Buzz List for November 26, 2018

It took two to review Bar Ramone, restaurant pro opens two in one week, Andrew Zimmern shoots his mouth off about Chinese food, and the new Fooditor 99s are here!

Bar Ramone/Facebook
Ryan Arnold and Richard Hanauer at Bar Ramone

1. GET YOUR NEW FOODITOR 99 NOW

It’s the new 2019 edition, with more than 40 new restaurants and updated reviews for many more, of the  Chicago food guide that roams the whole city to find what’s really worth checking out. Order yours now at Amazon here (Kindle version here), and while you’re at it, order a bunch more for friends and visitors who will appreciate your cluing them into the inside skinny on Chicago food. They’ll probably show their gratitude by taking you out to dinner—or at least for a popsicle at Pretty Cool.

2. RIP ANDREW ALGREN

This news sadly went around last week, but I still have not seen anything published on it besides this funeral home announcement. Andrew Algren, most recently the sommelier at the Cherry Circle Room (for which he was nominated for a Jean Banchet award last year) along with stints at Alinea, Maude’s Liquor Bar and Owen and Engine, passed away from a reported cardiac arrest on November 15. Here’s an interview with him from earlier in the year.

3. GABBA GABBA HEY

Lettuce’s Bar Ramone is the company’s first wine bar, squeezed into a small space by Bub City, and the Trib tag-teams its review, Phil Vettel looking at the bar bites and Joseph Hernandez the wine. Vettel is unimpressed by some items—”the beef katsu pintxos (if you deep-fry panko-crusted brisket, why place it over bread?), the bland brandade and muddy-looking tuna tartare left me shrugging”—but likes “the Spanish tortilla, its blackish crust masking an egg-potato interior that had structure without being overly firm, and the tablespoon of hot sauce on the plate added zing.”

For Hernandez, the short wine list shows off the relationships established by partners Ryan Arnold and Richard Hanauer: “There’s no need to fuss over the ‘perfect’ pairing here—many selections balance acidity with gulpablity, a good sign if you care about matching your food to wine. For a quaff that can take you from beginning of the meal to the end, you could do worse than Vina Cartin’s Val do Salnes Albarino ($13) from the Rias Baixas region of northwestern Spain. Lively and minerally, this offering is also weightier than some of its lighter-bodied counterparts, a complement to vegetable and fried dishes alike.”

4. THE WALTONS

The opening paragraph of Graham Meyer’s review of Walton Street Kitchen + Bar at Crain’s tells you all you need to know (as if the hunter green leather banquettes in the photo hadn’t already): “To the knot of immaculate, Gold Coast-embodying restaurants, add Walton Street Kitchen + Bar, a tidily competent second-floor spot that opened in September. Walton Street delivers good sandwiches, salads and the like, but without strongly distinguishing itself from other members of that club.”

5. INA MAE YET

Maggie Hennessy displays her excitement with Ina Mae Tavern by rhapsodizing the seafood tower: “A stack of crispy eggplant coins waded in tangy, pink beurre blanc dotted with nubs of sweet crawfish meat. Shell-on boiled shrimp, perfumed with pepper, paprika and garlic, were succulent rather than springy—betraying a freshness I only expect seaside. Digging into the Po’ Man’s Seafood Tower—a formidable heap of fried Gulf seafood, cakey hushpuppies and potatoes—we took to calling out whatever we excavated. ‘Crawfish’—poppable and sweet. ‘Catfish!’—juicy and unmistakably rivery. ‘Oyster!’—cooked to slippery perfection. Lurking beneath it all we unearthed more potato treasures—crushed, fried and coated in lemony cayenne aioli and Parmesan. We liberally doused everything with vinegary house hot sauce.” (TOC)

6. BREWMASTER SMITH

We’ve had wine documentaries but not beer documentaries, until Brewmaster. “The idea behind the documentary, [director Douglas] Tirola says, is to explore how and why brewing became as popular as it is today. ‘If you used to look at the guy in the cubicle next to you, they were inevitably looking at sports, now it’s like, ‘Are you actually reading about beer in the middle of the day?'” But Julia Thiel notes that there’s also controversy over the film’s sponsorship by Pilsner Urquell, a MillerCoors brand, even as rivals are featured in the film, which focuses on an employee of another MillerCoors division competing for Master Cicerone status.

7. NEW RELEASE FROM BROTHERS AND SISTERS

Their latest album is out… well, that’s what the picture in Chicago magazine makes the quartet behind this Ukrainian Village coffee shop/grocery look like. Anthony Todd tells more about Brothers and Sisters opening in December: “For [chef Jonny] Hunter, pairing retail and culinary projects is a great way to expose people to new products in different forms. “It’s an awesome opportunity to say, we have this cheese that’s only available for a few months to buy, and then, see what the kitchen does with it.”

8. CASSOULET ME DOWN TO REST

Publican Quality Meats has been doing cassoulet dinners for several years around this time of year with David Campigotto of the restaurant Castelnaudary near Toulouse, France; I went a few years ago and I’ve never seen a chatty crowd nearly fall into contented slumber quite like that. Mike Sula tells the story of how it became an annual tradition: “The chefs agreed to do a series of dinners… but Campigotto insisted on using Castelnaudary beans as well as the glazed ceramic terrines, or cassoules, manufactured in neighboring Mas-Saintes-Puelles in a factory along the Canal du Midi. Kahan would source the ducks from foie gras producer Au Bon Canard in Minnesota and use the same fine local pigs he gets for his restaurants. ‘The pigs are fatter in America,’ says Campigotto.”

9. FINOM NOM

It’s not the first piece on Finom Coffee, which is the second-newest place to make this year’s Fooditor 99—the first piece was at Block Club Chicago—but Louisa Chu’s account of how this charming Hungarian coffee house came to be is a good one: “’The flavors and style of [Hungarian] food are so familiar to so many people,’ said [co-owner Rafael] Esparza. ‘Stews and off-cuts of meat, hearty and filling. We can’t claim to be authentic, so we have to go for respectful.’”

10. EAT IT ONCE, EAT IT TWICE, EATING NEW YORK CHICKEN AND RICE

And if you immediately knew the tune to that slightly adapted lyric, well, you’re a 70s kid too. I don’t know much about this New York chicken and rice thing—I just know that one visit to The Halal Guys didn’t make me ever want to eat it twice. But Titus Ruscitti explains that it’s a thing, mostly mediocre, but he found a good place for it in Oak Lawn. He also points to a west side place for Salvadoran pupusas, and wonders why they’ve never taken off like other forms of masa into which tasty things can be stuffed.

11. ONWARD AND ONWARD

A week ago Michael Olszewski had no open restaurants. Reportedly he now has two of them open—Yugen downtown in the former Grace space, and Onward up by Loyola. That’s an ambitious opening schedule for an experienced restaurateur, let alone someone heading up not one but two for the first time—I’m not sure even Rich Melman has opened two in different parts of town in the same week. Anybody been to either one yet? Let me know how they were! The world awaits word… Eater has some pretty pictures of the food at Yugen here, and more on Onward’s Friday opening here.

12. CRUZIN’ ON A SUNDAY AFTERNOON

Josh Noel reports on the newest barrel-aged beers from Rick Bayless’ Cruz Blanca, which boast fun names and labels as well as big flavors, to overcome the fact that 2017’s batch was kind of overlooked: “‘It’s not that people didn’t grasp it, but they were these finessely executed beers, delicate and soft,’ [brewer Jacob] Sembrano said. ‘And barrel-aged beers have to be over the (expletive) top these days.’”

Since I get the joke behind one of the names (“Andres the Giant” is a reference to Leña Brava chef Andres Padilla, who is indeed a big guy), I wonder if there’s a key to all of the names anywhere. Who is Rey Gordo or Lady Luminado?

13. SHOP GLOBAL-LOCAL

It is no secret that Fooditor is a big fan of local international groceries, and Monica Eng did a series this past week called “Hungry For Home” that will keep you shopping happily around the world. It has several components and two homes, so dig deep. At WBEZ’s Worldview, she shops international markets with someone who knows the cuisine; here’s Polish-Ukrainian, Filipino, and Korean. These are in-depth explorations that really tell you, aisle by aisle, what all those unfamiliar things are. Then, at the Sun-Times she makes a dish from each of the cultures on video with a guide, and publishes the recipes for readers; the master list of the dishes is here. One assumes this is only the beginning of the series, so keep an eye out at both places for more.

14. OFFER REFUSED

One of the things I’ve talked about is that real estate pressure, and the influx of out of towners who didn’t grow up on classic Chicago foods, is slowly driving out the Chicago blue collar food that was everywhere when I moved here. And here’s a perfect example from Block Club Chicago: a poignant story of the closing after 52 years of a second-generation corner pizza joint, Godfather’s Pizza, in Uptown, which shuttered over the weekend because of escalating rent. Here’s the history of Uptown in 63 words from owner Sue Stoker:

“The Stoker family has watched Uptown change around it, even as the corner spot remained the same. ‘It used to be hillbillies, winos and Indians. Then there were the Gaylords, the white KKK-affiliated gang, burning crosses over across the street,’ she said, pointing north across Wilson Avenue. There’s now less crime—and no cross burning—but housing has become unaffordable, she said.”

15. P.F. CLANG

Andrew Zimmern is usually thought of as a savvy guy who helps open minds toward other food cultures—so what happened this week? He opened a restaurant in a mall in his native Minneapolis serving what he considers authentic Chinese food, called Lucky Cricket, with intentions of growing it into a nationwide chain. If you’re a white guy opening a place to make, say, an Asian cuisine, you know the drill—talk about respect for the food, creating opportunities for young cooks from that culture, and so on.

Instead, in a video interview at Fast Company he slammed Chinese restaurants in the midwest—“I think I’m saving the souls of all the people from having to dine at these horseshit restaurants masquerading as Chinese food that are in the Midwest”—and bags on a middle American precursor, Philip Chiang, who co-founded P.F. Chang’s (and is the son of Cecilia Chiang, the San Francisco restaurateur who raised the profile of authentic Chinese in America from the 60s to the early 2000s).

This piece at Eater does a good job of summing up what he said and raising the inevitable questions of cultural appropriation: “In comparing Lucky Cricket to P.F. Chang’s—and, more specifically, asking aloud if Chiang’s Chinese heritage gave him sanction to create a ‘ripoff’ of its cuisine—Zimmern not only makes a value judgment about authenticity, the thorniest of all thorny culinary crutch concepts, but he also makes it without questioning why he gets to pass judgement in the first place. That act of ‘translating’ on behalf of the presumably white audience—the idea that American diners need to have something unfamiliar ‘made more palatable’ to get them to the table—has shades of a strange, increasingly outdated form of cultural elitism.”

Well, he is in a mall, so some of that is kind of inevitable. But he certainly could have put it in a positive way, by talking about expanding the international reach of Chinese flavors—and, I would think, acknowledging that authentic Chinese food in America is actually experiencing a great period of expansion in at least major cities (like Chicago, and surely Minneapolis to some degree), as Chinese students flood American universities and often wind up creating restaurants as well.

Ruth Tam in the Washington Post calls him out for painting with a broad brush the hard work of Chinese immigrant restaurateurs in America: “What would pass muster for Zimmern? Dishes that are spicier, funkier, more daring? Zimmern fails to acknowledge that for a variety of reasons, these tastes weren’t able to go mainstream until recently. Imports of Sichuan peppercorn, the fiery and floral flavoring agent present in some of his dishes, were banned for nearly 40 years until 2005. Plus, bolder Chinese dishes were long relegated to the ‘weird’ and ‘exotic,’ and Zimmern played a direct role in that.”

P.S. See this tweet.

Got a tip or a link for Buzz List? Send it to [email protected]