1. FRENCH TIRE-ANNY

No new three or two stars, five new one stars (Mako, Kikko within Kumiko, Omakase Yume, Yügen and Next), Dusek’s and Roister off the one-star list. That’s the Michelin list for 2020, and my immediate reactions, along with Anthony Todd’s, are in the sorta-podcast we recorded as soon as the list came out on Thursday, so go there to get them in, I hope, lively conversational form. (You should also read Anthony’s take at Chicago mag.) Now here’s what I think with a few days’ reflection. Two quotes, both from reviews by Jeff Ruby:

For the next two hours and 15 minutes, you talked and taught and sliced the most beautiful fish with the sharpest knives. You gently dabbed amadai, a watery tilefish considered a luxury in Japan, with caviar and mascarpone. You smoked deep-flavored katsuo (skipjack tuna) over Japanese charcoal and alder wood and then ladled on a daikon-ponzu sauce.

The problem is that nothing that follows quite reaches these heights. A dish of aggressively overseasoned roast lamb and duck has none of the nuance or spark that preceded it.

Which do you think got a Michelin star? As you’ve likely guessed, the first, fairly rapturous one is for Kyōten, which a Michelin inspector took pains to diss in public as lacking in basic skills; the second, which finds little of what Michelin prizes so much, consistency, is for Yügen, which got a star.

I don’t mean to pick on Yügen—indeed, congrats to Mari Katsumura for pulling it off in a weird, somewhat cursed situation—but as Anthony says in the podcast, either we’re all wrong, since Ruby’s takes are both pretty widely held, and Michelin sees greatness (and sees through a fake) where we can’t, or Michelin has its own weird, fuddy-duddyish takes on dining that almost no one here shares. In which the things that make Kyōten exceptional and even magical are, somehow, mistakes on their rigid by-the-numbers-by-the-book scale, that are not repeated at other sushi spots such as Mako and Omakase Yume (nothing against either of them).

To me, that’s sort of bashing Oriole for not being RPM Steak—your father-in-law may have that opinion, but I’m not going to consider him a world-class foodie for holding it. But Michelin has this mega-microphone to splash its opinion around the world—and in Kyōten’s case that could do real harm to one of the best things to happen here lately. Who asked ya, Frenchy?

All we can do to fight that is to get our own opinions out there, and make sure that Michelin’s cranky old voice isn’t the only one they hear. I’m publishing a whole book of reviews, The Fooditor 99; there’s very little stopping you from starting a review blog, or influencing on Instagram, or tweeting when you dine out or whatever would get your word out there. Chicago shouldn’t leave a vacuum for a tire company’s air to fill alone.

Here’s what Otto Phan of Kyōten had to say.

2. SUM KIND OF WONDERFUL

Mike Sula says D’s Cuisine’s standard dim sum is good enough to rate the restaurant’s pushpin on the local sushi map. “But what the restaurant really has going for it are [chef Fang] Yu’s Guangdong chef specials. These include a superb Guangzhou-style whole roasted chicken, with crispy burnished skin and flesh from thigh to breast gravid with unreleased juices waiting to burst forth. A log pile of asparagus is shrouded in a gossamer veil of egg white and crabmeat. In one Yu original, a generous pile of nutty wild rice is wok-tossed with minced beef and glutamate-bombed with savory XO sauce; a glossy-sauced casserole of mustard greens and planks of crunchy Chinese yam (aka cinnamon vine) is possessed by the same five-spiced ghost that haunts the menu in so many unexpected places.”

3. 10-4, BANDIT

Graham Meyer says that the West Loop’s “Bandit, the latest from DineAmic Hospitality (Prime & Provisions, Siena Tavern), doesn’t push the buttons of a column called Business Lunch. The casual atmosphere, fancified bar food and FM-radio soundtrack aren’t contract-negotiation backdrops. A midday break with better-than-decent food has its place, though, especially if you like yours with Guns N’ Roses.” (Crain’s)

4. BIRD BRAIN

Despite the name, Morgan Olsen says, Lee Zaremba’s 52-item cocktail list at Lazy Bird in the Hoxton shows diligent thinking: “Next came the Negroni, a recipe that Zaremba says he obsessed over for months. Rather than using regular old Campari, he mixes a combination of bitters to mimic the flavor of vintage Campari. Back in the day, the ubiquitous liquor had more depth and was slightly sweeter. Zaremba’s version of the orange-hued cocktail is soft and harmonious—the kind of thing you want to sip for hours.” (TOC)

5. LAKE STEAK

Ocean Prime may be a chain outlet with a Michigan Avenue view, but Ariel Cheung credits Chicago edition chef Jason Shelley with tailoring things to local tastes: “The double-cut lamb chops ($48) featured a different presentation leading up to Ocean Prime’s opening, but ‘we thought it wasn’t the right fit,’ Shelley says. ‘We’re buying a beautiful domestic lamb, and lamb has a very unique and robust flavor—why cover it up?’ In its current iteration, the chops are broiled and then drizzled in a sizzling sauce pungently imbued with thyme and roasted garlic confit. Steaks, too, are not fussed over. The methodical broiling supplies each cut with a nice char and an ideally juicy, tender center.”

6. PASTA FAZOOL

Titus Ruscitti says, “Chicago’s pasta game has improved dramatically over the last calendar year. One of the spots most responsible for this uptick in quality is Torchio Pasta Bar near the border of Old Town and River North. This area of the near north side isn’t exactly known for passionate openings but Torchio isn’t like most other restaurants in the area. For one it’s not from a restaurant group. The owner is a first time restaurateur who’s basic experience in the kitchen was throwing pasta parties at his home.”

He also has admiring words for a gyros place in Niles, Super Pitas: “Even though I grew up eating the lamb and beef blend so popular in Chicagoland I much prefer a pork gyro now that I’ve had so many of them. Rarely do they disappoint and Super Pitas did not. I got the plate which comes with fries, tomatoes, sliced red onion, tzatziki, and a pita sliced into four. As always the plate made for a meal and leftovers. I enjoyed the traditional flavors and would happily go back if I lived in the area or next time I’m near.”

7. EVER CLEAR

David Hammond talks to Michael Muser about what Ever, the new Curtis Duffy-Michael Muser restaurant, will be like, and why Chicago needs this craziness (not just for three Michelin stars): “Chicago is a great culinary city. Chicago deserves a room like Ever. We need these joints. We need these restaurants that people will drive to the city to visit. Restaurants like ours give people a reason to leave the airport and come downtown to a world-renowned dining destination. That’s a magical thing.”

8. FATTER RICE

The Bakery at Fat Rice is expanding—to make it easier to eat Fat Rice-type stuff all through the day, says Anthony Todd: “One reason for the expansion: Chef Abe Conlon wanted to give more people a Fat Rice experience, and the main restaurant is often booked far in advance. ‘If you came from out of town or if you are on your way to the airport and didn’t get to eat at Fat Rice, you can pop in and grab a mega maki or a cookie for the road, or egg tarts to take home to your family,’ Conlon explains. ‘We want to say yes to more people — I hate turning people away, it’s such a bummer.’”

9. CATRINA’S JOURNEY

A poignant story in the Sun-Times: one of the mainstays of Pilsen has been La Catrina Cafe, since 2013 a coffee shop but also a community space, owned by Diana Galicia and Salvador Corona. Their son, Gabriel Cisneros, an artist, died of a heroin overdose in 2016, leaving behind a girlfriend with a baby on the way and prompting them to start a gallery for young artists called The Gabriel Project. They became second parents to the girlfriend, Paola Zamora-Rojas, who was brought to the U.S. illegally at age 2. Now she has decided to move back to Mexico, and so they are going with her, closing La Catrina. That’s the outline, but the story is told more fully and with more feeling by Carlos Ballesteros here.

10. BON APP

In another sign, after the Time Out Market, that no one wants to run a mere magazine when they can sell you food directly, Bon Appetit has joined up with Lettuce Entertain You and GrubHub to start a virtual restaurant of… items from the Bon Appetit test kitchens.

11. KAFFEEKLATSCH

Overserved isn’t verklempt about talking about coffee with Geoff Watts, of Intelligentsia.

WHAT MIKE ATE

Well, I marked Michelin Day by dining at not only the recipient of a star, but a longlist nominee for the National Book Award—Iliana Regan’s Elizabeth. Actually, I made the reservation not because of either of those things, but because I felt like her early fall menu, coming after her summer sojourn in Michigan, would be an ideal vehicle for what she’s good at—and it certainly is. Little jewels of vegetable combinations, like sungold tomatoes in shoyu or green bean “tartare” with egg and toasted pistachio. A piece of skate wing, dusted in cornmeal and served in a green vegetable sauce that was exquisite minimalism. Go.

I never got to Young Americans in its CBD cocktail/black bread phase, but I went to a media preview of its new menu which is more approachable in outline, but has plenty of quirks in execution. Chef Nick Jirasek (whom I wrote about when he was at the same group’s Ludlow Liquors) takes a similar approach as there—part Chicago comfort food, part Filipino flavors from his childhood—and things like “popcorn shrimp” (fried shrimp and actual seasoned popcorn), smoked clam dip, lumpia, and an outstanding adobo chicken were all highly scarfable. (The cocktails are really nice and bright with tropical flavors, too.) Media previews are not to be confused with sitting down for a real meal, but it was all very promising (though if you’re spice-sensitive, there’s strong heat hiding in unexpected places here).

I tried new pizzas twice this week—first, Nella Pizza e Pasta, the latest (Hyde Park) outpost of the original Spacca Napoli pizzaiolo. And… that pizza is as good as ever, classically Neapolitan, while the bright, sunny space is very pleasant. I can think of many worse things in this world than whiling a few Italian cafe hours in Hyde Park here.

And I tried Robert’s Pizza, in the River East Arts Center, at last, and liked it fine—a nice airy handtossed crust with a little malty sweetness to it, like Roots pizza. I liked Bob’s in Pilsen as much, so I’m not going to crown it best in town… but it’s certainly good and something to try if you’re anywhere near there.

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