Chicago mag’s newest issue is all about dining secrets… best tables to ask for at certain places, that sort of thing. I liked Paul Fehribach on what the menu can tell you about the meal to come, and Amy Cavanaugh answering some “where do I go for…” questions, which ought to be a regular column.


Time Out wants to send back A Recipe for Disaster:

Befitting a dinner theater production, A Recipe For Disaster demonstrates an exceedingly broad sense of humor, filled with exaggerated characters, physical comedy, rapid-fire quips and a bit of innuendo. While the predictable jokes and plot machinations might be off-putting to some, the play’s larger issue is that it doesn’t have much to say.

David Hammond also reviews it for NewCity, comparing it, initially, to a Culver’s cheese curd burger. Anyway:

Being immersed in the action brings home the reality of working in a restaurant more powerfully than would be possible on a traditional proscenium stage. The immersion approach of “A Recipe for Disaster” is no gimmick. The medium and the message reinforce one another: running—or even working in—a restaurant can make you crazy, and you feel that craziness, up close— and it can be quite entertaining—when you dine at The Contumacious Pig [the play’s fictitious restaurant].


A few weeks back I went into a place on the northwest side called Pizzaboy, and wrote a little about the pizza, a mixed review. One thing I remember noticing at the time, though I didn’t comment on it, was that no one serving the counter was wearing a mask—something I mainly noticed because slices and squares of pizza sat behind glass to customers—but open to the employees’ side (and their expectorated effluvia). Not the first restaurant nor the last I’ve seen following the rules of mask-wearing loosely—but considering how authorities have been all over the map on the efficacy of masks since the pandemic started, I have never been too exercised about that.

Nick Kindelsperger had a different reaction—on Instagram he attacked the restaurant for reckless disregard of mask protocols:

I’ve eaten at places all around the city over the past year, and none have shown such disregard for public health during a pandemic. No one was wearing a mask. Not the cashier, the workers in the kitchen or the owner @pizzaboycb. There wasn’t even a half hearted attempt. It seems like they are going out of their way not to comply.

Eater reached out to owner Carlo Bertolli:

Within hours after Kindelsperger posted, Pizzaboy was inundated with phone calls, says owner Carlo Bertolli, and they were not congratulatory. Masks were off when Kindelsperger came in, Bertolli says, because he and his staff were eating.

“How are you supposed to eat with a mask? I didn’t know he was here. If he had said something, I would have talked to him…,” he says. “[The post] was dumb and unprofessional. Being a food critic is being a food critic. A political food critic, there’s no room for this in this business.”

Well, if they were eating and still working the counter or preparing food, that itself is a health code violation (if, probably, not an uncommon one). Aimee Levitt at Eater raises some questions about the ethics of a newspaper critic making an attack like this on personal social media:

The difference between Kindelsperger and most other people who post observations about restaurants on social media is that Kindelsperger is a dining critic for a major newspaper and even when he posts on his personal social media account, his words carry weight…

Kindelsperger’s post is a departure from how his predecessor conducted himself. Phil Vettel took a buyout from the Tribune in January after 31 years as critic. At a September retirement dinner, restaurateurs praised Vettel for his accuracy and for rarely venturing beyond discussion of restaurant-related matters, like food, service, and design. The new generation of critics, though, have made a point of using restaurants as a prism to examine social and political issues.

Honestly, Kindelsperger is hardly the person who comes to mind when you talk about food writers turning political (I’d be more likely to think of Eater going after Abe Conlon for playing hip-hop at Fat Rice). I’m thankful that he writes about the food and doesn’t feel the need to look at every review through a political-intersectional lens. And while I certainly don’t disagree with the notion that his personal social media take on added import from his position, I don’t feel comfortable saying that being a journalist and having a voice means he should silence himself outside of that role. I like it when journalists are regular people and don’t mistake themselves for high priests.

Still, if I were a small business and I felt this coming down on me, well, I’d feel like the little guy sandbagged by a ten-ton gorilla, too. There’s been general agreement since the pandemic started to not be too harsh on businesses just trying to get stay afloat; usually that just means if they failed to refill your water glass or food was slow coming out of the kitchen, you give it a pass, and don’t make it part of a Googleable-forever writeup. Does that informal rule also apply to violating the rules of fighting the pandemic? I’m not sure what I think about that—except that I saw some of what he saw, and I didn’t mention it then. Take that as you will.

Buzz 2


Titus Ruscitti touts something I’d never heard of at Rye Deli and Drink:

The way I saw it was if they’re switching it up like that maybe they offer some other interesting things you wouldn’t expect to find at a deli. Like the Tunisian style brik pastries they make. I’d never seen these anywhere before I first saw them here but if you look online they’re a popular snack in Tunisia. Exact preps can vary but the gist of a brik is a whole egg in a triangular pastry pocket with different fillings included. Rye Deli makes a brik with an egg, fingerling potato, fresh thyme and dill fried in a crispy crepe shell. You can add pastrami if you want some extra protein.

And if you don’t feel like Tunisian today, how about Kuwaiti at Nada?

According to some online research Kuwait cuisine is a part of Eastern Arabian cuisine. Seafood is a significant part of the diet and a dish called Machboos is commonly mentioned when Kuwaiti style food is being discussed. The menu at Nada is small with only about ten offerings total. One of which is Machboos served with your choice of shrimp, fish, chicken, lamb.

There’s always Thai, as he checks out Sweet Rice, from the family who run Sticky Rice (my understanding is that this is the ex-husband’s restaurant):

The food at Sweet Rice leans Thai but the menu is Pan-Asian. There’s dishes with flavors from Malaysia as well as Korea and more. But it’s the Thai stuff I was intrigued with. One of my favorite street foods in SE Asia are the savory seafood pancakes (oysters, mussels etc). I’ve never been able to find any versions in the States close to those I ate on the streets of Thailand and Vietnam but the mussel fritter (Hoy Tod) at Sweet Rice is one of the better US versions I’ve tried.

And lastly, you can’t go wrong with tacos. He finds new choices everywhere from Lincoln Park to Berwyn; here’s one in Stone Park:

Gas, Gambling, and Guerrero style tacos can all be found under one roof out by O’Hare. Sabor De Mi Tierra is a family owned spot with roots in Guerrero. They boast a full menu with specialties like chamorro (braised red chile beef shank) and cecina estilo Guerrero. Tortillas are made on site and in the case of the cecina taco they’re spread with refried beans and topped with homemade cecina, pico de gallo, chiles toreados. I also tried a quesabirria bc we just can’t seem to put an end to the trend.


Sweet Rice also turns up in this Steve Dolinsky report on Thai restaurants cooking outside the Thai-American mainstream.


I had to think for a second if I knew a place called DaNang Kitchen… nope, that’s Nha Hang, or Daguan Noodle… anyway, newish place on Argyle (new if you count 2020 as never having happened), where Amy Cavanaugh says “Start with banh khot tom trung ca, the fusion crispy shrimp mini cakes.”


A deli and coffeeshop vet and his daughter are opening Helfeld’s Deli, a Jewish deli named in honor of an ancestor who fled Poland for America—but they need a little help on GoFundMe to get there. Read the story at Block Club.


That’s what they call Maria Salamanca, who sold tacos near the Ida B. Wells homes and now near Ellis Park in Bronzeville. Stephanie Casanova offers a nice picture of a day in the park, with tacos.


Mark Caro, who I just saw at the premiere of the Charlie Trotter documentary, has a new interview podcast out about arts and music, called Caropop. (It’s all musicians, so far.) The first interview is with Richard Thompson, who’s coming to the Old Town School next month.

John Lenart is normally a video guy, so it’s a little surprising it took him this long to add a video spinoff of his wine podcast The Honest Pour, Tuesday Night Wines: in which he reviews reasonably priced wines. Check out the episodes so far here.

Home Feed is some kind of bizarro cooking show with Adult Swim-ish humor and video effects that premieres Monday night; though you can get a feel for it via the trailers here. Won Kim and Margaret Pak will be the guests on upcoming episodes. Eater has more here.


I like turkey, dammit, and so does Sandwich Tribunal, introducing us to the El Salvadoran turkey sandwich panes de pavo:

However, down past Mexico in Central America, turkeys are often the centerpiece of a holiday meal in El Salvador. There, Pavo Salvadoreño is a common Christmas feast, a roast turkey coated in a salsa made from vegetables, both fresh and pickled; pumpkin seeds or nuts or turkey giblets, to add a thick and meaty texture; and a broth or stock to boost the savory flavor of the sauce and keep the turkey moist and tender while it’s roasting. Then after carving, the turkey is returned to that warm and savory salsa for serving.

And that’s when the magic happens. That tender, carved turkey meat, swimming in a thick and savory salsa: does it get served on a plate? Does it get covered in a light light blonde gravy and disks of gelatinous cranberry sauce? Do the Salvadoreños surround it with mashed potatoes and green beans and a sage-flavored bread pudding?

Hell no. They make a pan rellenos out of it!


Michelin two-star restaurant Acadia has closed, Eater reports. Wait, did Eater just wake up from a coma? Acadia, plagued by scandal, has been closed since early in the pandemic—July 2020, Eater says—and everyone who paid attention assumed it was closed for good not long after that, but it wasn’t until now that for lease signs went up on the building in the South Loop, and chef-owner Ryan McCaskey, now resident in Maine, confirmed the closure. 


Mark Mendez has been writing a memoir of his experiences as a chef as a newsletter at Substack. This week he writes about a restaurant I loved, Vera, but in its latter days when it was burning him out. For me, it’s sad to read that a place that brought me so much pleasure did nearly the opposite for its owners:

One of the things people don’t often talk about is how hard it is to actually run a business while working at that business. I don’t recommend it. It’s extremely difficult to be objective about the state of things, and it’s easy to not see things as they are, rather you tend to see them as you wish they were, something that can spell doom. The stress was starting to get to me and I wasn’t really cognizant of that, I felt it was certainly getting harder to remain positive, I was having trouble sleeping, but I felt that it was just part of owning a restaurant, feeling run down all the time was normal. But that day as I was writing my prep list, listening to Stevie Wonder, something occurred to me, this wasn’t fun anymore. It just wasn’t. I thought things would be much different when I pictured owning my own restaurant in my head. The planning part was fun, though stressful. The actual opening was again stressful but fun. Doing this side by side with my wife made it even more fun, and made the hard days bearable. We often joked about how both of us couldn’t lose our shit at the same time. If one of us was having a horrific day, or stressed, or angry, the other one had to be even-keeled, positive, and calm. It usually worked out like this, even though we didn’t plan it.

But that day, I saw clearly how lost I was becoming.


I went to Monday night’s premiere of Love, Charlie: The Rise and Fall of Chef Charlie Trotter at the Chicago Film Festival. (Disclosure: I sold the production some b-roll footage of Alinea, so when you see Grant Achatz clink a coffee mug, that was mine.) In fact, assembling a documentary out of mostly existing material was partly a response to the COVID lockdown happening early in production, limiting the ability to conduct interviews with friends and veterans of Trotter’s restaurant.

The origin story, which uses a lot of home movie footage shot by Trotter’s father, is the most interesting part; Trotter was full of energy as a kid, but it only went into high school sports until he discovered food as a subject, somewhat out of nowhere, and then it poured out in the graphomaniacal letters he wrote to his eventual first wife Lisa, and others. From there, Charlie Trotter’s restaurant came together, largely out of naivete about the size of the challenge (of making an American restaurant to compare with the great European ones). Not knowing any better, Trotter succeeded, though at the cost of his first marriage.

Then we largely jump from the rise to the fall. Charlie Trotter’s had a heyday as one of the top restaurants in the world, but every restaurant has a life cycle and it was a bitter pill for the chef focused on international acclaim when Michelin finally came to town—and he only got two stars while Alinea got three. There were other disputes—the Beverly Kim lawsuit, the dustup over foie gras with Rick Tramonto, the setup Kevin Pang pulled with Curtis Duffy to catch Trotter doing something juicy on camera—which had Trotter living up to his reputation (parodied by him in My Best Friend’s Wedding, in which he threatens to kill a cook’s entire family).

We get good insight into how he got to the top from people he worked for, like Carrie Nahabedian and Norman Van Aken, who warmly remember him and what he achieved. (Both were at the premiere.) That is the feelgood part, that tells you why you’re watching a movie about this guy. But I felt the lack of interviews into the later years, from people who worked for him—other than Grant Achatz, who’s quite wise about how Trotter must have felt about him. To me one of the mysteries is how they could operate with a kitchen table if Trotter was such a tyrant in the kitchen; he basically installed the witnesses who made that impossible during service. I’d love to have explored that dynamic more. (And since I’m writing a book and have interviewed many of the same people, I guess I will.)

All of which is to say that a 90-minute documentary, like any biography, can only take you close to many of the mysteries about someone of great accomplishments—and contradictions. It’s interesting to me that even as we’re coming out of a phase where being an original and demanding chef came close to being original sin, there will always be a need to admire and follow chefs who fly close to the sun, like Trotter—and expect people to follow them regardless, and often at personal cost. The desire to be part of greatness is out of fashion at the moment, but it never goes away for long.


We took our son and his girlfriend to Schwa for his birthday. Caleb Trahan, who was chef at Bread and Wine which closed a few years ago, is the chef de cuisine now, but it’s very much Schwa as it ever was, a tasting menu with elaborately playful presentations (one dish involving boba came with oversized straws with things “plated” inside the straws, so as you slurped up the boba, they picked up the other flavors on the way). Along with such theatrical tricks, there were dishes of direct and skilled cooking—like comparatively straightforward presentations of hiramasa or kampachi. I know there’s new places I need to try, but for a restaurant with a reputation for flakiness (no longer really true), Schwa is one of the surest guarantees of an imaginative, well-crafted meal in town. Happy birthday, Myles!

A couple of friends—one of them Chef Otto Phan of Kyoten—invited me along to a Chinese restaurant, Tasty Cuisine, in Des Plaines—actually just up the road from this old Fooditor story. Why go to the burbs for a conventional Chinese family restaurant? Well, it was for a tour of house specialties and family favorites, chosen by the daughter of the family who owns it, L. Lam. And it was some of the best Chinese food I’ve had in a long time, especially for Cantonese—I particularly liked chicken with shrimp paste, which is like shrimp toast on a chicken breast rather than bread, and beautifully deep-fried; honey barbecue (I think) pork, and soy-braised duck. Not sure how much of what we had is on any menu, but if you go in and find either a twentysomething daughter or the mom, and say that you heard about the meal those guys had, they might be able to reproduce as much of it as you want, or something else just as good.