How much influence do restaurant critics really have? It’s an open question, but there are times that it’s clear that they matter as much as a movie critic slamming the Taylor Swift movie—not at all. Smoque Steak is a restaurant that instantly found its audience with reasonably priced steaks cooked in a unique way that includes smoking, sous-viding and searing to order; very welcoming service, and even free parking. John Kessler acknowledges the draw of all those things in his Chicago mag review, but he wishes he liked the steaks better:

It’s the first new place I’ve been to in years that has all the old-school hospitality virtues down pat. The room bristles with energy, yet the tables are well spaced for conversation and the chairs comfortable. The service is prompt, attentive, and friendly, and the eagle-eyed managers are always on the roam…

…sous vide steaks have the texture of a filet cooked to a dull pink, or even Arby’s roast beef. They’re soft and even, not exactly mealy but somehow fiberless. All the cuts, from the $58 rib eye to the $19 bistro steak, have this texture. I find these steaks fun for a bite or two. And with its vibrant chimichurri, the skirt steak frites, a bargain at $30, is the place to start if you want to see if this kind of steakhousery is your jam. But to me, the approach feels unnatural. Searing steaks and resting them the traditional way might make for more uneven cooking, but it gives the finished product textural interest and a kind of heat energy you can taste. When I order a rib eye, I like the way the curled cap usually separates out and sizzles a bit in the streak of fat between it and the meat. I like its ferric red color and its stringier chew. Here, every steak has a nonintrinsic smokiness that hovers over it like truffle oil.

I don’t disagree—I prefer the unevenness and little burnt bits of a steak on the grill to the perfection of sous-vided beef—but they’ll still be full every night this week.


If a new restaurant cooking in a family tradition has earned admiration this year, it’s Boonie’s, a Filipino restaurant in Lincoln Square which began as a stall at Revival Hall. Here’s Nick Kindelsperger in the Trib:

Start with what’s becoming the restaurant’s signature dish, the sizzling sisig. While you could get a version of the dish at Revival, Fontelera gave it an upgrade by serving it on a screaming hot plate that draws stares from onlookers. That warm plate also has a practical function, as it allows the server to mix in the raw egg at the last second, enrobing the juicy nuggets of pork in a silky and savory sauce.

…Even better is the chicken inasal, plump pieces of meat marinated with vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and calamansi, a citrus fruit popular in the Philippines. “It looks like a key lime, but when you slice it open it’s like an orange,” [chef-owner Joseph] Fontelera said. “The flavor is like lime, yuzu and orange all in one.”


Michael Nagrant rips into Doug Psaltis, Lettuce vet turned owner of Andros Taverna and Asador Bastian, saying that he’s “a P.T. Barnum-esque prevaricator.” To be honest I don’t mind a little Barnumesque self-mythologizing; as a direct descendant of the Romanoffs myself, I enjoy some showbiz flimflammery in my dining out. But he also had some issues with a dinner at Asador Bastian that are at odds with the upscale feel of the “Galician” steakhouse (order the fish, was my advice—steak is steak, but the turbot was excellent). To pick up the story mid-failing:

When our server does appear, he pushes the wine program. Knowing that Bastian offers cocktails design by Paul McGee, one of the best bartenders in America, I inquire whether they serve alcohol. The waiter says, yes, they do. I ask if he has a list. He says, yes, one minute, and returns with a separate menu. It is a mystery why you would pay McGee as a consultant and force the diner to actively seek out his contributions.

But it’s also a mystery why the man at the table next to me is delivered a brown liquid that he waives off, insisting he ordered a martini.

And this is how it goes all night. Tables receive incorrect dishes. Some diners get the full Gibson’s treatment, a platter of raw meat and fish is brought out before hungry eyes and a sexy sales pitch begins.

For whatever reason our table does not receive this sizzle. I am left instead to inquire about beef provenance on my own.


Indian food in Wicker Park—it’s called Kama, and Titus Ruscitti talks about it:

Indian food is having a bit of a moment in the States and it’s long overdue. Kama Bistro is a part of the movement in the Chicagoland area. It’s a modern Indian bistro serving familiar dishes in different ways. They also have a full fledged happy hour (food + drink) and a nice cocktail menu too. It sure seems like a nice fit for the area.


I’ve bought noshes for get-togethers at A Beautiful Rind (in Bucktown? Wicker Park? Somewhere around there), but never actually eaten there. Dennis Lee did:

The pimento cheese and bacon sandwich ($14)… has an astounding amount of pimento cheese on it, is a no-holds-barred attack of sharp cheddar and bacon. It’s one intensely tangy bite after another, and isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. I have no choice but to respect it for its power, but I’d advise that it’s a sandwich you’ll want to split with someone, and in fact, I’d advise that for the prosciutto and taleggio sandwich as well.


I liked Pisolino, a modest Italian restaurant on Belmont near Logan Square; I like chef Dean Zanella, who’s been turning out quality Italian food all over town for years. So I was excited when Zanella and James De Marte, chef-owner of now-closed Pisolino, established an Italian cooking school called Tutore in the space. At Chicago mag, Lisa Shames has a report on her class experience:

Each station is equipped with induction burners and thick cutting boards. We first made vanilla panna cotta and an apple and hazelnut salad before tackling the evening’s headliner: mushroom risotto. Throughout the two-hour class, Zanella and De Marte were quick to offer advice as they walked through the space handing out premeasured ingredients. “People think risotto is this magical thing,” Zanella told us. “But it’s just rice.”


Maggie Hennessy checks out the new Guinness Open Gate Brewery in the West Loop:

You’ll find a dozen taps here, pouring a rotating selection of beers ranging from a sweet, American cream ale brewed with creamed corn to a dry kölsch-style ale, a tropical fruit-scented pale ale and a dry-hopped Italian pilsner. Of course, if you specify Guinness Draught Stout, the storied ritual will commence. The bartender takes up the tulip-shaped pint and turns it in her hand to check for cleanliness. She tilts the glass at 45 degrees beneath the tap, into which she cascades the liquid, at first a creamy light brown, until it’s three-quarters full. She sets it down, then returns some 120 seconds later to top it up and slide it across the bar—the beer now a ruby-tinted black thickly capped with cream-colored head.

So that’s what you’ll find; here’s what you won’t find—an Irish pub:

“I love an Irish pub; we didn’t want to be one,“ [head of marketing Ryan] Wagner says. “It would have been very easy and frankly a little lazy of us to just throw fish and chips and corned beef and cabbage and beef stew on the menu and say, here it is. We wanted to make sure that global sense was represented, but also wanted to make sure Chicagoans saw themselves represented.”

Can you be named Guinness and refuse to be an Irish pub? We’ll see, but the West Loop has already devoured a few well-moneyed brewpubs.


By necessity, the elimination of the tipped minimum wage in Chicago will result in changes in how workforces are structured. But to judge by the reaction to some layoffs and job changes at Itoko, the Boka sushi spot in Lakeview, the ordinance is mainly going to make work for lawyers. At Eater Chicago, Boka says they restructured their workforce, getting rid of Server Assistants (i.e., bussers). The five workers laid off say it was racism against Latinos, even though:

Boka says [server Amy] Casales was laid off due to an economic downturn, but she was offered a job as a barback at Itoko.

Adapt your business to the changing economic climate, expect to go to court to defend doing so. But why didn’t she take the switch to a new job, which was actually closer to her stated ambition to be a bartender?


At NewCity, David Witter sings the praises of a style of dining almost extinct, yet coming back in new ways: the cafeteria line.

The Cafeteria (813 North Orleans) offers another take. Located in a section of River North still populated with galleries, it’s a combination cafeteria and food court. Its focus is on healthy items, including Blended for smoothies; a build-your-own salad station called, well, Salads; a Mexican station, Jalapeño; and a Middle Eastern kiosk, Chickpea. There are more food courts and cafeterias in the Loop, but some, like the Café 330 in River North, only serve building employees with an ID.

There are some cafeterias he can’t get to because you have to have a building pass to get in. Honestly, back pre-9/11, when security in skyscrapers was less severe, I snuck into a few of those, like in the Amoo/Aon Building—and maybe it’s reassuring that I never found anything that seemed worth the effort.


Bob Benenson at Local Food Forum transcribes a lot of what Jason Hammel said in an onstage interview with Amy Cavanaugh:

We stamp [the date on] menus with a banker stamp. We’ve been doing it forever because we change the menu every day. When we started the restaurant in 1999, restaurants did not change their menu every day. You’d get them printed at a print shop… So the idea of doing the work, working with the farmers and making little changes, I knew they were important every single day, and then making sure that the stamp is there. The stamp is there to tell you that this is only for today, like the food that we’re making is ephemeral… So recognizing how precious that moment is, and recognizing how precious moments are between people, and especially in a restaurant, where people are celebrating birthdays or first dates or just getting together with family or having a great conversation that you never expected to have, those things are not going to happen again.

Ari Bendersky interviewed Hammel for someone else’s Substack here:

How did you figure out what you wanted the book to highlight?

I looked back at what spoke to me as a Lula historian–there were certain points and dishes that meant something to me, that had an impact on me. Both the recipes and headers, I wanted to have an evocative take on what food is to me in my life and to all of us at Lula. One day a dish comes and then it’s gone, and I wanted to express how transient that is. We cook with the seasons, and whimsically, and I wanted to show that in the book and the contributions of the many people who have worked there–and recognizing the different eras. I’ve never been great, especially at the beginning, of keeping notes. So this is more focused on the last five or seven years. I could write another book tomorrow.


Three Dots and a Dash has an $800 reproduction of the original Trader Vic’s mai tai; the crazy price tag is because they sourced vintage spirits that could have been in Vic Bergeron’s original mai tai. Read the whole story at Food & Wine:

“One of the biggest lessons for me in recreating the old Mai Tai was seeing that the vintage curaçao from 1944 was significantly sweeter than the curaçao of today,” said [Three Dots bartender Kevin] Beary after the makeshift Tiki-Con. “That difference really helps me understand why the original recipe reads as dry and unbalanced as it does because one of those crucial ingredients was sweeter back then.”


Paul Fehribach talks about his book Midwestern Cooking with WBEZ’s Reset.

Derrick Tung (Paulie Gee’s) talk to Joiners Podcast.


Not a phrase that had ever popped into my head, but that’s what Sandwich Tribunal goes exploring:

As elsewhere in the Caribbean, Barbadian–usually shortened to Bajan–cuisine is a mix of flavors and techniques both indigenous and imported. Many dishes will appear familiar to those who’ve experienced the cuisine of other Caribbean islands–brown stew chicken, saltfish, curry, rice and peas, cou-cou. Seafood is, of course, a staple of the island–flying fish, kingfish, swordfish, red snapper. A sweet crumbly bread flavored with coconut, spices, and fruits is an island favorite. And their sandwiches, served in bread rolls that are called “Bajan salt bread” to differentiate them from that popular sweet fruited bread, are called Cutters.


First up, as promised: I went to a media dinner at Atelier, in the former Elizabeth space. They said something early on about us getting an abbreviated version of the full menu, which sounded just fine to me—give me your best dishes, don’t stuff me like a Turducken. I had heard from some people who’d been that chef Christian Hunter’s dishes could have too many things on them, overdo exotic flavors just for the sake of having them, etc., but for whatever reason—the edited menu, he’s hitting his stride, whatever—that was not my experience at all. I was impressed by a lineup of dishes that didn’t feel like things I had already had on other tasting menus—a sweet potato dashi with yuba (tofu skin noodles); an African kind of samosa with a berber spice sauce and a dollop of cooling yogurt, which surprised by being so willing to flirt with spicy heat (something tasting menus tend to avoid for the sake of the courses to follow); pheasant under an apple butter whip and a cider-cured (I guess) slice of apple (the menu and my memory are both a little unclear on precise details). Each dish went in a new direction, which might seem lack of a clear artistic direction, but I’d have to think hard to come up with the last tasting menu I’ve had where each dish was such a pleasant surprise and made me eager to find out what it was about—and what would be next.

So now that you’ve heard about it from a couple of people (and more here and here), check it out some time. (By the way, when talking about how few people had written anything about Atelier, I forgot about this piece from Grimod at Understanding Hospitality. So I guess the independent voices have been all over it—it’s just the mainstream critics who have passed it up so far.)

My son’s birthday came up and I had a couple of suggestions, but suddenly he had an idea: duck at Duck Inn. No argument from me as we really hadn’t eaten there since early lockdown days (though I’d been there to interview chef Kevin Hickey for my book). Along the way of booking I learned something: Duck Inn now has a special duck tasting menu (speaking of tasting menus no one has talked about yet), which climaxes by using the French duck press that Hickey bought himself in Paris. We didn’t do that this time, but I will say that for a place that started out being kind of a high-low bridge for Bridgeport, serving a patty melt billed as a “hamburger sandwich” because that’s what Hickey’s grandmother called it 90 years ago, Duck Inn has gotten quite a bit more upscale, in a way I haven’t seen since The Loyalist in its first couple of years. Besides the duck platter, which you should order ahead, we had tortellini with black truffle, scallops with pork belly, wagyu beef tartare, burrata with delicata squash and maple-miso vinaigrette—this is not the old Bridgeport, but the new Bridgeport seemed happy with it, as it was packed on Saturday night.

I don’t know how widely this is accepted even now, but the authentic Indian food these days is out in the burbs around Schaumburg. A friend reported that an Indian friend had recommended the south Indian food at a place called Thalaiva, located in the little downtown strip of Park Ridge, near the Pickwick Theater. We got there for lunch and watched it steadily fill up with Indian customers and families—it’s clearly found its audience, and in fact I noticed that it was soon moving around the corner, to what one assumes is bigger digs. Anyway, we ordered a thali—that’s Hindi for combo platter—which gave us a taste of a bunch of things in little metal cups, from bright yellow dal to goat curry, generally bright and alive with complex seasonings. One of us at the table felt like the fried dishes, like Chicken 65, didnt achieve the proper fried crispness, though we were all impressed by a plate of fried “anchovies”—smelts, actually, lively with Indian spicing.

Finally, I had a meeting downtown and afterwards decided to check out Diego, the new Mexican-flavored bar from Stephen Sandoval whose Sueños will be opening soon. It made for a decent Mexican bar, and the menu looked interesting—but alas, I arrived at 9:30, which turned out to be exactly when the bar, which advertises being open late, cuts its food menu down to just a few things. A chile relleno, the Thursday night special, was pretty much typical of its genre and hit the spot just fine, but the only other thing (besides a hamburguesa) that looked like dinner was an order of steak tacos, which started with okay steak, in a fried taco topped with a lot of goop, which rendered it soggier than it should have been if it was really fresh from the fryer. At least at 9:30 at night, this place was a disappointment; if you go, certainly go early enough that you have the full menu (and perhaps the A team) to choose from.