1. EAT REAL ESTATE

One of my lines of late has been that I set out to be a food writer and increasingly find myself a real estate writer. To show the kind of thing I mean (though it’s not by me), Anthony Todd has a piece this week on where Fulton Market pioneer John Manion finds himself these days—”Manion recently announced the December 31 closure of his beloved La Sirena Clandestina, a victim of West Loop real estate prices. Meanwhile, he’s also one of the highest-profile members of the new massive food hall a few blocks away. His straddling of opposite ends of the West Loop restaurant spectrum (small independent vs. massive corporate behemoth) make it a perfect time to talk to him about the restaurant that is closing, the restaurant that is opening, and what he’s seen in the West Loop as it’s gone from sleepy packing district to the hottest hot spot.”

2. SIDLE UP

Chicago mag’s list of the 20 best new bars in Chicago will tell you where you need to drink next—or possibly, where you don’t (there’s one picture of so! many! bros! in ball caps! that scares me off two places, since I can’t tell whether it goes with the one above it or below it). Still, I’m using it as a checklist—gotta get my Tiki on at Bamboo Room, for one.

3. PERILLA MEAT SHELL

Maggie Hennessy finds lots to like in modernized Korean BBQ spot Perilla: “At this genial River West eatery, chef-partner Andrew Lim (The Bristol, City Rock) and partner-GM Tom Oh (Lettuce Entertain You) affably nudge us toward the cheffier side of Korean barbecue. Leading the pack is succulent LA galbi, a thin chain of short ribs cut crosswise, popularized by Korean immigrants in Los Angeles, which you cook yourself on inset table grills. There’s also marbled wagyu strip and tender Berkshire pork belly, plus appetizers like the delicate wagyu tartare with Korean pear, mustard seeds and pine nuts—framed with perilla (shiso) leaves.”

4. LUCKY NUMBER

The long-awaited Good Fortune in Logan Square has been a bit under the radar since it opened, but Phil Vettel approves of the dark, nightclubby spot and its Mediterranean-influenced food, such as “a melange of marinated beets with orange segments, gordal olives, fennel and pine-nut crumble, bound by a burnt-orange vinaigrette. Oven roasted romanesco (which puts me in mind of the spit-roasted cauliflower [chef Charles] Welch served at Honey’s) has an aggressive char modulated by shaved ricotta salata and ancho chile oil. Thick pieces of caramelized halloumi cheese are presented prettily with roasted figs, pickled grapes and sunflower seeds, over green-harissa yogurt.” Three stars.

Lisa Shames has a look at the restaurant in Sophisticated Living as well; check it out here.

5. 8 TO THE BAR

Graham Meyer says 8Bar, the late night bistro within Maple & Ash, is better than you expect thanks to the presence of Chef Danny Grant: “Grant’s way-above-expectations food means you can’t miss that there’s talent in the kitchen. Take, for example, the club sandwich ($16). Compared with the usual version typified by good-enough sliced meat and placeholder bread, 8Bar’s has a juicy, well-seasoned marinated chicken breast, excellent bacon and sourdough with a lot of personality. The crusts separated from the rest of the sandwich, and they felt like an extra treat to eat at the end.”

6. ¿DONDE FUE INA?

Ina Pinkney’s breakfast column takes her to three spots including Panango!, the breakfast pastry and sandwich shop attached to Tzuco: “The grab-and-go refrigerator case with sandwiches, soups and salads might be a little confusing when you take a croque Mexique to the counter. It’s cold with the cheese on top, solid and shiny. But a few minutes later, hot from their special oven, it was brought to life with warm crusty bread, chicken and bacon, melty Manchego, Chihuahua and cheddar cheeses and a little spicy chipotle bechamel that wakes you and your palate up in the best way possible.”

7. JAPAN IN THE BURBS

Two suburban spots for Japanese food: I’m not the only one, I suspect, who’s had all the pork-milkshakey tonkotsu ramen he needs for the foreseeable future. At Chicago, John Kessler tells us about the soy ramen at Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai in Hoffman Estates: “the pork bone broth is thin and subtle, and the noodles are kinky (in the literal sense of the word) and irregular, making them more fun to roll around in your mouth. As the website explains, these noodles are ‘hand crumpled’; sit by the counter to see a cook cut the ramen with a machine and squeeze the noodles in his fists.”

And Mike Sula visits Umacamon Japanese Kitchen, a daytime diner/nighttime izakaya in Rolling Meadows focused on the flavors of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s main islands. Including again, a lighter ramen: “Fukuoka is the historic home of the unctuous, bone-rich ramen style known the world over as tonkotsu, but while Umacamon offers it, the restaurant’s signature is Nagasaki’s champon, a bowl of relatively lighter chicken-pork based broth swimming with noodles, seafood, vegetables, and pork. Keen observers of the soupiverse will recognize the resemblance of champon to its Korean cousin jjamppong, and though its profile is mellow, it can be ordered spiked with curry or miso.” (Reader)

8. MAS TACOS

While we await the report from Titus Ruscitti’s trip to Japan, he serves up five new taco spots to check out, like Del Pueblo in Cicero:A local family with roots in Monterrey decided to become the pioneers of Tacos Bañados in Chicago. ‘Bathed tacos’ are popular in Northern Mexico states such as Durango and Nuevo León. They make them here by filling steamed tortillas with house special barbacoa de res and then pouring a warm red chile sauce on top. Like enchiladas so to say.”

9. GRAND FUNK

Before he gets to reviewing Indian restaurant Grand Trunk Road, Michael Nagrant has (not for the first time) an essay despairing of the state of restaurant criticism in Chicago (“In a world where Yelp shorthand and the ephemeral TikTok trick is emperor, my long-windedness is affliction”). Well, never having aspired to official positions as a reviewer, I accept that I am an itinerant monk, dipping in and out of restaurants and their free-food media events unabashedly in search of my own truth; preserving the knowledge of the past for some far off day when media civilization rises again. The best we can do for now is to communicate when we find goodness, to those few willing to listen (like you, dear reader).

And Nagrant finds it in what he says “might be…  the best Indian/Pakistani fare in Chicago… [owner Bezhad] Kahn saved for twelve years to open this restaurant, while toiling in Chicago kitchens like Topolobampo. His chapli kebab, a minced lamb patty bursting with chili, cumin, and pomegranate, adorned with swooshes of sweet and spicy chutney, is plated on a slate that Richard Serra might claim as one of his sculptural masterpieces.”

10. LAND OF THE GIANTS

Hey, did you hear that there’s a giant new Starbucks on Michigan Avenue? Man, sometimes we’re such suckers for the shiniest new cat toy from multinationals. (If you must see it, Chicago mag’s slideshow is nice to look at.) I didn’t get invited by their New York PR firm, so I can be that way—but my real test will come this week when I go to the Time Out Market openings (surprising they invited me after this, but they did). It’s full of stands from chefs I know and like, I even know the guys who did the woodwork (same shop as Revival and Pretty Cool). Can I have a plausibly objective opinion? Find out next week!

11. LISTEN UP

Lots of things to listen to this week!

• Overserved closes out its first season with guest Ina Pinkney imparting joy and wisdom.

Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser were interviewed about the past Grace and the upcoming Ever by Monica Eng at Culinary Historians of Chicago.

• More Japanese, in and out of the suburbs! At Chewing, Louisa Chu talks to Paul Virant about Gaijin and okonomiyaki, and Monica Eng goes shopping at Mitsuwa.

• Mariya Russell, the chef of Kumiko and Kikko, became the first black woman to earn a Michelin star this year. (She’s also nominated for best chef-de-cuisine in the Jean Banchet awards.) Audarshia Townsend talks with her about it on a podcast from RestaurantInc.

12. READ ESTATE

Jeez, even food bookstores are falling victim to the hot real estate market! Lincoln Park bookstore Read It and Eat will be closing its Halsted location after 2019 and looking for a new place to set up shop, but in the meantime, you’ll be able to buy online and they’ll be doing events around town. Follow their website for more info.

13. EAT FOR YOUR (MENTAL) HEALTH

Here’s an event packed full of chefs, benefiting NoStigmas, “a mental health support organization built by people who have been impacted by mental health and suicide-related issues.” It’s a seven-course meal at Steadfast on Wednesday, December 11, with food from Steadfast’s Jeremy Leven and Chris Teixeria, Ryan McCaskey of Acadia, Brian Fisher and Jared Bacheller of Entente, Jonathan Zaragoza of Birrieria Zaragoza, and Larry Feldmeier of The Albert, plus drinks and noshes from other The Fifty/50 Group spots. The full amount of your $120 ticket goes to the organization; go here for tickets.

GET YOUR FOODITOR 99!

The Fooditor 99 is out now at Amazon, and you should already have yours on order! Thanks to Anthony Todd for mentioning it in Dish this week: “My favorite Chicago guidebook has just released a new edition, and you definitely should get this version. The Fooditor 99 is updated for 2020, and it’s less of an update than a wholesale change – more than half the restaurants included are new, since so much awesome stuff has been opening in the city.”

And I was on Outside the Loop Saturday talking about it; listen to it here.

Lawrence Letrero of Bayan Ko had nice things to say about it; so did food media/novelist person Stacey Ballis. Get yours already, and give them to friends for the holidays!

Fooditor 99 monolith