Buzz List for October 29, 2018

Lao could be the next hot Asian cuisine, taking Good Measure, how Publican changed Fulton, and the soundtrack of your meal

Saosong22/Instagram
Khao piak sen from Sao Song

1. SAO SONG BLUE

Is the next hot Asian cuisine in Chicago going to be Lao? There’s a certain Lao population here, a couple of restaurants in somewhat obscure suburban locations (Burbank, Elgin), and more to the point, a few younger Laos with a burning drive to tell their food story, like Friend of Fooditor Keng Sisavath of Strange Foods Festival fame.

Another, as Mike Sula tells the story, is Andy Sisomboune, “a 29-year-old sous chef at Nico Osteria on the Gold Coast, but his plan is to open Chicago’s first-ever skater bar/Lao restaurant and serve the food he ate growing up. That includes khao piak sen, which sold out within four hours last Tuesday at Ludlow Liquors during the third installment of his pop-up series Sao Song (the Lao words for ’22’—the age he started cooking). The fried chicken wings with ‘tasty paste’—Sisomboune’s name for jeow bong, a thick, intensely fragrant pestle-pounded dip of chile, galangal, and lime leaf—were 86’d too, as well as the tofu laab and the sticky, sweet pork-stuffed tapioca dumplings sakoo yat sai.”

2. MOON HITS EYE

“Close your eyes and imagine the taste of ricotta-filled pasta, Parmesan cheese, bacon and sage-butter sauce. That’s exactly what it tastes like, and exactly what this restaurant is,” Graham Meyer says of Victory Italian in River North, a place where “you could host a client you know nothing about here, on the theory that it’s utterly safe.”

3. MEASURE UP

Maggie Hennessy reviews Good Measure as a bar first, but says this about the food: “In the kitchen, chef Matt Troost oversees the food menu with the same bold attitude that gained him a loyal following at bygone Italianish spot Three Aces. Toast arrived piled with dollops of truffle-scented sauce gribiche and ribbons of rosy prosciutto; a parsley-cornichon salad offered a pleasingly sharp assist. The punishing delight of craggy fried duck livers blanketed in searing Nashville hot spice blend was tempered just enough by a quick dunk in soothing cucumber ranch.”

Though maybe the real measure of the place is taken in a few tweets from Friend of Fooditor Kenny Z…

4. CAPT. STORMFIELD’S CEILING OF HEAVEN

At the Dining Out Loud podcast Michael Nagrant and Penny Pollack visit Twain, which they find a mixed bag, objecting to ants on a log not being reimagined enough, but suggesting that its hearty food might find a receptive audience in the dead of Chicago winter. I’m surprised, though, when they talk about the decor and the lights that look like bloomers on the ceiling, that neither recognizes that it’s by Jordan Mozer, who was such a name on the Chicago scene (Vivere, the Hancock Tower Cheesecake Factory) in the same era as Jerry Kleiner, formative years for Nagrant and prime time at Chicago mag for Pollack. And yes, he also did the bloomers on the ceiling at River North’s Oak & Char.

5. GENTRIFULTON

When The Publican opened, Fulton Market wasn’t quite as off the foodie map as this Eater piece suggests—besides pioneer Follia, Moto had been around for four years at that point—but it was definitely still a gritty meatpacking district, and Donnie Madia and Paul Kahan almost seem to be bragging about gentrifying it: “’When Keith McNally opened up Pastis in New York’s Meatpacking District in 1999, it totally put more force of attention on that neighborhood than anything else was doing at the time,’ says Madia. ‘We had grand illusions that we could do the same in Chicago and totally transform the area.’”

6. VOL. 40

What do you do when your glitzy bars don’t stand out enough on the scene? Vol. 39 and Boleo are bringing in a new beverage director, Josh Relkin (Proxi, Alinea) to make what they offer more coherent and better work with the adjacent food: “Offerings are going to align much more closely than before with the South American cuisine offered by Chef Cory Morris. The wine program, for instance, will be rooted in that continent. ‘Why do you have three California Chardonnays at the Argentinean restaurant?’ Relkin says.”

7. OUTCAST OF THE ISLANDS

At Crain’s, Brigid Sweeney has a full account of the rise and fall of Treasure Island, from its heyday as Chicago’s “most European grocery store” to its collapse amid family lawsuits and hot checks. I’m quoted in it, based on things I said about it at LTHForum a decade ago. (The internet’s forever, kids!)

8. GREAT MALL

Titus Ruscitti skips small town burgers of Wisconsin this week for… Beijing! Here he is on a popular dumpling spot called Mr. Shi’s: “This is one of those spots that’s going to pop up in just about every online search for food in Beijing. That’s bc its very popular with tourists. Part of that is the fact their signature homemade dumplings are delicious and part of it is bc they have an extensive menu and it’s all in English. So the prices are a bit higher but I will say it’s location in an old hutong (alleyway) is as good as it gets. It felt more like a cafe at a boutique hotel than a locally loved Beijing dumpling shop. Mr. Shi makes dumplings in the classic boiled variety and also fried in the less seen foldover style. The filling options are just about endless. I’m talking everything from cheese and corn to tomato and shrimp. Some of them sounded better than others but you’ll never get better than the classic of pork with leeks.”

9. MUZAK, SWEET MUZAK

The Feed delves into a fascinating subject that I don’t think anyone has ever done before: how restaurants pick their soundtrack, and how it affects the diner experience. Besides Rick Bayless talking about his own choices for his restaurants, they talk to a couple of professional playlist-makers about how it all works.

10. GRUB STEAK

Restaurant Business Online published its annual list of the top-grossing restaurants nationwide and 15 Chicago spots, mostly steakhouses, made their list, led by Gibson’s at #9. Nick Kokonas had a post on Facebook expressing his doubts about the (self-reported?) numbers, but I can’t find it now… do tell us at Medium…

11. ROCK LOBSTER HORROR SHOW

Kitchen horror stories are always a Halloween perennial and these, at the Trib, are pretty good. I’m totally ordering cork-hage at Bar Biscay next time.

12. KITCHEN REHABILITATION

Follia got a mention above, and it was run by Bruno Abate, who now has Tocco in Wicker Park, but that’s not all he’s been up to: “Frustrated by a system that he believes is overly punitive, Abate dreamed up the idea for Recipe for Change, a culinary arts training and mentorship program for people in jail that formally organized as a nonprofit in 2014. Detainees work in a professional-grade kitchen at Cook County Jail that Abate built with donations, including a $50,000 MacArthur Foundation grant.” In a sense it’s a jobs program, but that’s downstream from the immediate goal: “You have to restore things inside people first.” (Chicago)

13. DISRUPTURE

Taking a long flight to go eat in Asia? You seem like the perfect audience for a three-hour episode of Tim Ferriss’s podcast talking to Nick Kokonas of Alinea Group. Many paradigms will be shifted and many industries will be disrupted!

14. PIZZA BEAT

Steve Dolinsky pizza news: the intro to this Takeout piece is oddly blustery about tavern cut being the real Chicago pizza, man, which we all know already, but eventually it’s an interview with him about Chicago pizza.

Meanwhile he did an event for Culinary Historians of Chicago, and you can listen to him talk more about pizza here.

15. DON’T FORGET THE MOTOR CITY

I am a big advocate of Chicagoans eating in Milwaukee and I need to start doing the same for Detroit, among other places within a drivable distance. Anyway, here’s a cheat sheet from Ben Hall of Russell Street Deli at Bon Appetit, some new trendy places, some great-sounding classics (of which I’ve only been to one, Lafayette) and middle eastern spots.

16. RETURN TO SINGH, A.

Alpana Singh made her return to Check, Please this week, and she looked like she knew what she was doing as three guests checked out Tied House, Dos Ricco’s and Go 4 Food.

17. WE’VE GOT EVENTS

Some big name events coming up soon in Chicago:

Tour de Steak is the name of a an all-star-chef event coming to GT Prime on November 7, in which five chefs will do steak in a different cultural style—Japan by Grant Achatz, Mexico by Diana Davila, Italy by Tony Mantuano, Argentina by John Manion, and finishing up American-style with Andrew Pingul and Giuseppe Tentori. Go here for tickets.

The Aviary’s elaborate cocktail book will have a release party on November 5; go here for tickets.

• And Michael in Winnetka is getting the Banchet back together with a group of chefs who worked at Le Francais: Michael Lachowicz, Patrick Chabert, Roland Liccioni, Christopher Koetke, Marc Grosz and Matt McMillin for a five course dinner of Le Francais classics. Get the details here.

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WHAT MIKE ATE

I needed to pick up something that would hold for a few hours for Kid #2… and I was on the south side… and Dia de los Tamales had just closed for good. So I finally went to Yvolina’s Tamales, just down 18th street, which I had tried to visit once right after Chicago mag wrote about them, but the line was out the door. What’s distinctive about them is that they don’t use lard, instead making the masa with olive oil. Alas, I felt like that made them drier, not as lush as tamales should be… with one exception: a chicken one, soaked in chicken broth, was terrific. So start there. Anyway, it’s a cute place, I might come back for a sitdown meal and see what else is good.

What had me in that area for lunch was that I wanted to check out the mysteriously Michelin-approved but otherwise largely unheralded Daguan Noodle on Wentworth in Chinatown. I ordered their standard soup, which turns out to be a bowl of chicken broth and a tray of meat, veggies, mushrooms etc. which is dumped into your bowl before you even have a chance to look at it and know what you’re getting. (I also ordered xiao long bao, soup dumplings, but got fluffy pork bao, so either they misheard or the name means something else to them.) The broth was very good—best chicken soup south of Manny’s, maybe!—and the noodles and meats were very high quality, so for its type, it’s top level. Is it one of the two best places to eat in Chinatown, along with fellow Bib Gourmand Ming Hin? I’d say it fits Michelin’s criteria of a high quality, hard to screw up experience that won’t surprise anybody, but my first choice of where to send somebody would still be Slurp Slurp for chewy noodles or Dolo for dim sum or a couple of other places that seem more interesting to me. But I’d come back here for soup… if I had a cold.

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