A surprisingly thin media week this week—nobody’s reviewin’ nothin’ except me (see at the end), and when I do write about food media I’m as likely to get grief for it on social media (I commend to you the words of Oscar Wilde). But I will do my best to keep our food scene alive for another week and hope for better things once the week of dyeing the river green (which I can never read enough about… yawn) has passed.


The big effort to do something for people in Ukraine this week is a benefit event, Chicago Cooks for Ukraine, to be held on Wednesday at Navy Pier for Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen—you’ve probably heard about it, I’ve been hearing promos on XRT all week. Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno organized it, as this Sun-Times piece tells:

Tony Priolo was on his elliptical machine Thursday morning when another round of images of the war in Ukraine came on the television and his heart couldn’t take it anymore. He needed to do something.

So Priolo, chef and co-owner of Piccolo Sogno, one of the city’s most renowned Italian restaurants, sent an email to about 40 other chefs and restaurateurs that floated the idea of a chef-driven fundraiser to help the people of Ukraine.

“Sarah Stegner, owner of Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, was first to reply and she said ‘Let’s do this,’” Priolo said.

About 90 chefs are involved in the event by now; tickets start at $150. I haven’t seen anything about what the format will be like, but my guess is it will be similar to the Green City Market BBQ (but indoors, obviously), as such fundraiser events usually are. The lead sponsor is Lifeway kefir, founded in Morton Grove by a Ukrainian emigre. Go here to get your ticket and enjoy—while helping those who need it.


One of my top meals last year was the Cambodian dinner at Hermosa, the sandwich shop which started doing authentic Cambodian dishes. Steve Dolinsky goes behind the scenes—not that you can’t see it all from where you order at Hermosa—with owner Ethan Lim to tell about it.

Buzz 2


At NewCity Rebecca Holland talks to Rami Ezzat, gm of Robert et Fils. I was a bit thrown by this sentence: “Still, the reviews are glowing, and guests seem delighted with the experience.” Hmm, where’s that? I haven’t seen reviews. glowing or not, anywhere (except here). Robert et Fils seems like one of the places that would have gotten attention (it certainly has a good story behind it, including my own) in the before times but that 2022 media has decided to overlook. Anyway, it’s an interesting piece on the challenges of returning to full service:

“The challenges can feel endless,” says general manager Rami Ezzat. He tells us that staff has had to run around the city to find chives, for instance, due to supply-chain issues and that the restaurant has had to close due to COVID exposure, a huge loss that forced a move from a tasting menu to a la carte to avoid wasting costly ingredients.


I used to hit Alexander’s at Clark and Granville for diner breakfast when it was on my way back from taking my kids to school. Nothing special as a Greek diner—but as such places become rarer, each one that survives is authentic working class food to treasure, and even moreso with the news some weeks back that the owner of Alexander’s would take over the space departed at the beginning of lockdown by Jeri’s Grill. Anyway, Titus Ruscitti stops in for an appraisal of, as Eater would say, longtime mainstay Alexander’s:

Greek diners have never been short with options. Alexander’s has something for just about anybody myself included. When I dine at a spot like this I usually lean towards the burger. Greek diner burgers are a thing and they tend to be big juicy burgers cooked to your liking that can come dressed a variety of ways including Greek style with feta cheese and the likes. That’s what I visited Alexander’s for a couple years back. Another feature of the Greek style diner burger is soup is usually included. Typically the split pea or lemon rice is the way to go.

He also finds a new Brazilian spot in Lakeview, Recanto Brazilian Grill. Who knew stroganoff was a Brazilian favorite?

The menu at Recanto features lots of traditional Brazilian favorites such as feijoada and pichana steak as well as frango a parmegiana. Each one of those Brazilian classics is influenced by different groups of immigrants. Another popular dish in Brazil that has it’s origins elsewhere is stroganoff. Originally a Russian dish it’s also popular in France and Brazil where Russians and French people emigrated in the 1920’s following the revolution. Though over time Brazil has made the dish it’s own.


There have been plenty of accounts of how square cut or tavern cut pizza became the standard thin crust style in Chicago. But this Twitter thread by Doug Mack, editor of The Statesider, is interesting for going beyond Chicago—our place as the likely earliest location for square snack-sized cuts is acknowledged, but he turns up examples of it in other midwestern cities in the 40s and 50s to make a case for it as a midwestern thing, not just a Chicago one. Check it out! (h/t Pat Kiely)


In case my opening graf made you think I’m the most jaundiced consumer of/commenter upon food reviewing, au contraire! Grimod launches into it, fangs drawn:

Expertise is not constructed via depth of experience or insight but invoked tautologically: a “critic’s” perception is salient only because they occupy the role, they sling the stars, they flex the atrophying muscle of a legacy media brand. Their work amounts to a shallow heuristic by which uninformed diners defer to restaurants approved by “authorities” whose power is drawn only from some glorious memory of a publication that is now a rotting corpse.

See, I’m nicer than that! Not that I would protest virulently—that, in fact, was a big part of what drove us at Chowhound (more anon) and LTHForum back in the say, that there were great things out there that were being utterly overlooked. What is his prescription? Accept that the influencers are our new overlords, and for one, welcome them:

Consumers will sidestep these self-important legacy media dinosaurs and opt for the relative honesty of influencers’ raw, on the ground footage. For such content, even if the creator is comped or ethically compromised altogether, is nakedly promotional and neutral to the degree that it simply showcases a steady stream of what’s new. Audiences will choose the authenticity of an unabashed, undiscerning “foodie” pimp over the false expertise of journalists whose method of curation seems arbitrary and opaque.

…This future of restaurant criticism will come to resemble a tapestry of journalistic “beats” formed on the basis of individual proclivities. Neighborhood dining critics will intersect with genre critics (Italian, Mexican) who will contradict critics of particular forms (burgers, fried chicken), critics with particular dietary restrictions, and those that wish to define the city’s “best” through a native lens.

The only thing I disagree with about this is putting it in future tense. This is certainly how I already act, getting advice on different topics from the people I already know to be subject matter experts. The one defense I would give of legacy-osaurus media is that occasionally they co-opt actual experts, like Nick Kindelsperger joining the Tribune. It’s a partial recognition, if insufficient, that the future of media is in appealing to the people who are fairly obsessive and themselves well versed on a subject; writing for the people with only passing, general interest, who only want to know a little about it, won’t sustain a media brand.

Interestingly, if he sees the future in specalization, where he finds it working already is in coverage of things like the Disney parks:

The experience provided by a certain establishment is considered from a variety of consumer perspectives: how would young children, adult couples, or families on a budget feel about the value proposition? How would they, reflexively, interact with the space? Can it withstand a crying baby? Does it offer a romantic view or a generously stocked bread basket? Rather than scratching the surface of its subject matter in a bid to appeal to some nonexistent “average customer,” critics like  DFB [Disney Food Blog] occupy every category at every extreme.


It’s been a hell of a long time since I noted or cared about anything at Chowhound.com, the early foodie discussion site at which I first started writing about food publicly c. 2001, and which started me on the path to everything I’ve done foodwise in the twenty years since. I thank it for that, but I and many others soon moved on to LTHForum, and then to other things of our own in many directions, so I rarely look back that far. Still, it’s one of those things you assume will always be there, so it is worth noting the announcement that the site—which passed through ownership at CNET and CBS Interactive before winding up at something called Red Ventures—will be shutting down and the content stored in perpetuity (but not interactivity) at the Internet Archive:

After 25 incredible years of sharing culinary insights and mouth-watering recipes, we are saddened to inform you that Chowhound will be closing down on Monday, March 21, 2022.

This incredibly difficult decision is due to limitations in the capabilities and resources required to maintain the site on an ongoing basis. Rather than allowing the site experience to degrade, we have opted to close down the site.

Ironic that Chowhound, whose original inefficient design led to ongoing complaints from founder Jim Leff of how expensive running the site was, is still complaining about how expensive it was to run the whole thing. I can tell you that operating LTHForum using the more efficient phpBB platform was considerably cheaper, not sure how they never solved that one.

Leff turned up in the thread to note the passing, and this too strikes me as highly ironic:

Chowhound wasn’t a chat board. It was (as of 2005, when we sold it) a crowd-sourced engine for gathering really, really, but-really high-quality food information of all sorts (not just taco stand tips).

Yes, that was how Leff thought of it, even as people (like us!) used it as an early form of social media. Leff wanted a kind of bloodlessly robotic database of core information; what he got was a lot of people chatting about what they liked at the place where they ate last night, and would anyone like to join them for it again next Wednesday? Rather than accept that your users were showing you how they wanted to use the site, he fought that every step of the way—the result was that the core Chicago group started a list-serve to facilitate meetups, and when that worked well, we thought, why do we need Chowhound at all? So LTHForum came into being, and from that point the Chicago Chowhound board was pretty dead. (Also, what’s with the backhanded slap at taco stands?)

Still, for a couple of contentious years, it was the center of a lively food discussion that has percolated through Chicago food media and the general public. And for that I will be grateful. My friend Michael Morowitz, in an interview for my upcoming book on Chicago food, summed up the impact of that community—he refers to it as “LTHForum” but it’s the same group that first came together at, and because of, Chowhound:

LTHForum accomplished our goal. We won. We wanted everyone to care about the little places. There were great restaurants, but no one was lining up. You can go on Reddit today, I saw this the other day, someone was like “Hey, I’m coming to Chicago, what should we do, where should we eat?” And people are saying, go take an architectural boat tour, check out this—oh, and if you can, get in a car and check out Birrieria Zaragoza out by Midway. The middle of nowhere. If there’s a better example of how LTHForum won, I don’t know it.

Here’s a piece on Chowhound’s end at the NY Times.


Paste has a piece on absurdist food content—and who should be Exhibit A but Chicago’s own Dannis Ree:

I recently came across a recipe for no-knead Gatorade bread on a Substack entitled Food is Stupid by Chicago-based food writer Dennis Lee. The crust of the bread looks relatively inoffensive, but when sliced, the loaf is revealed to have taken on a pale blue color, mimicking the blandness of the unbaked drink’s flavor that replaced water in the recipe.

As it turns out, the Gatorade bread is not this writer’s only gift to the internet. Other titles on the Substack include “Can you carbonate raw fish? If so, should you?” and the deeply ominous “S’moysters.” That’s to say nothing of the communion wafer Nachos Bel Grande or the salmon roe boba tea.

Read the very serious piece, which very seriously compares Lee to Samuel Beckett and Donald Trump, here.


When restaurants first opened up, I headed straight for old favorites I wanted to get back to (and support)—Elske, Oriole, Schwa, Daisies just this week. But I’m also wanting to check out some of the new things that came into being, in whatever way, during the time of lockdown, so I can still be the guy who knows where to go. Here’s two I’ve been to recently.

I had a Indian-spiced fried chicken sandwich at Wazwan when it was in Politan Row (RIP). But things change and by now Wazwan Cafe is a full restaurant in a bar space in Ukrainian Village—and why stop there? A coach house behind the bar building is a second restaurant, a South Asian tasting menu experience called The Coach House by Wazwan.

So what is a South Asian tasting menu? Mostly it means South Asian spicing—which chef Zubair Mohajir proudly touts as being freshly toasted blends of spices, something you can taste to be true in the way different notes stand out cleanly and distinctly—applied to upscale proteins that suggest American upscale dining more than what you’re accustomed to with Indian food. So scallops, black cod, a roasted duck leg; even when things took familiar Indian forms (a couple of momos) it was with a posh protein (crab meat).

The result is Indian but not Indian, to a mind conditioned by pretty modest Indian dining in America, mostly vegetables and carbs. A disconnect for me between how that spicing is typically served, and these upscale two or three bite dishes. Some of it was quite delicious and eye-opening—the roasted duck leg with red rice, dates and pine nuts was superb—but mostly it forced me to adjust my understanding of South Asian food on the fly, course by course. Maybe it’s not surprising that the thing I might have liked the most was the plate of carbs at the first—a pita-like kulcha, warm and chewy, with a plate of schmears to dip it in or drag it through; or similarly, a plate of fara with beet flavors in various forms.

So if you think of upscale things it’s vaguely like at the moment—maybe Jeong, Proxi, Parachute—Coach House by Wazwan is, in some ways, the most unfamiliar and thus challenging. Some dishes, with strong pickled chile or dry toasted spice flavors, were tough for me to get into. A couple were sensational, in the literal as well as critical-hype sense of the term. In all, it was an education.

With less food media these days, you really do get to try new places with little idea of what they’re about. A pop-up sushi concept, Jinsei Motto took over some room in the distillery at CH Distillery in late 2020, putting up a counter for about eight as well as  additional tables. Literally in the distillery—the tanks glow with LED readouts and blue light a few feet away. The pop-up started with well-made but fairly modest takeout offerings; now they run to a $130 tasting menu and various set menus in the $60-90 range as well as a la carte nigiri and rolls. The quality of the fish seemed appropriate to that price range—mostly very good.

The presentation was very much in the modern style—the fish was often topped with flavorings, ranging from a bit of onion to shaved truffle (and in one case, oddly, otoro topped with… more otoro), but nothing too extreme or out there like the torched banana peppers that Kaze Chan would do at his eponymous place (he’s at Sushi-San now). Very nice Santa Barbara uni is used a couple of times, almost more as a condiment than an ingredient. One or two were oversalty—the climactic A5 wagyu course was, to my mind, in need of more searing and less salt, and didn’t cap the meal as well as it should—but overall, I was quite happy with the nigiri, particularly kanpachi, with an almost fruit-like sweetness, a hokkaido scallop on uni, and the center, chutoro, of a bluefin trio. The meal ended with a little extra that you should order if it’s on the menu by then—a little cup of citrusy pannacotta with crunchy bits of something in it; it sort of tasted more like breakfast than dessert, but was delightful.

Since we were in CH Distillery, of course, we ordered cocktails made with the things made just a few feet away (in theory; they have since built a larger distillery in Pilsen). Standouts included The Sweedest, made with Aquavit and Rooibos, and a Malort cocktail, the Jeppson Apple Seed, made with cinnamon, apple cider and pineapple.