I heard around the same time that both John Kessler, reviewer for Chicago mag, and Nick Kindelsperger, who does the same for the Tribune, had been to Alinea to eat. At first it seemed odd that 2/3 of the remaining reviewers in town felt in need of visiting the same 17-year-old restaurant at the same moment, but the more I thought of it, the more sense it made. Both Kessler and Kindelsperger are relatively new appointments in their positions, and both got their gigs after COVID hit the world and the restaurant world was turned upside-down. So it makes some sense that they would look to Chicago’s most famous restaurant, the only Michelin three hundred pound gorilla in town, for kind of a reset moment—to establish a baseline of what Chicago restaurants can be at the highest end, so you have that context to look at everything else through.

Kessler’s review appears this week. First, what Alinea’s capable of:

Alinea’s trademark legerdemain still creates real moments of joy and anticipation. If you dine in the five-table Gallery, the team serves plates in one grand gesture. Much like a carnival barker, the head captain stands in the center to announce each course. This works well in keeping the element of surprise: no peeping the neighboring table two courses ahead as you would in the Salon. When the assembled spectators receive the order to pick up a baton of Arctic char to eat with their fingers, you can feel the room reacting as one organism to the interplay of the fish’s lush texture and sweet cure with its brittle, bitter skin.

But Kessler is somewhat put off by Alinea’s casual world-surveying in search of sensation:

Here, I think, is where Alinea falls completely out of step with the times. The best chefs today prioritize the cultural context of the food they make and use it to tell complex origin stories. Alinea globetrots for themes; its POV smacks of Orientalism. It’s hula night at the White Lotus. Sometimes it works. I loved a selection of tart and tangy pickles in the Japan course (available only in the Gallery), what Achatz called “our first foray into this type of fermentation.” More of this, please. It’s real. It resonates.

Anyway, it’s a thoughtful look at one of the key issues for this kind of restaurant—if you make your name doing new things (and trust me, nothing was newer than Achatz’s first dinners, at Trio), and it’s seventeen years later, it’s tough still being new after two decades. I saw this at Achatz’s old stomping grounds The French Laundry, where there were great dishes I knew from the cookbook (Oysters and Pearls, etc.), and new dishes I didn’t know, but not really anything that was new and great. Great is hard, and there are a lot of dishes that don’t get there, as you work towards the few that do.

My conviction after that meal was that you should always go to the new thing early, when it is new. If you go after it’s been around for years, and you’ve eaten other meals already influenced by it, as I certainly have and I don’t doubt Kessler and Kindelsperger have too, the bracing shock of novelty and invention is bound to be diminished. Or one could say that we’re diminished as customers—those largely-Asian tourists who watched Chef’s Table and planned a trip to Chicago just for Alinea are its truest and most appreciative audience now.


Especially with the acclaimed (and, at one point, hard to get into) Chicago Culinary Kitchen, mostly Texas style barbecue has become a thing in the suburbs, and Nick Kindelsperger calls out five star smokehouses out that way. Here’s Chicago Culinary Kitchen in Palatine:

Greg and Kristina Gaardbo launched Chicago Culinary Kitchen as a catering operation in 2016, but the response was so intense they decided to open a permanent restaurant. “I didn’t get into barbecue,” Greg Gaardbo said. “It got into me.”

He was particularly enthralled by how Central Texas barbecue presented the meat without smothering it in sauce. “There was a time where we didn’t have any sauce,” he said. “But we made our own sauces that are totally different and available upon request.”

Well, when I went the only sauce was in a prepackaged container and tasted fairly generic—this is definitely a place about meat and smoke, not sauce.


A couple of times people have asked me if I knew anything more about the French restaurant Boka Group was opening with chef Daniel Rose, a Wilmette native who had the 2017 James Beard winner for Best New Restaurant, Le Coucou, in New York as well as restaurants in Paris (he’s also opening a new spot in L.A.). I know nothing! I would have to reply, but Chicago mag talks to him about the upcoming Le Select:

“I’m not trying to recreate Paris in Chicago; I’m taking what the French do best in their tradition and do it in Chicago,” says Rose, 45, about the under-construction, 200-plus-seat brasserie currently estimated to open in early December. “It’s hard to define Chicago, but for me, it’s been shaped by this history of commodities. In my mind, where cuisine and commodities meet is in a brasserie. One of the signatures of the brasserie is this idea that you don’t look at the menu before you go. You know the menu is going to be fairly large and you’ll find something you want to eat. ‘Select’ is a word in English and in French. It suggests a certain kind of luxury, but it doesn’t necessarily mean fancy.”


”’There’s a shortage of alligator… We had enough to test, but we didn’t have enough to sell.'” Erick Williams on why Daisy’s Po’Boy and Tavern does not have alligator po’boys on the menu, in Louisa Chu’s Trib piece on the opening of the restaurant.


Anthony Todd talks to Gene Kato about his upcoming Southport Corridor collaboration with Boka Group, Itoko:

Longtime fans of Kato will remember his excellent and acclaimed Sumi Robata Bar, and while Kato is quick to emphasize that Itoko is not the second coming of Sumi, it will have a significant robata selection. Even better, thanks to the help of some industry friends, he managed to get his old robata grill back up and running.

Read it all to learn where that robata grill has been around town, waiting for Kato to reclaim it.


Titus Rusciti reports, improbably, on a taco brand popping up in suburban 7/11 locations, Laredo Taco Company:

The menu is Tex-Mex and it’s some of the best Tex-Mex you’ll find around town but that’s bc it’s running unopposed. But still the breakfast tacos and carne guisada are respectable. Sure beats those rolling tubes of mystery meat if hungry while filling up.

He checks out some other taco spots in the near-in suburbs as well, and also visits Halal Inn, a new middle eastern spot in an Albany Park strip mall. I parked in front of it the other day—but went to the Korean restaurant (the former Cafe Orient 33) next door instead.


If you want to chronicle how food moves with immigration, just look at Palestinian/Jordanian food—at one time it was centered in the South Loop, then 63rd street, then south suburban Bridgeview—and now more and more middle eastern restaurants are venturing even further to the south, as Steve Dolinsky observes at a restaurant called Zwar in Orland Park:

Kebabs are another highlight. Ranging from filet mignon to ground chicken kefta kebabs, they’re marinated then grilled directly over hot charcoals until properly blistered.

The dishes, again, use rice as a base, with a garnish of sumac-covered red onions and sliced tomatoes. On Fridays, they make Mansaf – a traditional dish throughout the Levant, but especially in Jordan, where it’s considered the national dish.


Ollyvia Putri makes an Indonesian style of cake with twenty individually baked layers, called kue lapis legit—and Mike Sula says, given the size of her mail-order business Lapis312, that she’s the queen of kue lapis legit in America.

“They say it’s the layers, but I think it’s because of the amount of fat in it,” says Putri, who makes the cakes four at a time out of a Naperville shared kitchen. These she sells mostly online in four flavors—along with a variety of Indonesian cookies—under the handle Lapis312.


At NewCity, a piece on a Lakeview “otherworldly cocktail bar-slash-immersive art space on Belmont” called WHIM, which grew out of COVID closing the Theater Building Chicago:

The idea, as it evolved, was to take the entire 12,000-square-foot 773 space—four theaters of different shapes and sizes—and turn them into sort-of-an employment agency for Chicago’s idled design community: scenic creators, visual artists, graffiti muralists, lighting people and sound engineers. To top it all off, there’d be work for performers, actors, jugglers, musicians and dancers.


David Manilow (Check, Please!) has been appearing on Crain’s Daily Gist podcast for some months—well, now he’s got his own. The Dining Table with David Manilow is a new podcast about the food scene, produced by Crain’s. There’s a preview of it in this article.


Sometimes lists that include Chicago seem to have come from Mars. But sometimes they give us a fresh perspective on something we’re not paying that much attention to. That’s more how I feel about Bon Appetit picking one Chicago restaurant for its 50 Best New Restaurants, and it’s not the first one that comes to mind (probably Obélix?) to most of us—it’s Bocadillo Market, the little Spanish all-day spot in Lincoln Park which hasn’t been talked about much since it opened (though it did get a Jean Banchet nomination, owner James Martin for Rising Chef). Anyway, here’s Bon Appetit:

At the laid-back and thoughtfully designed Bocadillo Market, chef James Martin highlights similarities between Spanish dishes—particularly those brought over by the Moors of North Africa—and the Low Country–influenced ones he grew up eating as a DC-born child of Southern parents. The result is magnificent.


Last week I said I’d probably never need to go to Navy Pier again. To which Fooditor contributor Anne Spiselman asked what I had against Chicago Shakespeare Theater? Okay, there’s a reason I might go again. But my mention of the cost of parking may have sparked something in Friend of Fooditor Matt Mirapaul, who offered a pithy review of Chef Art Smith’s Reunion at Navy Pier, at Facebook:

Chef Art Smith’s Reunion, Navy Pier, Chicago, Sept. 8, 2022. Very good fried chicken and deviled eggs, decent shrimp ‘n’ grits, so-so fried green tomatoes. Note: chicken $28, Navy Pier parking $32.


Way back when, when I was one of the people running LTHForum, I created the pull quote at the top of the home page that took a memorable line from somebody’s post and linked to it, to help draw visitors in. In my day, I tried to change it every month or so. But that was before the greatest quote in food writing history—I say it must be that, because it’s been on the home page for six months now without a change. Here’s the original quote, in case it changes suddenly in the next few days.


Not something about that TV show, though the timing for this subject couldn’t be better. Dr. Anthony Buccini—Antonius to those who were on LTHForum long long ago—will give a talk on the Chicago invention, Italian beef, for Culinary Historians of Chicago on Thursday at 7 pm over Zoom. Go here to find out more and to register before the event; it will also be a podcast afterwards.


There’s trouble in Tigray, a region in the north of Ethiopia. Tigist Reda, chef-owner of the Ethopian restaurant Demera and a Tigray native, will host a benefit supporting Health Professionals Network for Tigray, a non-profit aid organization, with nearly 30 chefs participating, on September 21:

Since July 2021, there’s been an enforced communications blackout, denied access to banking, and ethnic violence toward thousands of civilians. As a result, chef Tigist has lost contact with friends and family. “I haven’t spoken to my 68 year old mom for over a year,” she shared. “During this time, I also learned my baby brother and his wife had a little girl, but only from a few pictures sent via WhatsApp from the besieged Tigray. Since phone and banking systems are shut down, there’s no way for me to get them help or inquire about their safety firsthand.” Tigist turned to her chef community for help, and they listened, rallying together in support of her efforts to raise funds for the people of Tigray.

The starstudded list of chefs ranges from Art Smith to Sarah Stegner, Rick Bayless, Paul Kahan, Jason Hammel, Giuseppe Tentori, Erick Williams and many others. Go here to buy tickets.

The Celebrity Chef Ball, benefiting Meals on Wheels, will be October 14 and sounds cool:

Over 50 top Chicago chefs, including many Michelin, James Beard, and Bib Gourmand awardees will gather at The Celebrity Chef Ball on Friday, October 14 at The Geraghty (2520 S. Hoyne Avenue) to support homebound neighbors struggling with food insecurity. Proceeds will support Meals on Wheels Chicago in their mission to end hunger and isolation for seniors and people with disabilities.

This MoWC signature soiree is a unique and extravagant dining experience for guests where every table is a chef’s table! During this intimate fine dining experience, guests are seated in a “pod” of three tables, each with their own team of chefs and a mixologist. These exclusive chefs will work in teams of three to personally prepare and present a 6-course meal right in front of guests.

Find out more here.


I met Jimmy McFarland when he was working at Sparrow Coffee, he had previously worked, I believe, for Paul Virant, and when the pandemic happened, he went to work for Ballyhoo Hospitality (Pomeroy and others, mostly on the north shore). An ebullient personality and down to earth guy, he passed away September 2; Ballyhoo organized a fundraiser for his widow and four kids here.


John Kessler wanted dim sum, but we’ve both been to all the well-known places, so I did a quick search on Yelp and found Four Seasons Dumpling on S. Halsted—I immediately thought two things about it, one, that I had written about the previous occupant of the space, Wu Fu Hunan Cuisine, in this Chinatown roundup, and that I thought I recognized the new place from Titus’ blog (yep). Anyway, it has the usual 900-item Chinese menu, but we went straight to the section of homemade dumplings, picking some steamed buckwheat dumplings with, I think, beef and onions, which sounds northern Chinese to me, and pork and chive pan-fried dumplings. I liked both of them, definitely better than the often frozen dumplings you get at most Chinese restaurants, and better as housemade ones go than what you get at Qing Xian Yuan Dumplings—though what both have in common is that you get a very large order of whatever flavor you order. (Not that I’m against more dumplings, but it makes it hard to order a variety.) As far as buckwheat dumplings go, they were a little earthy, as buckwheat anything tends to be, but worth a try for the different flavor profile.

Beyond dumplings, we ordered eggplant with garlic sauce to have a vegetable, and salt and pepper fish fillet—and besides dumplings, somebody in that kitchen has a master hand with the fryer, as both were excellent. So if you’re in a mood for Chinatown, well, the 3200 block of south Halsted might be a bit off the Chinatown main strip, but when’s the last time I went somewhere that batted four for four with Chinese food like that?