No details on this story yet, but Jimmy Bannos Jr. of The Purple Pig turned himself into the police on Saturday after an incident at Chicago Gourmet in September, in which he allegedly punched someone there. (Crain’s)


“Carlo Gaytan’s restaurant, Tzuco, is likely to earn him back a Michelin star,” declares the Tribune headline, leaving utterly unanswered the question of whether it will also earn him an AAA four diamond review and a People Love Us on Yelp sticker for the front window. Is there any duller way to look at our local restaurants than through the lens of whether some out of town guide will tell out of towners to go there? This really should only be the slightest trivia to us here, compared to questions of how the food is (well-crafted, if less overtly Mexican-seeming compared to the spice-forward food to be had from Bayless restaurants or other places like Mi Tocaya, Kie-Gol-Lanee, etc.), what the decor is (very cool in an archeological dig kind of way and unlike any other restaurant in town), and so on.

To be fair to Phil Vettel, he only raises the tire company question in passing at the very end of his review. Vettel has long been a Gaytan fan, and that’s evident in this review: “Entrees include some hearty keepers. Braised short ribs are rich and tender, helped along by some parsnip puree and contrasted by a baby kale salad with fennel and orange segments. Lamb neck, steamed in maguey leaves, has a similar presentation: a little garbanzo-bean puree on the side, and a bright salad of greens and mint as a palate cleanser. My favorite is the pork pibil, a hefty pork shank topped with habanero pickled onions and a coarse spread of avocado-infused black beans. Gaytan said this dish is so popular, he’s making 30 or more pork shanks per day.”

Vettel’s review came under fire from Michael Nagrant, because Vettel had earlier written of attending a media preview for the restaurant (I know he did, because I did too, hence my having opinions too). Nagrant is undoubtedly right that under the old rules, reviewers weren’t supposed to schmooze with chefs at events like this, but be as secretive as the reviewer in Ratatouille. But it’s just a fact that the old rules don’t apply any more, even at the places that invented them to help keep less well-funded barbarians at the gate, by setting standards (must visit at least twice, etc.) that smaller players couldn’t afford to meet. Well, mourn those rules or not, they’re gone, not least for someone like me, who keeps backing into reviewing (did I mention The Fooditor 99 comes out soon?) while having started by reporting on restaurants. In which case attending media previews is a natural way to know what’s going on and meet the people you may want to write about. In the end you have to judge the quality of a writer’s work by whether he makes insightful observations, and whether he separates the chef whom he may have met and is friendly with, from the published opinion of the restaurant he’s talking about.


The Whale restaurant brings downtown luxury to Logan Square. But the food is dreadful.”

Now that’s a headline! Who doesn’t want to know more about that? When did you last even read a word as definitive and Old Testament as “dreadful” in the food section of the Trib?

According to Nick Kindelsperger’s review, this hot new Logan Square restaurant “is a clip-on tie. It’s a cubic zirconia peddled as a diamond. It’s a racing spoiler attached to a beat-up 2005 Honda Civic. And it’s also one of the most popular new restaurants in Chicago.” Dreadfulness lies in entrees like a $24, supposedly dry-aged steak frites that was “mushy and cooked past my requested medium-rare,” and a champagne “list” with, hilariously, one item on it (Veuve Cliquot).

Interestingly Pete Wells made news in New York this week slamming a show-offy steakhouse—the venerable, if somewhat born tired, Peter Luger. There, the message seemed to be that New York business diners tolerate a certain amount of BDSM behavior from a name restaurant (“A kind word or reassuring smile from somebody on staff would help the time pass. The smile never comes. The Department of Motor Vehicles is a block party compared with the line at Peter Luger”).

It’s harder for Kindelsperger to understand or convey why Chicagoans go in large numbers for a place as inept as this (“When I asked my waitress for a wine suggestion to go with a steak, all she said was, ‘Well, we have red wine'”). But if any New Yorker wants to suggest that The Whale proves we’re hayseed rubes who don’t know good dining, the only defense I could offer is that the place is probably packed with “Chicagoans”… who just moved here.


Speaking of reviewers and what’s done and not done… is it proper that there’s a Book Online button now on Time Out Chicago reviews (meaning, in some distant way, they could get more revenue from a positive review than a negative one), or is it just how things are in 2019? It seems a tiny concern in reality… but not that long ago, it’s the sort of entry into commercializing your content that just wasn’t done by reviewers. Now the whole world is all about revenue-sharing from affiliate links.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure there’s nothing compromised about a five star review for Wherewithall, because there’s nobody who doesn’t love it, including Maggie Hennessy: “The unfettered preparations had finesse without straying into tweezer territory, and each bite delighted. Despite their considerable nightly information load, servers were breezily knowledgeable, lending a few choice words to describe each bite and sip unless prompted with followup questions.”


I can’t compare any meal I had at Ambria to any meal I have had in modern times. That kid, who ate there in the 90s, and I can’t really say we share a palate; the past is another restaurant. All I can say is, if I paid that kind of money twice to go to one place, as I did in the 90s (Ambria closed in 2007), I must have really liked Gabino Sotelino’s contemporary, California-meets-France restaurant in the Belden-Stratford, which lasted almost three decades before the space became L2O, Intro, and finally nothing (an event space for rent). But how would it be now? I remember being wowed by a piece of salmon back then. I’ve had a lot of salmon by now.

So I have some skepticism about the idea of reviving Ambria now, as Lettuce Entertain You and The Alinea Group are planning to do. Both groups seem in search of their lost youths right now—Lettuce has returned to The Pump Room (ahem, Booth One), where it was in the 1980s, The Alinea Group is serving retro-ish supper club food—but opening a new Ambria won’t be cheap, any more than renovating Ambria into L2O was (I’ve heard figures for what that cost, and they didn’t surprise me). The question is, will regular diners want it as much as these nostalgic restaurant owners do? Or if it’s really an entirely new restaurant creatively, is there really that much benefit in saddling it with an old name, as opposed to writing a new chapter entirely in this space, as L2O did?


I guess Graham Meyer’s complaint that there’s no food near McCormick Place is true if you literally mean within a couple of blocks around Prairie and Indiana Avenue; but it’s not like Chinatown, Bridgeport and Manny’s are any too far away. Anyway, he’s modestly approving of Il Culaccino, which is from the people behind Franco’s in Bridgeport: “The food, for the most part, achieves the standard of Italian-American spaghetti-and-meatballs bistros… Il Culaccino is worth remembering for when you’re nearby. After all, you probably have a restaurant just like it in your own neighborhood.”


Ji Suk Yi talks to Brian Jupiter about his New Orleans-themed restaurant named for his grandmother, Ina Mae Tavern: “’She did take me to a cooking school when I was about 12 and we made bread pudding, red beans and roux for gumbo,’ Jupiter recalled fondly of his florist grandmother. ‘The bread pudding we made in class is actually on the menu at Ina Mae.’”


Phillip Foss has been collaborating on a comic about the chef’s life with his cousin Tim Foss; Mike Sula has a preview here.


Steve Dolinsky reports on Turkitch, a fast-growing chain for freshly-made and frozen Turkish food (including breakfast). It has a sitdown location on Diversey in Lakeview and satellites in the French Market and the Raffaello Hotel in the Gold Coast.


Titus Ruscitti went to Imperial Lamian: ” It’s Chinese and the best way I can describe it is it reminded me a lot of the hotel restaurants in Asia. It’s upper scale compared to other noodle shops and they definitely hired a designer to make the place appealing to the younger instagram crowd. This is all to be expected when you see it’s River North neighbors. No it’s not as credible as some of the locals favorite spots in Chinatown but it’s better than many of the spots in the same area.”


“There is, of course, a tier of relatively inexpensive and—to be honest—generic Chinese-American food outlets, frequently in strip malls, but unlike See Thru Chinese Kitchen or Panda Express, these small take-out places are mostly small businesses rather than part of a larger group. So: why do all these strip-mall Chinese restaurants look alike and have the same menu items—even similar-looking menus?” That’s the question that David Hammond asks in a consideration of Chinese-American food at NewCity.


Overserved talks to a dean and a student at Washburne Culinary Institute about the school’s history and how it serves as a gateway for underprivileged kids to a career.


Mike Sula talks about the literary history of a fruit, the medlar, which Peter Klein of Seedling is apparently growing; they may be little known to 21st century America, but they figured in dirty jokes in Chaucer’s time, as it turns out.


After last week’s stories about Stone Flower, I heard a couple of people note that there was a sign on the door referring to a new business that was apparently replacing Stone Flower, called The Parlor. In fact that’s a speakeasy-themed cocktail lounge that occupies the second floor of the building—if you ate at Glory, Scylla, Takashi, Dixie, etc., you’ll recall that there was an upstairs space, which few of them seemed to know what to do with. In any case, it appears to have no direct connection to Stone Flower (it has its own chef for bar bites, for instance), and whether or not there’s some common investment, say, Stone Flower appears to still be operating—downstairs.


I haven’t felt like reviewing things here because I’ve been cranking out reviews for The Fooditor 99. But after going to the Tzuco preview several weeks back, I went to Panango!, the sandwich side of Tzuco which looks like it wants to be a chain. I like the bread (as much French as Mexican baking styles, with Mexican flavors added in) and I liked the breakfast pastries, which are classically French in texture, with Mexican flavors like chocolate and passion fruit. I tried a couple of the sandwiches, but honestly, find it a bit disappointing that they are premade and kept cold in a case, like at Pret à Manger. One with roast pork was good anyway, but they should honor that bread by making things to order, or at least having that option.

And one of the previews I’ve been most looking forward to is Gaijin, the okonomiyaki joint that Paul Virant is opening in the West Loop (I talked to him about it a while back). I wondered if the West Loop would really turn out for a Japanese savory pancake and shaved ice desserts, but it felt like total West Loop coolness when it was a packed house of media folks scarfing and chatting. They start taking reservations as of the 11th but I’m pretty sure it will be soft-opened before then, poke your head in and see.