John Kessler’s column is on wine pairings—specifically, why (he says) nobody likes them, including the three somms he talks to:

After that meal [at Oriole] I thought about how thoroughly pairings have taken over wine service. I mean, we secure and prepay hard-to-get reservations on Tock or Resy and are immediately taken to screens that encourages us to choose from a selection of pairings that go from entry-level reds and whites to wildly expensive reserve selections comprised of, I don’t know, grand cru Burgundy, unicorn tears, and elixir.

Yet I wondered: do somms themselves actually order pairings when they go out for fancy dinners? I interviewed a few who have impressed me with their expertise, insight, palate, and service, and they were three for three: Nope.

Though I suspect somms, dining out, can’t let go of the experience of studying the list themselves and picking their own. I can remember a few pairings in my life where something magical happened—but many more where (rightly or wrongly) I felt like my choices were pretty random, based on obvious white wine-with-fish principles, good enough but hardly transcendent. More importantly, I just don’t want to drink that much at dinner, so I usually ask, in a place with pairings, for them to pick me a glass for, say, the seafood-based starting courses, them another as we get into the red meat courses, etc.

2. 312-FISH-MKT

I guess this borders on being a Trib review of 312 Fish Market in Chinatown’s 88 Marketplace, though this opening sounds like a press release:

At 312 Fish Market, sushi lovers can get it all, priced high to low, in an unexpected place.

Well, no, you actually can’t, if your definition of “it all” ranges to the high end sushi we have now at the Kyotens of the world, which is well out of 312 Fish Market’s range. I ate there some time back and I thought it was fine for a mid-range sushi place—and not at all an unexpected place for it, since the largest grocery store in Chinatown is exactly where I’d look for interesting food stalls. Honestly, there’s not much that would surprise me in such a place—maybe if they had a Fluky’s, like the Wal-Mart on Touhy. Anyway, the place seems to have unexpectedly high-end fans:

“I was not expecting such high-quality freshness in such a comically casual location,” Jake Potashnick, a Chicago native behind the upcoming restaurant Feld, said over email. Potashnick is one of several in the fine-dining restaurant industry who vouches for the full experience of food court sushi; count Thomas Keller, the most Michelin-starred chef in America, as another fan. Keller ate there with his crew last May, as documented on 312’s Instagram. Fung called that experience “unreal.”

I mentioned at the time to John Kessler that while I thought the fish was of good quality relative to price, I found the rice overly sweet; he suggested that that was typical of Chinese-owned sushi establishments. I mentioned that on Facebook—and none other than Otto Phan of Kyoten observed that that sounded more like American tastes than Chinese ones, and I can’t argue with that.


Michael Nagrant said one thing is good at DeNucci’s, an Italian restaurant in Lincoln Park from the Ballyhoo Hospitality group:

The pizzas at DeNucci’s, airy puffed bread full of intensely concentrated tomato, are unimpeachable.

But much else is not:

There was veal marsala, undersalted, with none of that sweet oxidized nutty perfume you’d find in a great version. Worse, they cheffed the hell out of it with tiny stalks of Shimeji mushroom… A marsala is all about the winey gravy, the thick carpeting of a cremini or some fungi with heft. Hell, I’d take button white or even a cross-section of king. But, I don’t have time for Kate Moss-like shroom spindles on my veal… I also don’t have much time for Dead Sea-level salted limp bucatini carbonara strands, but the whole thing did look like a beautiful Dutch master still-life.

It’s a nice picture! But the story of the affogato melting under the hot lights because no one remembered to add the requested rum is a sad story. Anyway, a concluding note re the pizza:

The pizza and bread recipes are courtesy of Salvatore “Sal” Lo Cascio who also oversees Pizza by Sal on The North Shore and Coda di Volpe. If I were Ballyhoo Hospitality, I’d hire him to direct the whole kitchen, because his work even in this guest appearance context at DeNucci’s is stellar.


I ate a middle eastern wrap in a mall recently—I’m not saying where; you’ll never go there, hopefully—and it was perhaps the most dispiriting thing I’ve eaten lately. I thought, how bad could some chicken shawarma with a bunch of veggies wrapped in a lavosh or something be? The answer is, it could taste like the corporate chefs who made it had never had actual middle eastern food and just piled the wrap with every vaguely middle eastern-sounding ingredient they could think of. No balance of flavors, just glop in a wrap (glap?) A few days later, I was interviewing one of the partners from One Off Hospitality and he invited me to have lunch afterwards at Avec. A devilish thought came to me—order the thing closest to that woeful wrap, to see how people who know what they’re doing would make it. So I had their chicken sandwich on pita—and it was great in every way that the glap had sucked, bright middle-eastern flavors, smoky-juicy chicken, a fluffy pita. Avec is one of Chicago’s essential restaurants, without a doubt, and has been for almost two decades.

I bring this up because this month Steve Dolinsky has been doing tributes to “the classics… local legends, who’ve been quietly keeping the city’s culinary flame alive.” The first one was Smoque, and the second one was, you guessed it, Avec:

“The dates, focaccia, brandade. Those three stay as-is, unedited from the original recipes,” said Chef Dylan Patel. “Two things that we always keep on the menu are a whole roasted fish and a pork shoulder.”

The wood-fired oven is a focal point for two of those classics, like the dates, nestled in a rustic sauce of piquillo peppers and tomatoes.


Dennis Lee and I have one thing in common (well, actually several, not least all the places in my neighborhood he’s written about): we’ve been going to the eye doctor. I have to get a NEEDLE IN MY EYE every couple of months, which actually is not nearly so ghastly as it sounds, so I have nothing but sympathy for his condition, which required laser surgery… which he thinks did not work. He also has to take something that messes up his sense of taste, which is needless to say no fun for a food writer. So, my sympathies for him, facing at minimum some months of his taste buds being off.

Anyway, in the midst of all that, he discovered the joys of sushi on a conveyer belt, which I guess is fun to watch even if who knows what it tastes like:

Man, I was not prepared for that sensory assault after I first poked my head in.

One of my eyes might be going blind, but my other one’s just fine, because holy shit, I practically drowned in all that color. The place is extremely well lit, there’s food dancing around on a conveyor belt, music playing over the speakers, and it was busy as shit in the middle of the afternoon.

It’s called Sushi Plus Rotary Sushi Bar, it has a logo like a cell phone store, and there’s three of them, in Boystown, Chinatown, and Aurora.


Titus Ruscitti goes to two very non-typical-Titus-places—though I’m not going to fault anyone for going to Hugo’s Frog Bar, since I put its sibling Gibson’s on my ten best list last year:

Hugo’s is the seafood forward sibling of Gibson’s and I prefer it because of that. Specifically because of the oyster happy hour which is no doubt the best in town. It’s only available on Sunday-Thursday (3-6p) and you can only get it in the bar area which means space is limited but it’s worth going early for $1 oysters and half off almost all bottles of champagne and wine. Not only are the oysters still just a buck each which is rare in of itself but you can choose from any of the bivalves they have on offer and the choices are always really well rounded with pristinely shucked selections from both coasts. We like to add an order of their fantastic fresh cut fries to the mix and with that you got my favorite happy hour experience in all of Chicago.

The other is Gaoku, “Japanese-Thai bar food in Humboldt Park”:

Gaoku very much has the feel of an updated neighborhood bar but what separates it from other similar spots is its unique menu of Japanese-Thai dishes. The dinner menu is broken down into two sections including hot and cold. We visited towards the end of the year and I really liked the potential of this place based on what we had. Service was also above average which I feel needs to be said these days. The pace at which the plates came out was on par with what it should be meaning there was minimal time in between us finishing a dish and a new one arriving.

7. PIU! PIU!

The Infatuation’s reviews mostly start with 7 or 8 points on a 10-point scale, so 5.8 for the fancy-schmancy chain Olio e Più is pretty negative:

Chicago is no stranger to transplants like NYC’s Olio E Più, a spacious Italian spot populated with antique chandeliers, vintage posters, and a mixed bag of tourists and couples who look like they just wrapped a J. Crew photo shoot. But with its disappointing takes on classics, Olio E Più ends up being just another buzzy River North spot that you can skip.

The same corporate parent owns the new Le Grande Boucherie, of recent influencer attention, as well.


David Hammond talks to Donald Young, formerly of Temporis and Venteux, now doing pop-ups as Duck Sel. Fancy pop-ups, even by people who got attention at top restaurants (like Simon Davies, ex- of Alinea, with Ilixr), are not unknown, but Young has really gotten a lot of attention for doing posh food at your house. Despite that, he does plan on opening a permanent restaurant someday:

We only work a few nights a month, which is easier on everyone because we’re not constantly with each other forty to eighty hours a week. It’s more fun for everyone. Down the road, honestly, I don’t think we would stay open more than four days, maybe only three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Once I turn this into a brick-and-mortar, I just don’t see the point of trying to fill up every single day. Let’s just keep it easy going and make the money that we need to make, and not try to get rich.

9. THE $27 GYRO

Eater’s Naomi Waxman considers wildly overpriced food around town after a Facebook group went after a $27 gyro—almost certainly the one at Andros Taverna. Which I have to say I liked when I went—but if one dish did not happen for me, it was the gyro. Stick to the octopus!


Joiners brings back a name from the past: Alfred Nogueira, whose Cajun restaurant Analogue was in the space that Daisies opened in (but has since moved from). I liked it a lot and miss it—he’s back in his native New Orleans, where they say he’s the chef at the cocktail bar Cure—which I went to a few years ago, though I don’t know that they had a chef then (the food was things like oysters and cheese plates).

I just interviewed Richie Farina (Adorn) about his days at Moto, but one thing I didn’t think to ask was where he likes to get thin crust pizza. That’s what he and David Manilow talk about on the Dining Table.

Chewing talks to veteran Mexican chef Geno Bahena, now at Manchamanteles; plus Monica went to the preview for La Grande Boucherie and talks with founder Emil Stefkov, who claims it’s the biggest restaurant in Chicago (bigger than Carnivale? Gibsons Italia? I question that).


I follow a lot of Instagram influencers, trying to skip the ones who only talk about the latest hyped-up place and stick to those who have a beat they follow, like the ones focused on African-American restaurants on the south side, like @blackpeopleeats. Anyway, there’s one I follow called @grubgladiator, don’t even remember following him or how I first heard of him. But I saw the headline “Chicago’s best sandwich shops,” and so I immediately clicked to see if there was any place I’d never heard of. And there was! It’s called Top Butcher Market, and it’s on Grand, just before Harlem—so an area I’ve often been to, being just east of the Caputo’s in Elmwood Park featured in this Fooditor piece, but somehow I’d never seen it.

So I met David Hammond there for lunch. Imagine a place that falls somewhere halfway between Publican Quality Meats and an old Italian butcher shop in the burbs, and that kind of sums it up. There’s a sandwich menu, very meaty apart from the token eggplant parm and, because it was a Friday in Lent, a couple of fish sandwiches. I had a pastrami sandwich—not slices of housemade pastrami, but big chunks, with lots of smoke flavor, though also lots of fat from between the flat and the point, I had to deconstruct my sandwich a bit and surgically slice the layers of fat out. David had a patty melt, which he liked fine.

Besides sandwiches, there’s a small meat case—I bought some skirt steak—and all kinds of other things around the shop, a host of different kinds and brands of beef jerky, lots of condiments from honey to barbecue sauce, as well as more ambitious things like the box offering a whole leg of prosciutto plus a wooden rack to screw it into for slicing with the included knife (you can just see the corner of this box behind the big jar of marinara sauce).We chatted with the wife of the owner, and turns out her husband owns? or manages? the International Meat wholesale facility across the street, and they wanted to offer something for retail customers as well. It seems to be doing well—they’ll be expanding their hours shortly to serve dinner offerings, BYO. I’m sure the neighborhood is happy to have them—and one more connection: with their daughter, they’ve been vend0rs at the Taste of Melrose Park, featured in this Sky Full of Bacon video, as well as at the similar Taste of Elmwood Park in August.

When I need a getaway in the Chicago area, I sometimes go to a small town with its own downtown, like Plainfield, to poke around, and one of the things I’ll always find and visit is the local butcher shop. This place had the feel of those excursions, even though it’s still within city limits. Check it out!