1. KULCHA VULTURE

Indian food—always there, up on Devon and around downtown, rarely breaks into the news. So the Tribune’s monthly theme being Indian food shines a most welcome spotlight on a cuisine that has seen some definite movement toward the higher end and trendier dining this year. Start with Colleen Taylor Sen’s comprehensive summary of what’s new in the cuisine in Chicago, from Superkhana International to Egg-O-Holic.

Watch the slideshow this month, especially for Nick Kindelsperger trying Indian spots out in the burbs. The burbs around Schaumburg are one of the most unheralded growth areas for a foreign cuisine at the moment, yet almost nothing has been written beyond Yelp about this, so I’m very happy to see them getting detailed attention.

Phil Vettel reviews Rooh—his first Indian restaurant review ever? (He probably did Vermilion once.) Anyway, he gives it three stars and seems pretty rapturous: “Dear lord, the naan. There are three varieties — plain, garlic or a chile-cheese that’s almost pizzalike — and they’re all delicious. For something similar but more substantive, there’s kulcha, a flatbread that’s a bit more sturdy than naan; Rooh offers kulcha in apricot-lamb (delicious) and shaved-truffle (heavenly) versions. And no meal should begin without the papad (seasoned-dough crisps), presented prettily with three sauces: cool mint-cilantro, sweet and hot green mango with tomatillo, and lively peanut with chiles.”

And with Chicago-originated Patel Bros.—now the largest Indian retailer in the country—opening a lavish new store in Niles this weekend, Louisa Chu talks to the brothers who started it (three generations are now involved in the 50+-store chain), and notes the scene at the opening: “A fight broke out over shopping carts at the Patel Brothers grand opening in Niles on Thursday morning. The largest retail chain of Indian grocery stores in North America, founded in Chicago, was prepared. After a Hindu priest’s blessing, as well as crowd control by private security and local police, shopping and samosa sampling quickly resumed on the first of a four-day grand opening weekend. The excitement drew thousands, some of whom waited for two hours in the rain.”

2. REET GALIT AND GONE

Mike Sula acknowledges that he’s late to the Galit praise, but happy to join in, starting with the salatim plates of hummus: “Shallow craters of hummus are so smooth and dense they seem supernatural, containing say, fatty brisket and orange-glazed carrots, or trumpet mushrooms, collards, and crisp-fried chicken skin. Even the masabacha, a textural variant in which whole chickpeas mingle with the spread, is presented as something remarkable, draped with a blanket of tahini infused with minty anise hyssop.”

3. GOLFEADO CLUB

Patty Wetli says after arepas, golfeados may be the next Venezuelan item to take off here, but at the moment your one choice for the cinnamon roll-like object is Klein’s Bakery, run by two Venezuelan sisters: “While the golfeado’s filling does include cinnamon, it also incorporates shredded cheese and shredded unrefined sugar cane, called papelón. ‘And one of the very special ingredients that it also has is anise seed. If it doesn’t have anise, it’s not golfeado,’ said [Jessica] Klein.”

4. TORTELLO ROAD

Ji Suk Yi visits  handmade pasta shop Tortello: ““The fact that it’s handmade is so special,” said [chief sfoglia Alex] Mulgrove. “Flour is a constantly changing product, the hydration [affects] how many eggs we have to add. … It changes based on humidity outside, how the flour has been stored, what season the flour has been harvested in …”

And Maggie Hennessy reviews it at Time Out Chicago, where she’s underwhelmed by the atmosphere but delivers top quality food erotica: “Beautifully al dente pasta arrived one by one, on plates with ruffled edges like lasagna sheets. Casarecce, or short noodles that are twisted in on themselves, captured sweet pomodoro sauce beneath a milky blob of burrata. A delicate, beguiling sauce of onion, crumbly fennel-studded sausage and saffron-kissed cream cradled toothsome chiusoni, fluted nubs resembling gnocchi. The namesake tortelli were stuffed with luscious burrata and coated in nutty brown butter, hazelnuts and fried sage—a mellow, sweet and richly satisfying dish perfumed with woodsy sage.”

5. NONHA

Carrie Nahabedian gives Anthony Todd a preview of what will be at Kostali, the coastal-Mediterranean spot she’s opening in The Gwen hotel, beyond not being Naha 2: “Think ‘great fish, octopus, loup de mer from the Med, braised meats and shanks, a heavy country provincial feel, very rustic dishes,’ according to Nahabedian. The restaurant will serve housemade pastas; one with clams, garlic, roasted baby eggplants, and fire-roasted peppers is sure to be a hit. It’s a hotel restaurant, so expect an ‘incredible ribeye’ featuring a cheesy fondue on the side and, of course, bread. ‘I’m Armenian; bread is in my veins,’ she says. ‘You’re going to sit down, and there’s going to be bread. I don’t want to pay for my bread and I don’t want to have to ask for it.’”

6. HOLY POZOLE! 

Titus Ruscitti, in his quest to prove that you can never run out of Mexican food in Chicago, visits some more little-known spots for their Especialidad de la Casa, like the excellent pozole at Peke’s Pozole, just down Pulaski from Birrieria Zaragoza: “The Pozole here is made fresh daily and the maiz is not canned. This makes it different than most others. From scratch for real. Pozole comes served rojo, verde, or blanco. Just what I needed on what was one of the coldest days of my life. Plus some flautas bc those are good in warm weather, rain, sleet, or snow. Small menu also featuring platters of Patitas de Puerco aka pig trotters for those that like to get gelatinous.”

He also writes about visiting a place I went to earlier this year and can highly recommend—Champaign-Urbana’s Golden Harbor Taiwanese restaurant. (He actually went a year ago, so we may have gone on his recommendation.) Read about it and two other Churbana spots here.

7. FIRESIDE CHAT

The Fireside in Edgewater is the kind of American food joint where you go for tender baby back ribs, but as Friend of Fooditor Keng Sisavath has been trying to tell anyone he can, late at night it turns into a feast for local Thais (one of the managers is Thai) serving some of the more authentic Thai food in town, like hoi tod, an omelet with mussels. (Keng mentioned the restaurant in his year-end roundup here.)

Now he’s sold Steve Dolinsky on it and the result is this report (you can see Keng gnawing on duck wings, and next to Dolinsky at the end). It’s great to know that we have things like this—and it’s pretty amazing to find a local newscast anywhere devoting three minutes to a slice of hidden local immigrant culture like this.

8. FOURWITHALL

Friend of Fooditor Kenny Z, getting a suggestion from me this time, goes to Wherewithall—and reviews it in four tweets.

9. NEXT!

Michelin gave Next a star and took one away from Roister. This columnist for Inc. says they got it backwards: “My wife and I sat there, our nerves increasingly reverting to school tests taken in teenage years, for fear that the next element of our wine pairing would be withdrawn as a penalty if we didn’t immediately eat all the food before us or at least declare it finished.”

10. BOEHM ME UP

Friend of Fooditor Stacey Ballis reports on Kevin Bohm’s talk at The Welcome Conference, a kind of TED Talks for hospitality that started in New York but which he helped bring here this year. Read it all, but I particularly liked this quote from Boehm: “How powerful are your words? Words have saved lives, started wars, stirred great comebacks, made people fall in love, and inspired people to greatness. The power of a set of perfectly placed words, to someone that desperately needs them, is immeasurable in its impact.” There’s a few media moguls operating in this city who could stand to hear that—about words.

11. BAYLESS IN THE NEWS

Item #1: Rick Bayless is opening a new casual food and drink outlet called Tortazo in the Wills, aka Sears tower food hall. The word means punch, as in punchy flavor (though another translation Interglot offers is “whopper”—hopefully not!). Look for it in December.

Item #2: Rick Bayless is collaborating on another theatrical project—he and Windy City Playhouse are working on what sounds like Noises Off Meets Frontera Grill—”a fully immersive theatrical, culinary farce; audiences will enjoy special tastes crafted by Baylessas the hilarity unfolds. The story revolves around a special event at a well-known restaurant where everything that could possibly go wrong occurs, sending the restaurant staff into a tailspin. A drunk chef, a couple in crisis, a dishonest health inspector and a spy from a competing restaurant all contribute to chaos with hysterical results.” Look for it in early 2021.

Item #3: Rick Bayless has a doppelganger? Not exactly, but what weird luck to be a chef—actually the head of a restaurant group called Big Onion—and your name is… Erik Baylis. (Oh yeah, who’s your sous chef, Stefan E. Izzard?) Anyway, Centre Street Kitchen in Lincoln Park will “promote positivity and serve thoughtful small and large plates,” while collecting donations for Baylis’ non-profit, the Never Had A Bad Day Foundation, which supports pediatric cancer charities. (Eater)

12. YOU CAN’T QUIT, YOU’RE FIRED

That’s what Restoration Hardware said to Brendan Sodikoff, and now he’s suing them over it. (Crain’s)

13. DON’T CRY

Man, bad week to be named Spilt Milk. First the bar of that name shut its food concept The Feller, after chef Adam Wendt departed for Bite Cafe. And the completely unrelated Spilt Milk Bakery in Oak Park closed its Pilsen spinoff after just four months.

14. O REALLY?

I mourned Johnny O’s closing a couple of weeks back—but now it’s kind of open again. Block Club explains.

15. AVEC PLEASURE

Here’s one to clip and save—Brett Martin in GQ picks “the new classics,” places that have been around long enough to feel established, not so long they’re fusty, but reliable quality choices in various cities—Avec is the example for Chicago, and the others range from Gramercy Tavern in New York to Lucques in L.A.: “I think of the generation represented here as Sam Cooke restaurants—determined to stay smooth, no matter what chaos and exertions lie beneath the surface. By contrast, the modern era seems to breed Otis Reddings: often brilliant but intent on letting you know, with every grunt and drop of sweat, exactly how hard they’re working.”

16. GENE RAYBURN

Gene & Georgetti’s venerable downtown location had a grease fire Saturday morning, but they say it was put out quickly and they hope to reopen soon. Note this in case you have a dinner meeting with an alderman or a top personal injury attorney this week.

17. BEYWATCH

It’s not a food article, but I know one of my side pleasures looking for food all over town is our city’s legacy of architecture, especially the stuff hidden away in lesser-known neighborhoods. And that’s what David Hammond talks to architecture critic Lee Bey about, as shown in Bey’s new book Southern Exposure,which showcases often little-seen architectural gems on the South Side, from grand school buildings to a stunning 50s modern dry cleaners.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Brass Heart serves, on Tuesdays, an abbreviated six-course prix fixe (the usual is 9 or 12)—probably as big a meal as I wanted three days after doing a tasting menu at Elizabeth. In any event, it showed that after a reportedly rocky start, the restaurant has settled in alongside the likes of Temporis as a small, intimate pleasure for a romantic evening—or simply for a place you haven’t been before. Standouts included a dim sum-like savory stuffed bun, a nice plate of wagyu beef with broccoli (inspired by the Chinese dish but, chef Matt Kerney said, “I don’t know how to make Chinese food”), and dessert mixing blueberry ice cream and chocolate. Add it to your to-go list if it’s not there already.

I haven’t had much Spanish food here since quasi-Spanish Vera closed down, but I’d heard good things about Black Bull—and it does very nice classic Spanish stuff, good quality seafood (a plate of smoked octopus was outstanding) and briny arroz negro paella, in a funky atmosphere that looks like Old Town circa 1970 (the same group has Beatnik, so this place’s riotous design seemed almost sedate by comparison).

I’ve been to Izakaya Mita before, and had mostly familiar things, but at the end Brian Mita came out and gave us a taste of a more recent dish on the menu—garlicky, brothless but oil-coated Tokyo Abura ramen. Now I know what I’m having next time—it’s full of flavor and good texture. More restaurants should do that—as you’re finishing up, bring you a taste of something to make you want to come back and have it…

Turkitch is another one of the new Turkish places to open in Lakeview, connected to a frozen food business—but you wouldn’t know it from the appealingly fresh food; a few beef-lamb patties and a bean-tomato salad was a very pleasant lunch.

My jury is still out on Korean-style tacos, tasty hybrid or gloppy mess, but I will give Takorea Cocina credit for doing a damn fine job grilling shrimp for what’s a $3 or $4 taco. I liked bulgogi beef, chicken and shrimp all fine, but perked up when somebody (the chef, maybe) pointed out that they were working on individual toppings for each protein—instead of just the present cabbage and dressing on everything.

Fooditor 99 monolith