Hello, and greetings from Italy. Buzz List was off for two weeks while I was at the Pordenone Silent Film Festival—you can see more about my trip at Instagram, including the open-air market of regional foods that popped up in front of my hotel one day, which I was very happy about. One thing I noted in Italy was that it holds true to the truism that eating like the locals anywhere tends to be cheap, it’s only eating like an American in other countries that gets expensive. I was consistently surprised that the bill for a pizza and a glass of wine, which I expected to be $20 and up, would be more like $10. (Made it hard to spend enough to justify paying with the 50 euro notes that the ATMs insist on giving you, and which you can hardly use, like Million Pound Notes.)

Of course, when I got back it took me a day or two to get to the store and restock for cooking. So first day back, I went to a venerable Chicago restaurant for lunch with my wife, and spent nearly $60 between the two of us. To some extent this seemed like a lot—but I’ve felt like food prices have needed to go up for a long time now, to provide a better situation for people working in restaurants and producing food. And with our around-$60 lunch—which included a 20% service fee, so assume about $47 or so pre-tip—here’s what we got: high quality ingredients, many grown in the midwest and purchased from a farmer (this restaurant has been farm to table since before there was farm to table), assembled with skill into a tasty and nutritious lunch; and decent treatment of the staff including health care. I felt virtuous about not bitching about the price; I was supporting the things I believe I should pay for.

The next day I was going to go to Paulina to shop for stuff including sandwich meat, but I was impatient for lunch, maybe lazy is the word I’m looking for, and went to a chain sandwich shop near me—which I rarely visit (I’m not sure I ordered from there at all during lockdown). I ordered a basic sandwich and chips, and I’m not sure what I expected it to cost, but I was fairly shocked to find it was now $12 for that lunch. I mean, I looked at my sandwich and… no way was that bland commodity food a $12 sandwich. At least, even if the stuff costs that much now, I don’t see it as offering $12 worth of pleasure, not after having just been in Italy where cheap ham sandwiches fall off trees in every bar, or to Lardon multiple times lately where a mindblowingly good sandwich of house-cured meats is only $16 (a lot two years ago, but it seems fair now).

What this tells me is—we’re in a new age of what things cost. And if the new prices are going to sting a little, as that chain sandwich did, then the only decent thing to do, if you believe in farmers and restaurant workers being paid fairly, is to eat less at places that don’t meet your values for those prices, and support the ones who do. So that when you do feel a twinge of sticker shock, you feel better about paying it. And also so that you eat better in the first place, natural things prepared well, like they are in Italy. Which is the model we should all aspire to for how we dine.

On to lots of food news from over the last couple of weeks. There’s so much to catch up on that I’m just going to point to mainstream media this week, and catch up with the indie voices next week.


The “auteur theory” was the notion floated by French critics in the 50s and 60s that many film directors had distinctive styles and approaches, so that—even if they weren’t the name brand producer-directors who had primary control over their films like the DeMilles, the Hitchcocks, the Kubricks—they had shared themes across their movies and recognizable ways of directing them. That personal style could transcend the fact that they were working on a studio-driven project written by others with producers and stars breathing down their necks—you know, like a Marvel movie. (Quick, name the auteur of Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.)

You know what else can be like a big movie? Restaurants. I get press releases all the time touting some guy as the vision behind such and such flashy new restaurant, and then I look at the menu and it hits all the buttons for its type of restaurant (flatbreads, chicken Caesar salad, brussels sprouts with bacon) and you know it’s a corporate restaurant driven from the head office. But there certainly are auteurs out there, carrying on their distinctive vision in a place they opened on as little money as they could get away with. For the last decade in Chicago, the epitome of that kind of chef has been Iliana Regan with her restaurant Elizabeth. It’s been the measure, for me, that every tasting menu spot that aspires to make its chef the next hot thing is judged against.

I assume we all know Regan’s m.o. by now, from a zillion pieces by people like me and her own American Gothic memoir of growing up in Indiana, Burn the Place. She grew up hunting and picking wild things and frog-gigging, but by the time it yielded her underground restaurant One Sister, it was filtered through a sensibility that personally I best described as “Gothic whimsy.” A forest faerie picnic, in a strip along Western Avenue.

Elizabeth has been variable over the years as a restaurant, sometimes one of the most expensive spots in town, sometimes doing reasonably priced themed meals. But my last few visits have been very strong, which made it something to regret that Regan and her wife seemed to have shifted their efforts to their glamping venture in Michigan’s upper peninsula, the Milkweed Inn. This week, it became official: Regan has sold Elizabeth (she was the sole owner after buying her original partners out) to Tim Lacey, who joined her at the time that Kitsune opened, with Ian Jones (another Kitsune alum) as chef and pastry chef George Kovach (Band of Bohemia). Both because it’s not a closing and because it’s not a direct result of Covid, I can’t regard this one as one of the lockdown-era closings to bemoan like Blackbird, but I do think that some life changes have been sped up by the last year, and this is likely one. In any case, the end of an era and one of Chicago’s most notable restaurants, long live the new Elizabeth under its new team.


Speaking as I was above of what things cost… when I was eating Korean corn dogs with Nick Kindelsperger some weeks back, I asked him if he expected to review anything on the high end (in other words, would the bosses pay for him to do do?) I said it seemed to me that he’d have to review a few, like, say, Esme, given the pedigree and (high) concept of a dining experience driven by artistic notions. And well, that’s exactly who and what he reviewed the week before last:

Daring and defiant, yet studied and polished. A great bite here can lodge itself in your brain and refuse to let go, leading you to spend hours researching random topics not normally on your radar. This explains how I found myself discussing ceramic glazing techniques with David T. Kim, the owner of DTK Ceramics, who made the piece for Esmé.

According to chef-owner Jenner Tomaska, that dish reminded him of spoons made from mother of pearl, which are traditionally used for tasting caviar. (The name of the bowl is Mother of Pearl.) He also thinks the combination isn’t as outlandish as it might seem. “When I think of caviar, it’s at the start of the meal and typically is served with potatoes, like a potato blini or a potato chip,” Tomaska said. So having an ice cream made with sweet potato is merely a “slightly more whimsical” approach.

At Chicago mag, Amy Cavanaugh also reviews it, or something (I thought Chicago wasn’t reviewing again, yet) and also focuses on the mix of art and cuisine:

They’re showcasing work from local artists like Danielle Klinenberg and Amanda “Raspy” Rivera, as well as planning artist openings and dinners. That focus extends to the table. “I’m creatively led via the vessel,” Tomaska says. “I don’t want to serve the same dishes for 20 years. Things will come and go, but will the vessel become a staple?”

For diners, the food has to be exciting as well. I’d argue there are multiple items that deserve staple status, like the pork rib, slathered with banana caramel, lime zest, and sesame and served on a ceramic bone handle. Consider the pierogis, two delicate, crispy packets stuffed with onion and raclette, basking in a burnt onion consommé, and topped with black truffle; it tastes like a supercharged French onion soup. I’m looking forward to visiting the adjacent bar, which Bravo and Tomaska opened to let neighbors gather over items like a whole fish and a burger.


We all know the Cambodian fried chicken sandwich at Hermosa by now, but may not know what all Ethan Eang Lim is up to there, as it keeps evolving as a way of showcasing what Cambodian food is about. Louisa Chu brings us up to date:

Hermosa has somehow become an identity-fluid restaurant that intersects public praise and critical acclaim.

“I call myself the owner and content creator,” said Ethan Lim earnestly. “Basically being a one-man show, I’m not just wearing a chef’s hat.”…

Lim transforms the tiny storefront into a private dining room with a single table to serve seven to eight courses, BYOB. The restaurant remains takeout-only otherwise. The price ranges between $495 for up to four guests and $695 for up to six.

It’s a bummer that Chu says she couldn’t dine there once and report on the meal, because the Trib still follows rules that reviewers must dine twice (though Phil Vettel didn’t do that at Next).


Nick Kindelsperger goes to the new Italian restaurant from the Boka group, Alla Vita, and finds that very chic design aside, it’s aiming to update the red sauce joint:

The design of Alla Vita is a slight head fake, because at its base this new project from the Boka Restaurant Group is a clever spin on the Italian American red sauce joint, albeit one that decided to eschew the design cliches, like dark wood and padded booths, and come into the light. You’ll hear no Frank Sinatra, see no reference to Al Capone. The restaurant prefers the term “comfortable Italian cuisine,” but the menu is stuffed with a number of classic Italian American dishes, like chicken Parmesan, meatballs and pasta alla vodka.

This, it turns out, is a very good thing. Freed from the baggage of what an Italian American restaurant has to be, chef Lee Wolen and his team have been able to focus on crafting one outstanding dish after another.

Buzz 2


If you had an authentic Trinidadian roti you either had it in the Caribbean (I had one in St. Croix) or at Cafe Trinidad on 75th street. The restaurant, shuttered since 2016, is now back in a ghost kitchen, says Mike Sula:

Roti are the burrito-like curry-and-stew-stuffed wraps ubiquitous to Trinidad and Tobago, and they’re not uncommon in most North American cities with sizable expat populations. [Owner Darryl] Hicks thinks the people and the food wouldn’t be so scarce in Chicago if there were direct flights back home. Over the past five years he has had to satisfy his longings on business trips to South Florida.


Nick Kindelsperger has a pozole revelation:

As soon as the server placed the bowl of pozole in front of me at Pozoleria El Mexicano in Belmont Cragin (5037 W. Diversey Ave.), I realized I still had so much more to learn about the dish. Here was a bowl of pozole with a heaping portion of what looked like a thick red salsa resting right on top. On the side weren’t the usual assortment of toppings, just some tostadas and a bowl of crema.


At Time Out, Emma Krupp reviews Hinoki Sushiko, the two-level Japanese restaurant. She had omakase on the second floor:

The second floor space, lit with rows of glaring light bulbs overhead, felt cavernous and spare—and not in a way that could be passed off as minimalist chic, mind you. I couldn’t help but wish we were eating downstairs, where a sculptural wooden tree installation (a holdover from Fort Willow, the building’s previous tenant) and moody lighting offered an enveloping darkness perhaps more appropriate for the theater of omakase.

One thing to note: she talks about the meal as if it was conceived and prepared by Otto Phan (Kyoten), but the fact is that Phan is no longer involved with Hinoki and has not been for some time.


Pizza City has been Steve Dolinsky’s podcast about pizza makers around the country, and now it’s also the pilot episode of a video series about pizza in different cities, beginning with, you will no doubt be amazed, Chicago. Check it out here and read about Dolinsky’s ambitions for it here.


Breakfast sandwiches get little respect, and more to the point often face the design issue that the model for the entire genre comes from the fast food world—the Egg McMuffin from you-know-where. Maggie Hennessy has a piece at Salon looking at how Kasama configured their breakfast sandwich to offer an artisanal take on the genre, while reflecting the essential cheesy cheapness that we all love about them:

As fine-dining veterans ([owner-chef Tim] Flores of Oriole and Senza in Chicago; [owner-chef Genie] Kwon of Oriole, Eleven Madison Park in New York and Flour Bakery & Cafe in Boston), the pair had to dial back their stubborn impulse to make everything from scratch.

Instead, they took a page from the fast-food industry’s efficiency and consistency handbook. The main test for every prototype involved letting the sandwich sit in its foil jacket at least 30 minutes before digging in.


“Most people don’t go to Utah for the food,” David Hammond sagely observes, but you gotta eat while tromping around Zion or Bryce, and he describes some of the things he found. Utah pastrami sounds as unlikely as Utah Jazz, but:

Pastrami, the peppered brisket we know from delis everywhere, is maybe not the first condiment you’d think to add to a hamburger, but that’s what a Utahan Pastrami Burger is, a hamburger with lettuce, tomato and onion, dressed up with slices of pastrami. Sometimes a sauce might be added—for instance, Russian dressing—and the sandwich is darn good. The flavors do not get lost in one another, and if you’re lucky, the slices of pastrami are rich and salty and a pleasing accompaniment to the griddled ground beef (or as is sometimes the case in Utah, bison). A few fast food chains offering the Pastrami Burger, like the popular Apollo Burger, which has outlets in northern and southern Utah.


The New York Times has a list of 50 “America’s Favorite Restaurants”—defined as almost no one else would, I think: “the 50 most vibrant and delicious restaurants in 2021…Some are classics, still great after decades. Others are in their prime, restaurants at their practiced peaks. And still others are newcomers.” In other words, whatever the hell we feel like mentioning—as long as it has a chef who’s not a white guy, as commenters quickly pointed out. Anyway, two Chicago places make the list: Kasama and Mi Tocaya Antojeria, both of which would fit a more precisely defined list of “the new comfort food,” or something like that.

Still, two is more Chicago representation than a Plate list of “Trailblazing American Chefs You Should Know, which manages to deem exactly one Chicago chef—Jean Banchet—of note. Trotter? Bayless? Kahan? Never heard of ’em. Besides the inevitable oversupply of New Yorkers, it seems to have a lot of love for the 80s fad of “California cuisine”—here’s what matters more than Bayless’ artisanal, scholarly Mexican: “dishes that were radical for the time: guacamole of frozen peas, fried plantains topped with American caviar and sour cream, a quesadilla filled with Brie and grapes.” Is that dinner, or something Gwyneth Paltrow thinks would be good to rub on your chakra?


A couple of food films will be at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. One of two documentaries about Charlie Trotter in the works, Love, Charlie, will play Monday 10/18 and Friday, 10/22, the former with figures from the film including chef Norman Van Aken in attendance; there will also be a streaming option. You can hear an interview with filmmaker Rebecca Halpern on WDCB’s The Arts Section. And Julia, from the makers of RBG, uses never before-seen footage to tell the story of Julia Child as she became someone who changed food in America forever.


Watch Drew Barrymore, who has a daytime TV show (I did not know this), sing the praises of Pretty Cool Ice Cream and reward Dana Cree for her fundraising efforts.


Look for kolache, the Texas-inspired Czech pastry, at local coffee shops, courtesy of Howdy Kolache, says Amy Cavanaugh.


John Kessler looks at three newish places serving Spanish tapas: “Begin with the best: Mama Delia (1721 W. Division St., East Ukrainian Village). Chef Marcos Campos and his crew replaced Black Bull with this fabulous drag queen of a concept. The pink patio beckons, the velvet, brass, and walnut interior startles, and the menu (each section named for an Almodóvar movie) brims with luxuries.”


If you ever have to think of somewhere to feed 20 or more. you need the latest edition of Crain’s private dining room list.


I went to a preview for the new dinner-play thing that Rick Bayless is involved with (as co-author and behind the scenes chef), A Recipe For Disaster. It’s a broadly funny farce in the Noises Off whatever-can-go-wrong-will vein, reputedly inspired by real life events in Bayless’ kitchens. (The only one I recognized as having roots in a real incident is the presence of non-USDA-stamped meat in the kitchen catching the eye of a health inspector; I forget precise details, but there might be clues here.) Anyway, there’s a little of everything, chefs taking drugs and chefs having ego-driven disputes and no-shows and snooty Instagrammers stealing kitchen utensils and taking selfies with audience members, and it all happens quickly and wildly by a cast who besides being funny, can also cut an onion (I was right at the kitchen table and observed them at it). Along with the play you get half a dozen small portions in paper cups, one of which is deliberately bad, the rest of which are serviceable enough given the challenge of timing food exactly to action on stage. (They tell you you might want to have dinner at the adjacent Petterino’s, though I didn’t go home particularly hungry.)