Congrats to Bar Kumiko, the lone Chicago spot to make Food & Wine’s best new restaurants list: “Kumiko is more high-concept bar than fully fledged restaurant. Beverage director [Julia] Momose has created a cocktail omakase as precise as any tasting menu, rooted in the brewing and distilling traditions of Japan but stretching from Okinawan awamori to sotol from Chihuahua, Mexico, in a few graceful leaps. You forget yourself quickly—the sound of a mixing spoon clinking against Yarai crystal, the lamplight glow, the strange thrill of bierschnaps, shochu, and kola nut–infused cream conspiring in a hot cocoa trompe l’oeil.”


Last week I said that national media wasn’t noticing that all the past couple of years’ male behavior issues were being worked out in Chicago in the opening of Stone Flower, the high end restaurant whose chef, Jacob Bickelhaupt, was arrested for assaulting his ex-wife when they had 42 Grams. Well, they started to notice it last week on Twitter, and kudos to Block Club Chicago’s Hannah Alani for a story that first recaps what we in Chicago knew, then gets both Bickelhaupt and ex-wife Alexa Welsh on the record for the first time in the same piece to talk about what happened then. Bickelhaupt seems alternately anguished and evasive as he describes what happened on June 4, 2017:

Bickelhaupt denies the account from Welsh and police, saying his wife’s head struck a bottle after he pulled her to the ground by her hair — which he claimed to have done “defensively.” When asked if he meant in “self defense,” he said no.

“I acted in defense. I never acted as an aggressor to harm somebody,” he said. “People think I’ve been a wife beater. I’ve never, ever physically abused anybody in my whole entire life.”

Bickelhaupt left 42 Grams as his ex-wife laid on the ground, blood pooling around her head.

Welsh doesn’t say he shouldn’t be able to work—”‘I didn’t expect him to crawl under a rock and die… He is very talented. He’s a good freaking cook.’” But Bickelhaupt is trying to not just work in a kitchen, but to be front and center in his new restaurant, picking up where his two Michelin stars left off. And this week shows that there’s a lot of pushback against that in the current atmosphere. It’s not clear that there’s any way back from that for many people; as a culture we don’t seem very close to a consensus on either punishment or what the possibilities for rehabilitation, if any, are. But at the very least, as happened when Mario Batali tried to peddle instant redemption via recipe, the idea of popping right back into a starring role as a chef less than two years after an incident like this is meeting a lot of resistance.


The Rogers Park Mexican strip on Clark isn’t up to some of the other Mexican restaurant neighborhoods in town, but Mike Sula reports on what looks like a gem there—El Sabor Poblano, centered on the mole that co-owner Maria Moso was famous for in her family: “Whether it’s smothering a pair of herbaceous epazote-scented tamales de ceniza, or sharing the plate across a chicken leg from a mole poblano, it is memorably nutty and creamy from pumpkin seeds, tart from tomatillos, grassy from cilantro and epazote, and loaded with the slow vegetal sting of jalapeño. It’s a rich, olive-colored life force that’s best delivered to your mouth scooped in the warm embrace of the restaurant’s freshly pressed, char-stippled golden corn tortillas.”


Next’s Italia menu has a theme—Italy—but seems to be backing away from the usual hijinks, per Phil Vettel in his 27th review of the restaurant since 2011: “The most approachable menu Next has offered in many years. There’s no culinary sleight-of-hand, no trompe l’oeil presentations. No overt decor touches, save for a low-level soundtrack of ’60s pop tunes, such as ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale,’ sung in Italian. (Fun fact: The Italian word for “fandango” apparently is ‘fandango.’) Tinoco even bypassed Next’s signature move, the innocent-looking centerpiece that turns out to be integral to the meal itself. The noodle dishes prove to be—noodles. Made from wheat. One does not assume that sort of thing here.” Four stars.


Ji Suk Yi visits Landbirds, where lollipop wings get the spicy treatment from owner Eddie Lee: “The sweet, savory and spicy sauce is made using a reduction process that takes over six hours. The soy sauce, garlic, Korean red pepper and Thai chilies combination with other ‘top secret’ ingredients can be enjoyed at four different heat levels: mild, medium, tiger and spicy tiger. ‘The heat is balanced. You sense the heat on the back end of the sweetness so it doesn’t really attack you like other sauces,’ Lee said.”


Crain’s discovers a new restaurant called The Publican… well, it’s newly opened for lunch, and chef Sieger Bayer is new too, making this the first review of his tenure at one of our top restaurants, which if you think that might be a more interesting subject than the 27th review of a single restaurant, well, you may be on to something there. Anyway, Joanne Trestrail: “Publican has long been known as paradise for carnivores; meat here is mindfully sourced and butchered. Pork rinds ($7) are a must-share starter—crunchy, light and dusted with spicy cheese powder. Like the frites ($7), they’re fried in suet, aka rendered beef fat. Platters with arrays of ham and other meats ($12, $13) are a smart choice if you want to assemble your own sandwiches with bread, goat butter, spiced ricotta and other interesting accoutrements.”


Chicago mag offers kind of the flipside of its recent road trips issue—where to get classic midwestern foods (Detroit Coney Dogs, Minneapolis Jucy Lucys, etc.) without leaving the city. Though my tip is that the most underappreciated Jucy Lucy in town is at B’El Tavern, Belmont and Elston.


The property currently called The 78—but previously known as Rezkoville—is suddenly drawing press attention to the fact that it might extend the gentrification of the South Loop to Chinatown, threatening the neighborhood’s future as a Chinese enclave where one can write about 19 new Chinese restaurants that just opened in the last two years or so. WBEZ has a pretty good piece on the issues, though I’m a bit surprised that this is all a new concern to people—years ago I talked about impending development in the area with forager Nance Klehm in this Sky Full of Bacon video.

And the other thing that WBEZ doesn’t really note is that while Chinatown may be threatened to the north, it is also, finally, expanding to the west and south in a way that, say, D.C.’s was not able to. There’s reason for concern, but I see Chinatown evolving into a larger neighborhood as part of a more diverse Bridgeport at least as much as I see its traditional tight boundaries being threatened.


Just imagine how rarely Steve Dolinsky gets to talk about a new pizza style… but that’s what he finds at Bob’s Pizza in Pilsen (not to be confused with Robert’s Pizza, which just reopened in Streeterville). The secret is beer in the pizza dough, as he describes on ABC 7.


The Chewing podcast is back for a new season and talks to Ruth Reichl about her new memoir, Save Me the Plums. Among other things she offers an insight into the death of Gourmet magazine I hadn’t heard before—that it was reliant on luxury brand advertisers, who could easily dispense with a food magazine in a recession, but because of that positioning couldn’t chase the supermarket brands that kept other Conde Nast titles like Bon Appetit afloat.


I just linked to a Ji Suk Yi writeup of Assyrian Kitchen, offering classes on Mesopotomian cuisine, and here’s another by Amy Bizzarri at the Reader: “When asked what her favorite Assyrian dish is, [owner Atorina] Zomaya has a quick answer: “‘Gubibate! They’re dangerous.’ She elaborates on her website: ‘Made of bulgur wheat, onions, finely ground beef, lamb, or goat meat, gubibate can be fried, baked, cooked in broth, or served raw. King Ashurnasirpal II (900 BCE) was enjoying ‘gubibate’ way before they became popular and several regions in the Middle East have their variations of the dish. Gubibate are more commonly known as kibbeh, kubba, kbebat today.’” ​


Lingering, anemic hopes for food trucks in Chicago hit another big pothole last week, with the Illinois Supreme Court ruling 7-0 in favor of Chicago’s restrictive ordinances (which imposed 200-foot limits on food trucks being near restaurants, making them basically illegal downtown, and so on). The opinion was written by Justice Anne Burke, wife of Alderman Ed Burke, yes that one, who coincidentally voted for the ordinance making food trucks almost impossible here.

Somehow WBEZ’s Dan Mihalopolous looks at this cozy arrangement and sees underhanded dealing happening—on the part of the Koch Brothers, backers of the Institute for Justice, which fights excessive regulation, and which represented the food truck side pro bono. Mihalopolous described the IJ’s free market stance as being from one of “the most powerful right-wing forces in the country… Why do the Koch brothers care about food trucks? All I can tell you is that the Koch-funded Institute for Justice says they are focused on enhancing ‘economic liberty’ as well as ‘educational choice’ and other ‘free market issues.’”

Scary scare quotes, dude! Mihalopolous—himself noted for relaying the side of wealthy real estate developer Michael Olszewski against his former employees at Grace—drags in every boogie man he can find, from a Koch petcoke facility on the south side to Brett Kavanaugh, to smear Koch’s involvement and thus… Latino food truck owners trying to start small businesses? It doesn’t make much sense, and you’ll notice that he doesn’t mention other things they’ve supported, like gay marriage, decriminalized pot or criminal justice reform, all parts of their nefarious scheme to ruthlessly increase personal liberty, I guess.

But it all makes food trucks reallllly scaaaaarrrreeee, as Count Floyd would say. Good work protecting big restaurant groups against immigrant and small businesses, WBEZ.


15 years ago Monday, LTHForum announced itself to the world. It’s not so much a major voice on our local food scene now, but in its early days it was a mover and a harbinger of so many trends that we’ve all made part of our lives. Taking pictures of what you eat and sharing them on social media, treating eating as an essentially social act for analysis and discussion, giving obsessives a voice in conventional media to talk about their passion—that’s where so much of that started (and stopped seeming completely crazy) in Chicago.

But LTHForum also changed the shape of the food scene in Chicago—where that had once been nearly synonymous with expensive downtown dining, LTHForum made checking out food all over the city a competitive sport. When Michelin recognizes the superiority of Birrieria Zaragoza, a tiny goat joint in an old Archer Heights diner that Peter Engler stumbled on a decade ago, you know who won that argument. It started before LTH on Chowhound and elsewhere and it has gone on from LTH in many other places (including here), but nonetheless, May 27, 2004 counts as a food milestone for me. Feliz aniversario!


Michael Nagrant offers a Go or Don’t Go guide to local restaurants he’s reviewed lately.


A nice profile of Jason Hammel of Lula Cafe at Plate includes this good bit about recipe development: “A recent mushroom anolini (a filled pasta) with hickory nut and capon broth was sparked by Hammel’s desire for a woodsy composition. He delegated its development to one of his sous chefs, but the first rendering was overbearing, with too-caramelized onions in the broth’s preparation. Hammel explained that he wanted something the same color as hickory nuts, lighter and more golden. That was all the redirection the sous chef needed: ‘She developed a technique, using the same ingredients, but touched and handled them differently,’ says Hammel. The final dish became the biggest seller of this past winter’s menu.”

Oh, and read this sweet Instagram post by Hammel.


When I visit other midwestern cities, one thing I look for is types of restaurants that you couldn’t really make happen, financially, in Chicago with its hot real estate market. For instance, Indianapolis’ Milktooth, which does artisan food for breakfast and lunch and then shuts down before the hours when you can make money off liquor with pretty much the same food.

So in Minneapolis I find myself in a place doing genuinely classical French food—things like pike quenelles—in a ramshackle place that looks like a quaint sandwich shop, and handles diners about as casually. But somehow Grand Cafe works there, enough to have made Food & Wine’s best new restaurants last year. The combination of precise, high end old school French food and the restaurant’s complete lack of French pretension is completely winning. We need one of these!

I went as a guest to a preview of Rooh, the Chicago outpost of a small Indian restaurant chain with locations in San Francisco and New York, which took over the short-lived The Lunatic, The Lover and the Poet space on Randolph. It joins Vajra in West Town at the vanguard of showing us Indian flavors that are still recognizably the classic dishes you’ve had on Devon, but done at a higher level with fresh spices, better ingredients and so on. The space is cool—imagine Beatnik calmed way the F down—and I was impressed with both dishes I knew and some I did not, like a bhel puri with raw ahi tuna, or a simple but scarfable cabbage dish, name escapes me and it’s not on the menu (maybe it was a side). Anyway, something different for Randolph and worth trying.

I also tried XOchimilco, a sitdown Mexican spot where Mythos used to be in Ravenswood. Super friendly service befitting a neighborhood restaurant, and the Mexican food managed to show off a high level of upscale-restaurant cooking skills while still offering Mexican flavors and some heat. Nothing that will change your ideas of what Mexican food can be, but a very pleasant addition to the neighborhood.

And finally—on our way back from Minneapolis, I was trying to think of a place to grab a bite on the way into the city and thought of iChef, the very 2010-named Sichuan restaurant in Hoffman Estates which John Kessler wrote about here. Super-spicy chongqing chicken was very good, dandan noodles had good flavor but the noodles were plainly supermarket spaghetti… but the main thing was that when we couldn’t finish them both (and no two people could, both were enormous) we got so many questions about whether they were too spicy for us. I guess we know what they’ve been up against making food like this for the far northwest suburbs.