Michael Muser started off the first Jean Banchet awards, benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, in 2-1/2 years with some inspirational words about the mostly-post-COVID world we find ourselves in: “We are the survivors. The ones who kept it going by making burgers and deep dish pizza for two years till we could get people back in our restaurants. The ones who figured out how to package a formal meal in deli cups and invented new ideas of what Chicago dining is in ghost kitchens.” He knows whereof he speaks, having gone into the burger business with Reve Burger during lockdown. The show has taken some of its own hits from these last couple of years—the “Restaurant Kids” who did comedy bits in the last couple of years weren’t part of it because, Muser said, they’ve all gone on to other kinds of work since the restaurant shutdown. (Even so, there were some good comedy bits worked in, like bringing chefs on stage to have to identify their own Yelp reviews.)

So the point of the evening was seeing what’s left of our restaurant scene after the years of lockdown. The result was easily the warmest and most heartfelt Banchet awards I’ve seen, with many taking the theme of being survivors to make a statement of solidarity with their fellow restaurateurs. It started with Ethan Lim of Hermosa winning Rising Chef of the Year. First of all, for a sandwich shop which branched into serving his family’s Cambodian cuisine to take the Rising Chef prize shows how diverse the awards are on every level—a rare cuisine from Asia in a relatively little-traveled Mexican neighborhood doing multicourse pop-up dinners is definitely not the Banchet awards of a decade ago. Secondly, he brought his mom on stage with him, and credited her making food for the family and later running a noodle shop in Asia as the inspiration for his own career (moreso than the time he spent as a host at Next, I guess).

Similarly, when the Alternative Dining award went to Jorgina Pereira of Sinha, the Brazilian brunch spot near the United Center, she thanked the community for honoring a Brazilian immigrant who never expected this kind of recognition. And when Chef of the Year went to Erick Williams, who not only saw his much-beloved restaurant Virtue mature during this time, but was strongly involved in relief efforts through the worst of the pandemic, he made a point of acknowledging the other chefs in the category, saying they were all worthy of the award. That’s something you hear at awards shows on occasion, but the solidarity with the entire Chicago restaurant community expressed by winner after winner seemed genuine.

Besides Hermosa, another spot doing a tasting menu in the cuisine of their heritage, Kasama, took Best Pastry Program for its daytime offerings. Best new restaurant went to a charming neighborhood spot, Dear Margaret. Best neighborhood restaurant went to a place that seems the perfect example of what the prize is for: The Duck Inn, which changed Bridgeport dining as soon as it opened. Another South Side establishment, The Alderman, a pocket cocktail bar within Pilsen Yards, won Best Bar, while Stevan Miller at Claudia took the Best Bartender prize.

Best Heritage Restaurant went to Sochi Saigonese Kitchen, as the wife of the Vietnamese couple who own it expressed surprise and appreciation at being noticed at all by the broader city; while Best Hospitality went to Bill Talbot, who’s been a steady, welcoming part of EL Ideas from the beginning. He recited a memory of working at Le Bouchon and seeing Jean Banchet show up in a red Lamborghini with a red leather riding outfit on. Best Sommelier, which encountered some controversy at the last minute (see below), went to Alex Ring of Sepia and Proxi, while the final prize of the night, Restaurant of the Year, went unsurprisingly to the widely praised and warmly deserving Oriole, which brought the biggest group of guests—nearly the entire staff, Noah Sandoval told me at the after party—to stand on stage while Cara Sandoval expressed her words of appreciation.


Well, Chicago holds steady at exactly one James Beard Foundation journalism nominee, though this year it’s not Steve Dolinsky but the Trib’s Louisa Chu in the reviewing category, specifically for pieces on Dear Margaret, George’s Deep Dish, and on Hermosa and the family it comes from. Congrats to Louisa!

There’s also one Chicago nomination in the book category, for The Way of the Cocktail by Kumiko’s Julia Momose. See the media nominees here.


It’s a little hard to document all of this story because it originated in an Instagram story which appears to be gone; I’m reconstructing it as best I can. But a gay, apparently black-Latino man named Orlando Campos, with the IG handle Oskiechi1 (IG account not that safe for work), went to S.K.Y. on Sunday the 24th. According to his now-partly-gone IG story, he and his party went there after first going to S.K.Y.’s sister Apolonia and allegedly spending $400+—before dinner. Then they went to S.K.Y., but upon ordering their third round of drinks, Campos claims they were asked if they could afford it, which he insisted could only be because they’re black, and sommelier Jelena Prodan alledgedly said something along the lines of not wanting “your kind” at S.K.Y.

Well, maybe that happened, though even racists have gotten pretty good at covering it better than that with talk of dress codes or whatever. Here’s another way of looking at it: a party of six comes into your restaurant after $400+ worth of drinking and no food, and keeps ordering more drinks. They are almost certainly overserved at that point, and my sources suggest that they were rowdy and disruptive to the rest of the not-large restaurant. (Here’s a rather wishy-washy Block Club piece that covers a lot of the above, and acknowledges that Canpos was three drinks in at S.K.Y. by that point, not counting the $400+ before that—but also thinks gentrification protests from five years ago have anything to do with some guys allegedly getting tossed out in 2022.) Not surprising, then, that they jumped to the race/homophobia cards as the surefire way to get attention—and deflect questions about their own behavior. In return, S.K.Y. issued a statement which is careful in what it says and only barely counts as “their side” of the story.

Not good enough. As part of his pressure campaign against S.K.Y., Campos roused support among his friends, and there were soon comments (since removed) on the Jean Banchet Awards IG page calling out the incident—because Prodan was nominated for Best Sommelier in the Banchets. And as far as they were concerned, that made the Banchet awards and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation 100% responsible for her terrible, racist behavior. @_aesthetic_beast0700:

Iam curious to know if @jeanbanchetawards supports and encourages racism, classism homophobia ?
Iam Disgusted at the actions and lack of professionalism of Jelena from sky, towards a LGBTQ person of color. Please reconsider her nomination.

They and others vowed to spread the word on TikTok so “everyone” would see it. (LOL, as the kids say.) Campos went further by putting up contact info for Sarah Evans, the producer of the awards for CFF, urging people to contact her with the desire to remove Prodan’s nomination (he also urged her firing, and that of others there that night, from S.K.Y.).

Which brings us to a timely question: what do awards shows do about bad people? Even the Oscars barred the door to Will Smith for a decade, but they didn’t revoke his Oscar, nor those of past winners like Roman Polanski. How much responsibility do awards shows have to police the behavior, versus judge the art?

It’s a good question—but before we answer it, note that these people wanted—and in the end, got—someone evicted from the nominees list based on just their side of a personal dispute, with no apparent testimony from anyone else who was there or at most a vague comment from S.K.Y. at that point. But that’s elevating Yelp reviews to summary judgement, and no nominee can be sure to survive such claims. In any case on Thursday morning, Prodan was removed from the nominees list, and Campos took a victory lap on IG.

Friday afternoon—twenty minutes before five—Eater Chicago published a piece which fleshes out some of the details further, but basically confirms the account of the story I’ve outlined above. What they don’t do is draw the obvious conclusion from two facts:

Tensions began to rise when Campos, 33, ordered his third glass of Glenlivet 21 Year Old. The server, a white man, walked away from the table with the order, only to return with a question: “He said, ‘They’re pretty expensive, are you able to keep paying for these drinks?’” Campos says. “I literally stopped for about three seconds, and thought, ‘Wait a minute. Yeah, that just happened.’”…

For Dunnican [Campos’ boyfriend], the insinuation that they were jockeying for free items was unacceptable, as earlier in the day, he and Campos had spent hundreds of dollars at Gillanders’s South Loop restaurant, Apolonia

So they’d been drinking heavily at one place, and came in to a second one and were three rounds in. They were clearly overserved by this point, and what’s more, when Prodan (who was not on duty that night) was called in, her response may have misunderstood Campos’ intentions:

Campos believes that Prodan’s comment likely comes from a misunderstanding of his requests for the staff to “fix” the situation. “We just needed them to take accountability for what they did with an apology,” he says. “We never had a problem with the pricing. We’d been there numerous times and knew what we were expected to spend there.”

Or maybe she understood the intentions of an overserved and reportedly rowdy party to “fix” the bill or else face highly publicized accusations of bigotry just fine.


I thought the pandemic was over, but the review in the Tribune this week has a picture of food being portioned into aluminum containers. It’s for Funeral Potatoes, a take-out thing co-run by Eve Studnicka, who’s turned up here once or twice before, offering midwestern comfort foods with hipster twists, to go. It seems pleasant, eclectic in a college town cafe kind of way, but Louisa Chu sees way more than that:

Funeral Potatoes is a virtual restaurant redefining not just modern Midwestern food, but the thematic restaurant experience perhaps best known at finer-dining establishments with far greater resources and critical acclaim.

Take, for example, the experimental concept at Next, the Alinea Group’s West Loop restaurant that famously changes every season or so, currently offering an 1893 World’s Fair-inspired menu.

In other words, the menu changes week to week, so it’s Next? Hmm. Anyway, this reads like 2022 in a nutshell—or an aluminum pan:

For a recent greatest-hits retrospective, the namesake casserole offered a melange of hash browns, pepper jack cheese, napa cabbage kimchi, black pepper béchamel and a spicy dill Ritz cracker crumble.

Fruity Pebbles also figure in a dessert—a lot of the piece is about justifying the use of commercial products in what they whip up. Well, that’s certainly midwestern.


I’m saving my pennies to go to the new iteration of Kyoten, but Grimod has been, no doubt enough times to do his customary Marianas trench deep-dive. He describes the uniquely personal approach to pandemic dining that owner-chef-one man band Otto Phan took:

Far from profiteering on the circumstances, Phan saw in the private format a path towards offering a greater sense of luxury during a period when most businesses had to compromise to stay afloat. For their money, guests got an evening one-on-one with the chef. By being masked, vaxxed, and separated from patrons by the sushi counter, he quelled any lingering health concerns that might, at a busier restaurant, detract from a total sense of comfort. The chef generously accepted last minute cancellations, however inconvenient, without complaint. He even contended that he would totally refund any customer that felt dissatisfied upon completion of the meal (a money back guarantee that, to your knowledge, has never yet been claimed).

Kids, importantly, could come along for the pricey omakase and ate free. Not to mention, Phan promised he would cook until you were full. In this manner, Kyōten offered a turnkey experience unlike anything else in pandemic Chicago. It felt like a real escape from the doom and gloom of reality without demanding the kind of tolerance and understanding paid towards establishments still getting back on their feet.

He goes on to catalogue all the ways in which Kyoten offers a uniquely personal experience, from the wine program to Phan’s relationship with a Japanese fish exporter to the decor with its pieces by Takashi Murakami. But let’s talk fish:

Kyōten’s omakase has never been better packaged, and the array of bites it today comprises represents an absolute onslaught of unique and familiar fish brought to their apotheosis. A typical menu starts with five or six opening small plates followed by a sequence of around a dozen pieces of nigiri before finishing with dessert. The meal usually lasts exactly three hours, which makes for an impressive pacing per course (especially considering that dinner usually begins fifteen or twenty minutes after the reservation time). There’s an element of concentration to the experience that, as guests reckon with the third or fourth mind-blowing bite in a row, seems absolutely staggering.

Okay, now I’ve really gotta go back.


Titus Ruscitti went to Basant, an Indian resturant in North Center—I ordered food from there a few weeks back and was not terribly impressed, but he makes a good case that it’s part of a new wave of Indian food in town:

I think Indian food is headed where other Asian cuisines have recently gone in Chicago. We’re seeing more places that focus in on the regional aspects of the cuisine while also putting their own creative spins on the classics and such…

My knowledge of Indian food is limited but what I do know is it’s one of the most regional cuisines in the world so I’m always on the lookout for regional specific dishes. I found one here by way of the Kashmir Valley. It’s called Lamb Gushtaba and it consists of tender meatballs in yogurt based sauce. It certainly hit the spot.


Steve Dolinsky profiles three women entrepreneurs trying to share their food cultures: one has a line of Liberian foods for freezer cases (available at Target), another vegan Jamaican-spiced cookies, and the third doing Afro-Carribean soul food for takeout.

Meanwhile, on his Pizza City podcast, Dolinsky talks to Peter Ternes about the pizza at Middle Brow Bungalow.


I read in Bob Benenson’s Local Food Forum newsletter that the Frontera Foundation grants were out, assisting farmers with new projects to help them grow their growing, but Rick Bayless posted them on Twitter in perhaps the best format for seeing who won them and for what. Check them out starting here.


I haven’t chimed in on the Reader business because the issue seemed obviously one-sided; the Reader escaped from the collapsing flames of Ferro’s Tronc-Haus only to stumble into Len Goodman’s crocodile pit. (Read Robert Feder’s excellent summary if you need clarification on anything.) The Reader should have just gritted their teeth and ignored Goodman’s dumb ivermectin informercial, sometimes the guy who writes the checks gets to put his stupid opinions in the paper, ask people who worked for 40s rightwing laughingstock Col. McCormack. Instead they poked the bear, suggesting his piece didn’t live up to the standards of… well, a counterculture paper has no doubt published lots of crazy stuff over the years. Goodman got so upset about this, and threw such a fit, that it, as Feder says, “puts him in league with Joe Ricketts, Sam Zell, Michael Ferro and Conrad Black — rich men who seemed to know or care little about journalism but fancied themselves media moguls.” First line in your obituary stuff. Way to go, smart guy.

But for all that it’s a diminished version of itself, the Reader remains an essential and unique voice on our scene and it is a great relief that it lives to fight another day. Now maybe a little of that grant money can get Mike Sula a dining budget again.


Saw two bits of news about old favorites: one, the guys at Smoque are opening a steakhouse, named Smoque Steak, and as that suggests they’ll be smoking a few different cuts of steak. Look for it shortly across the street from Honey Butter Fried Chicken, on Elston. Here’s more.

And Mark Mendez of gone but much-loved Vera is joining Libertad, a mid-upscale Latin restaurant in Skokie, which is way better than “Latin restaurant in Skokie” might sound.


To Friends of Fooditor Liz Erbes and Chris Chacko, on the birth of future javahead Constantine, 7 lbs, 15 oz.


I ordered a regional Indian dinner from Tasting India some months back, so I was invited to try the results of a collaborative effort between her and Howdy Kolache, which makes Texas-style kolache (a sweet dough stuffed with various things). There were three choices: “railway lamb curry,” potatoes and turmeric, and a Danish-like one with cheese and spiced jackfruit puree. I loved the jackfruit one, and would have taken a box home for breakfast the next day, if I could. I also liked potatoes and turmeric, though the filling was pretty mashed; I’d have liked a little texture, like a samosa. Anyway, interesting and worth a try, though by the time this goes out, they’ll probably be sold out for next week. But you can try—and if not, go have a Chicago hot dog kolache at their shop, currently open weekends, at 817 W. Fulton (the former Cemitas Puebla location).

If I recall correctly, the only reservation I already had made that was canceled after the lockdown started in 2020 was a return to Kumiko. My son’s girlfriend’s birthday was our excuse to finally get back there on Saturday. Having read through the freshly Beard-nominated cocktail book, I found a lot of what’s on the menu familiar, but the most interesting thing is that they have a few classic cocktails (e.g. a sazerac) served as “flights,” in which you get the cocktail and individual shots of a couple of the ingredients that make their Japanese-inflected version different. Beyond that, they also make the cocktails menu more accessible by asking you what you like, and making perceptive recommendations based on that. That worked well for the first couple of rounds but when the third one I ordered came, I realized that I was ready to switch gears at that point, to something brown and not citrusy; so next time, I’ll be sure to think more about where my tastes have shifted over the course of the evening.

Foodwise, it’s an interesting mix of luxe items and Japanese comfort foods from mixologist Julia Momose’s childhood. Of the luxe stuff, there’s a wagyu steak sandwich which is arguably well worth its very high price, though if you have doubts the tonkatsu sando, which is about 1/5th the price, is excellent and satisfying. Also new and good—a salmon roe-based  bowl of donburi. As I thought three years ago, you couldn’t really eat this very short menu very often, but it’s certainly an eclectic treat when you have it, while the cocktail menu is imaginative, with a unique approach—reflecting Japanese spirits and mixology. The service is, as you expect from the Oriole crew, warm and unhurried. It’s a gem—but you weren’t waiting the last two years to hear that.