. The downside is that he’s still a kid, so we wind up mainly ordering pizza. Nothing against their pizza—a chewy crust with dark rye-ish flavors is a good setting for lots of things, like butternut squash topped with bright, mustardy salsa verde—but I really liked the simple plate of warmed bread with cultured butter and fleur de sel. I’ll have to head there by myself sometime during the day, when the focus is on things like toasts with various toppings. In any case, I like the sunny white space in an old building and I like the craftsmanship by hand of all the natural, well-made foodstuffs; it’s an instant winner for Logan Square.

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