Buzz List for October 22, 2018

PST in the NYT, scouting the original food hall, by Karam it's tasty, beyond hot pot in Chinatown, and new rules for the wrong crowd?

Pacific Standard Time/Facebook
Pita for lunch at Pacific Standard Time

1. COAST TO COAST

Ari Bendersky writes about Pacific Standard Time’s taste of California in the midwest for the New York Times, focusing (as the room does) on the wood-burning ovens: “Open to the dining room, one of the ovens is dedicated to fluffy pitas and rustic pizzas, the other for roasting everything from fresh fish and produce imported from California, to hearty local meats, which will become more plentiful on the menu as the weather gets colder. Nearly everything coming out of the kitchen has some sort of wood-roasted component, and that’s intentional.”

Crain’s reviews it for the business lunch crowd, too, and is pretty wowed (understandable given the usual run of places they encounter on that beat): “Pacific Standard Time deserves its kudos. Chef Erling Wu-Bower (Blackbird, Publican, Nico Osteria) and pastry chef Natalie Saben (Grace) are rocking it, bringing the fresh flavors, techniques and veg-forward spirit of California cuisine into our midst with real conviction.”

2. AY KARAM/HAVANA GILA

Karam Grill has given me new hope for the Kedzie middle eastern strip, feeling a bit wan of late, and Mike Sula reacts the same way: “I’ve been more impressed with the mezze I’ve tried than anything else: vegetarian stuffed grape leaves so lemony you’ll squint; salty, par-melted squares of fried Nabulsi cheese; extrasmoky, coarsely blended baba ghanoush.” (Reader)

Sula also gives a flavorful account of Taste of Havana, a new Cuban spot on Milwaukee just southeast of Logan Square that apparently acquired the crowd displaced by the closing of long-running El Rinconcito Cubano: “The daily chalkboard specials are where things get interesting, featuring less common and/or more labor-intensive slow cookers like oxtail stew, arroz con pollo, and a two-person seafood paella or a greasy-good Cuban-style fried rice with chicken, ham, and shrimp. Saturday features the starchy, meaty soup ajiaco Cubano, more commonly known as sancocho in Puerto Rico, thick with yuca, squash, pork, corn on the cob, and the dried beef tasajo that gives it so much depth.” (Reader)

3. POP MUZIK

Everybody loves Pretty Cool Ice Cream, but would anybody actually review a place so simple and obvious in its appeal? Maggie Hennessy did at Time Out, giving it five stars: “Starring cream from Lamers Dairy in Wisconsin and an ever-shifting cast of fruits sourced via Local Foods, the pops stand out most for their beautiful density and texture. A peanut butter bar coated in thick chocolate and studded with salty potato chip pieces crunched snappily before giving way to the stretchy chew of nutty, rich custard. Blue moon, Salls Cree’s Smurf-blue take on the beloved Midwestern ice cream flavor, tasted like a concentrated sip of cereal milk from the bottom of a bowl of Froot Loops.”

4. GEORGE IS ON MY MIND

Amber Gibson was one of the first to write about Georges Trois, the modern take on French food happening inside Restaurant Michael in Winnetka that is one of the still-underappreciated wonders of our dining scene at the moment, and she returned to it recently for Forbes: “Compared to Chicago stalwarts like Les Nomades and Everest, George Trois feels more lively, earnest and cozy. They’re not sleepwalking through service here, but presenting every plate with panache. Dinner proceeds at a relaxed pace to the soundtrack of classical covers of old pop songs from ‘Eye of the Tiger,’ to Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance.’”

5. BELLEMOROSE

At The New Chicagoan, Dominic Lynch finds signs of expertise at Bellemore—”The spaghetti chitarra with Maine lobster, garlic, parsley, lemon, and mint was almost more of a chowder than a pasta, in the best possible way”—but wishes they’d lighten up on one thing in particular: “the most frustrating part of Bellemore was how every dish—every single one—was so salt-forward that it hijacked the other components on the plate. Once the salt was noticed, and it was noticed early, it became impossible to overlook.”

6. ISTANBUL, NOT FRUNCHSTATINOPLE

Titus Ruscitti has been busy with reviews. Cafe Istanbul is a new Turkish spot in Lakeview, with very solid doner: “There’s a small mound of sliced spit roasted meat on that plate alongside a few scoops of rice, raw onion, and charred pepper and tomatoes. Beneath the meat is a flat bread pita that soaks up all the juices of the lamb and veal. It’s a heaping plate of food that will get your taste buds tingling as soon as you smell it.”

Any place I’ve been to three times in the half year or so it’s been open is a favorite, and Titus feels like I do about Frunchroom: “On my most recent visit I tried the bagel with some housemade lox which absolutely rocked. I don’t recall any lox I’ve ever had being as firm and flavorful as Frunchroom’s. While I would’ve preferred the bagel come un-toasted it was the lox that was front and center and delicious either way.”

And he hit up a Nashville Hot chicken sandwich place that I’ve been meaning to get to… but it’s a hike to Oak Lawn for Fry the Coop: “I’m not the biggest Nashville hot fan out there. I like it but only when it’s just hot enough to tingle your tongue for a few seconds. Fry the Coop uses breast meat for both the sandwiches and its tenders. While I prefer thigh meat nine times out of ten I actually like breast meat in my fried chicken sandwiches. I have to say while I’d heard good things about this spot I was still surprised how much I liked it.”

7. MITSUWOWIE

The food hall at Mitsuwa Market predates today’s trend by nearly three decades—I first heard of it from a 90s book of pop sociology, Joel Garreau’s Edge City, noting the rise of immigrant businesses in supposedly blandly white suburbs—and the parade of Japanese and other Asian food stalls there has gotten more media attention than you’d expect for a mall in Arlington Heights.

Still, I think Nick Kindelsperger’s roundup is the first time anyone’s done it stall by stall to tell you what to get there. Of course, there’s ramen at Santouka (“Santouka’s broth overwhelms your tongue with meatiness, like the essence of concentrated roast pork, with an appealing sweetness at the end”), but he also has particular praise for the tempura spot Tendon Hannosuke (“so much lighter and thinner than any I’ve ever encountered in Chicago”) and donburi at Sutadonya (“a heaping mound of paper-thin sheets of fatty pork mixed with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce, all set on top of rice”).

8. COMING SOON

I recently looked at Eater’s list of what was known to be opening in the next quarter or two—gotta see what I’m going to have to write about—and it was kind of an underwhelming list. (Oh boy, a Dos Toros is opening in the John Hancock building!) Fortunately two fun-sounding announcements this week brightened our prospects: the guys behind the Bombay Breakdown pop-up are pairing with Jason Hammel to open Superkhana International, a Bollywood-flavored take on Indian food, at 3059 W. Diversey in Logan Square. And Brothers and Sisters will turn a Ukrainian Village furniture store into an all-day market and lunch spot, from a perfect storm of hipster influences: owner Erin Carmen Weber comes from Girl & the Goat, co-owner Derek Herbster from Stumptown Coffee, and chef Johnny Hunter from Underground Collective in Madison.

9. PAST CASUAL

Fast casual dining is here to stay—it’s a natural answer to the shortage and expense of restaurant labor—and you just have to look at the Jean Banchet Awards, which is adding a Counter Service award this year (“recognizing excellence in modern informal dining”), to know that the industry takes speedy food made with quality seriously. Crain’s has a survey of Chicago concepts aiming to go Chipotle-sized, from Beatrix to Hakka Bakka Indian Kati Rolls.

10. KRABBY PATTY

I was a little skeptical of the all you can eat crab and burger concept behind Crab Cellar, underneath Oyster Bah, but Anthony Todd lets Shaw’s/Oyster Bah chief Bill Nevruz make his case: he “had been trying to figure out what to do with the subterranean space for some time. The room is tricky, as it fits only seven tables and a bar, and there’s no outdoor patio to attract patrons in the summer. Nevruz considered opening a ramen shop, a burger bar, and a bar to serve craft drinks and seafood cocktails. It was only after an inspiring trip to Burger & Lobster in New York City that he realized what fare his new project should offer: burgers and crabs.”

11. THAT’S AMORE

When I saw that Ji Suk Yi had done a feature focusing on Chicago’s Little Italy, I was tempted to say, what Little Italy? Taylor Street has lost many of its iconic restaurants—and gained sushi and Indian food in its place, to serve the audience at the nearby medical complex. But she offers a good deep dive into how the neighborhood developed and what remains of it, including (this is what I wanted to read) a guide to where to eat in the neighborhood.

12. PIE-EYED

The latest The Feed talks about a subject dear to many hearts this time of year—pie—with Paula Haney of Hoosier Mama, Michael Ciapciak of Bang Bang Pie, and—this is the welcome surprise—Steve Dolinsky pays a visit to Middle Eastern Bakery in Andersonville to talk about savory pies.

13. NO DRAW

Michael Olszewski currently occupies the interesting position of being the only restaurant owner in Chicago with two buildouts and no open restaurants, but that may soon change with the opening, according to Eater, of Onward near Loyola in Edgewater, which is set for November 9. Patrick Russ (The Dawson) is now the chef of the “fun and playful take on new American in an elevated neighborhood setting.”

Olszewski is of course best known right now for a shuttered restaurant, Grace; Eater repeats the earlier reporting of Dan Mihalopolous at WBEZ that Olszewski was suing Grace chef and GM Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser (as discussed in this Fooditor piece) “for the damages and harm it has endured because of Duffy and Muser’s egregious misconduct,” such as winning three Michelin stars and putting the restaurant on the international map for diners. In fact, Olszewski has never actually filed the suit, despite WBEZ stating in August that he already had. Perhaps he now understands the effects a vindictive move against old staff would have customer enthusiasm for his open restaurants, once he has open restaurants.

As for Yugen, the new restaurant in the former Grace space, the latest word on it (at Eater, back in September) had it opening during October, which gives it a little over a week to open on time. Besides chef Mari Katsumura and GM Morgan Olszewski, another Grace veteran involved with it is Tyrone Redic, formerly of Honey’s; since Yugen is touting its all-woman staff, Redic’s position is reportedly director of food and beverage for both Yugen and Onward.

14. CITIZEN CLAIMS

Rosebud Restaurants has settled the sexual harassment claims of two former employees with a $150,000 payment and a consent decree with the EEOC: “Rosebud also agreed to submit to EEOC monitoring of its businesses; to enact more strict policies forbidding sexual harassment and spelling out punishments for those who violate them; and to send its workers through anti-sexual harassment training.” (Cook County Record)

15. TAKE THE BOX

I love the idea of CSAs… for other people. For me, the one year I signed up for the weekly box of stuff, my kids were still little-ish and I found it very hard to be at the garage where my stuff was dropped off at certain hours, to make what the random assortment I got every week promised me (three potatoes, a kohlrabi and a serrano pepper—feed a 10-year-old, starting now!)… and not to supplement with trips to the Green City Market anyway.

Turns out that’s pretty much everyone’s experience, per Greg Trotter in the Trib: “Many Illinois farmers say their CSA sales peaked three or four years ago and that the concept has since fallen out of favor with consumers, who value convenience and customization. Band of Farmers, a coalition of farmers selling produce in the area through a CSA program, has seen its ranks dwindle since forming in 2015. Fourteen of its current and former farmers—more than one-quarter of its peak membership—no longer make weekly produce boxes available.”

16. PIGUE SYNDROME

Steve Dolinsky describes “Pizza I Grew Up Eating” Syndrome as the bane of pizza appreciation, but David Hammond finds something to be said for it in his paean to the pretty standard (though they do have a Faulds oven) John’s Pizzeria on Western: “The best pizza in Chicago has a thin crust with just the right amount of cheese and very, very little grease, the flavors of the simple ingredients coming through cleanly and clearly. The bulk sausage is crumbled evenly over the surface, providing an even distribution of the fennel-and garlic-seasoned meat blobs. The crust around the pie’s periphery is sturdy enough to support the weight of toppings, so you can hold the piece in one hand while eating. Forks and knives are unnecessary for all but the center pieces, which are always less crisp. Textural variation keeps each bite interesting.”

17. THE RULES

Every couple of years someone tries to set down ethical rules for new world of food media, and this time it’s the AFJ, the Association of Food Journalists, a professional group that seems mainly oriented toward print journalism in newspapers and magazines. Here’s their document.

So far as it goes, it seems all right to me, nodding to the old rules (eating twice at a restaurant before you review it, that sort of thing) while acknowledging that they’re basically dead in a world of freelancers doing $50 assignments.

But the problem with a set of rules that attempts to codify the big newspaper reviewing practices of 1980 for everybody is that they can stand in the way of entirely new approaches for new media. For one thing, there’s little recognition that TV food shows are a huge part of food media today, no attempt to set ethical rules for participation by journalists in such programs which often cheat the reality of what they film to heighten the drama for television. Moving down the scale, there are online videos and podcasts which can take in the world of food in new ways—and setting rigid rules based on a print model (which urges you to avoid knowing chefs personally) precludes, to take one local example, a reporter and a chef doing a podcast together.

But my real issue is that it’s all aimed at the journalists themselves—telling them how to police themselves—when the journalist is the one with the least power in the situation. The ethical crisis in food writing is that a generation is being taught to gin up listicles off of Yelp and other peoples’ writing without having been to the restaurants in question, to consider reprinted PR pitches as journalism, to lend the credibility of their bylines to content for which the publication is in bed financially with the subject. This is a world where Facebook allegedly got real writers laid off in droves by claiming there was an audience for video that didn’t actually exist, and the gravest ethical concern for the profession is a comped dessert?

For me, the ethical answer a trade organization could bring to the table would be a code for real journalism that aims to identify content providers that adhere to ethical standards of content creation for every assignment they hand out. Lists that require actually visiting the restaurants in question, content that either maintains separation of advertising and editorial or clearly identifies it. That sort of thing. If somebody handed out a badge for content created under ethical terms, it would help intelligent readers know what they’re looking at—and ethical writers know what they’re getting into when they take an assignment.

18. HOW TO REVIEW

Speaking of old school reviewing, Sherman Kaplan, now-retired WBBM reviewer (I interviewed him and his son here), gave a speech on how he thinks about the job of a reviewer in 2002, which he has now posted on Facebook in the Chicago Restaurants 86’d group (essential for anyone who likes strolling memory lane of old restaurant pics). Here’s a bit I’ve long agreed with about anonymity: “I make every attempt to review anonymously, but in those cases where I am recognized for one reason or another, you will know it. Actually, I have found that being recognized may be able to change service, but it cannot change the food. A good kitchen is a good kitchen, a bad one is a bad one!”

19. BEST WISHES TO BILL DALEY

The Tribune’s longtime wine reporter, Bill Daley, more recently a jack of all trades on the food desk, has retired, which hopefully will help reduce the number of tweets he gets aimed at the mayoral candidate with the same famous Chicago name. Best wishes to a nice guy.

WHAT MIKE ATE

There are so many new things opening in Chinatown and one of the newest, Original Steam, opened on a side street next to a market under the expressway… none of which I even knew existed. (Well, I knew about the expressway.) The name refers to the fact that this is a variation on the sudden popularity of hot pot all over Chinatown, but instead of heating elements built into the table, you have a bowl built into the table, which fills with boiling water; you order various meats, seafood and vegetables to be steamed on top of the bowl, a timer in the table ticking off the proper cooking time, and at the end, you eat congee from the bowl, which has picked up flavors from everything dripping above it.

Well, it’s all very futuristic and cool; as with hot pot, how well it works depends on how good you are at ordering. We ordered dungeness crab (pricey but with a good amount of meat for the price), and some clams and such, which cooked reasonably well; beef, however, was sort of wasted being steamed, and pork only did a little better. (Those also depend on how well you make a dipping sauce for your meats out of the many little bowls they bring to the table.)

So, it was an adventure with a hit or miss result for me, but I think it’d be fun for a group. I’ve been contemplating the popularity of hot pot, which goes against my basic tendency to want someone who knows what they’re doing to make my food. But I can see why fresh seafood—and we saw Original Steam pull lobsters and fish straight from tanks at one end of the dining room—is a signifier of  quality for Chinese-Americans. And prosperity; ordering an expensive piece of seafood is conspicuous consumption in a neighborhood and culture where everything has been $7.95 forever. So basically hot pot, and all this fresh seafood in Chinatown of late, is for Chinese-Americans what steak is for midwesterners, simple and a perk of affluence—but I like composed dishes, made by someone who really knows what he’s doing with the ingredients.

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