That was how the idea of an Art Smith fried chicken spot in Navy Pier struck me. Or what struck me is that I don’t have to care that it exists, because with the Imax theater gone, I don’t expect to need to go to Navy Pier ever again, barring grandchildren. Louisa Chu acknowledges that that’s the baggage Chef Art Smith’s Reunion comes with:

Smith owns the restaurant that bears his name with brothers and restaurateurs, Manolis Alpogianis and George Alpogianis (the latter also happens to be the mayor of Niles); and their mutual friend Margie Geddes, the heiress of Red Stripe, the Jamaican beer originally brewed in Illinois. Chef Ruben Villalobos, who helped open Pizza Friendly Pizza with Oriole’s Noah Sandoval, runs the kitchen.

Together they’ve exorcised the space that was previously Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., situated on one of the flagship corners flanking the front of the historic pier building. It’s transformed into a cozy yet elegant lakeside retreat, with an expansive patio and sheltered outdoor bar.

But it’s not like you can’t get good fried chicken without paying $25 for parking. Is it worth it? Curiously, Chu doesn’t actually say, but we get this, uh, celebrity endorsement:
“Fried chicken still prevails as far as popularity,” the chef said, laughing. “Mine has pedigree. It’s been served to five presidents, Lady Gaga backstage, and the dalai lama. We made a vegan version for him.”

Park this way!


José Andres has such a reputation as a living saint among chefs for his feeding-the-world efforts through World Central Kitchen that it tends to make people bend over backwards to be positive about his day job efforts, which have had him opening more restaurants than Subway in Chicago lately. John Kessler admits the truth, which is that some of them, frankly, come off exactly like expensively upscale mall chain restaurants, some ingenious dishes, some phoned in. To wit, Bar Mar:

Bar Mar, the huge restaurant on the ground floor of the new Bank of America Tower, is a snacker’s paradise. There you will find tiny cones topped not with ice cream but with smoked fish, and tacos that wrap hamachi, caviar, and cured Spanish ham in a sheet of crisp nori seaweed. Most fanciful of all are Neptune’s Pillows: Little puffs each just the size for a Barbie doll to rest her head on. With a spicy tuna filling and a sliver of fresh tuna over the top, they’re like Totino’s Pizza Rolls reimagined by a sushi chef — gooey, crunchy, and all kinds of fun.

…So here’s my beef: Bar Mar presents itself as a serious seafood restaurant, but most of the fish is no better than what you’d find in any decent sushi bar or steakhouse in Chicago. I never encountered any daily specials on my visits, or any indication that fish has seasons, or oysters identified by where they grow. You’d think an international outfit like this would make more of a point of shipping great fish to the Third Coast.


Thrillist once asked me to do a best gyros list. I had one condition– no deadline. No way I was going to eat gyros three times a day for two weeks to have enough for a quick ten best list. So about three months later, I had a pretty good list of ten. That might be part of why Nick Kindelsperger only does a five best; it might also be that there aren’t that many to choose from out there, because in the last half decade Nick has written about a number of new gyros places that bit the dust within a year or so. (At least three on my 2015 list are no more, including #1.) Anyway, if you want such a thing, his new list is a good guide to the state of our gyros 2022, though I must admit it was one of the few things that didn’t wow me at Andros (which I liked a lot otherwise), and I’m not going to Lisle for one, no matter how good it is.


As noted a few weeks ago, I’ve been to the bar at the latest, presumably permanent incarnation of Trevor Teich’s Claudia, and liked its combination of quirky, Shakespeare-inspired drinks and classic French nosh. Amy Cavanaugh likes it too; read why (though mixologist Stephan Miller has since moved on).


Steve Dolinsky introduces his audience to Kyrgyz food at Jibek Jolu, a former Lincoln Avenue spot that has expanded in Glenview:

The prep alone must take hours, when you’re cooking dishes inspired by Russia, the Middle East and Asia. Jibek Jolu began as a tiny restaurant in Lincoln Square, doing hand-pulled Asian noodle dishes like Lagman and European-inspired soups such as beet-filled borscht or solyanka, with smoked turkey, beef, sausage and pickles.


I feel like I’ve been to Same Day Cafe, but it has new signage, or maybe I’m thinking of some other place (it’s a generic sort of name, which I think came from the leftover dry cleaner’s sign that used to be out front). Anyway, Titus Ruscitti has definitely been:

Same Day Cafe has a lunch and a dinner menu with diner classics served up on both of them. The reason for my visit was bc we needed a spot to eat with my young nieces and Same Day Cafe was my pick. It’s a good spot to visit with kids as the menu is filled with fun things including an outstanding crumble made with Midwest grown peaches and blackberries. Same Day Cafe sources lots of their ingredients from regional farms and cooperatives. This was likely a special based on the fruits being in season. Special indeed. I love a good crumble with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

He also visits Borinquen Lounge, rooted in jibarito history.


There’s a real Marcus Aurelius note to the headline at Understanding Hospitality this time: “Understanding Virtue.” Of course he means a certain Hyde Park restaurant, whose chef, Erick Williams he profiles in detail from his rise at MK to his winning a James Beard award earlier this year, with a particular emphasis on bringing the capabilities he gained working in upscale fine dining to a broader, out-of-downtown audience:

The door would be open to “anybody that wants to walk in.” But the place would also be “unapologetically black.” In other words, “the art’s black, the people that are serving you are black, the people that are cooking are black, the people that run the place, own the place, and the investors are black.”

Williams would embrace the idea that “there aren’t many spaces like this” and “embrace it in a way that makes it a lot more palatable for people that don’t look like us.” However, “for folk that do look like us,” it would “carve a clear path to how you become successful in a way that is dignified, first and foremost, but also that amplifies the fact that you will not get here unless you plan on working your ass off. And it doesn’t matter what color you are.”

Maybe because it’s about a chef who demands to be taken seriously, this is one of Grimod’s best pieces, including the only serious consideration to date of Virtue’s wine program (which includes a sommelier currently going for her Court of Master Sommeliers certification).


Not exactly news that restaurants are having a tough time finding people, and it’s certainly not only news from Chicago. But this Block Club piece brings a local spin to it, talking to people like Won Kim about the reality owners and managers face:

Kim understands burnout, he said. The constant stress of running a restaurant has him making plans to rent Kimski for restaurant pop-ups over the winter so he can have a break, he said.

“These days — I’m not even lying to you — my only requirement for the front of house is please show up,” Kim said. “Some people can’t even do that.”


Kudos to the Eater headline writer who worked in the M.F.K. Fisher reference for an Eater National piece on Iliana Regan’s fanfiction dinners—I don’t think anyone has called them that before, but it works—themed to things like Game of Thrones and Stranger Things. That’s sort of ancient history to me, and only so interesting now, when Regan has moved on to glamping in upper Michigan, but the piece takes a wide ranging (if a little unfocused) look at themed meals—not just hers, but Next’s and also things like the Saved by the Bell popup. Anyway, it has some interesting insights into how themes can help people to access her kind of restaurant:

In cooking culinary adaptations of other people’s properties, Regan became an author of new stories; she transformed her diners into characters within them — or, viewed from another angle, authors of their own stories born of the stories Regan was retelling. Mostly, it’s that Regan invited the diner to participate in said transformation. Telling and retelling stories is a communal project. Fantasy narratives belong to no single author or, for that matter, chef; fantasy narratives are shared. Fandom is about community-building and about locating oneself within that community. Basing menus on commercial properties is how Regan got diners to locate themselves within her food. At Elizabeth, one witnessed a retelling of a story they already knew, and were invited to participate. The extent to which diners met this challenge was up to them, but it offered the possibility of imprinting on the meal. If people didn’t enjoy this, it wasn’t fully Regan’s problem; the cover and tip were paid months in advance.


Kimchi Kids podcast talks to Noah Sandoval of Oriole, who’s gotten more polished as a public speaker (and is amusingly sardonic about his rapscallion background as a high school dropout turned chef).


That phrase, never used by anyone before in human history, is part of the attempt to explain where the Strammer Max, a German open-face sandwich, gets its name at Sandwich Tribunal:

A funny thing happened as I tried to research the sandwich though. Alternative interpretations of the sandwich’s name kept creeping in, not fully supplanting the established meaning, but muddying the waters a little. Introducing ambiguities. First it was the YouTuber who claimed stram was slang for “drunk or whatever,” an interpretation that has been corroborated for me by several TikTok commenters. Next it was the all too frequent claim that the definition of stram could be extended to include adjectives like rigid, bulging, or erect, and that the name Max was used in Berliner slang as a nickname for the male appendage, much like the names “Dick” or “Willy” are in English.


My onetime-French-teaching wife is always up for French food, and I was in the mood for it too after writing for my book about classic French restaurants in Chicago, and using the word “pithivier” more times in August than I ever have in my life. So Obélix was a perfect choice for her birthday, and for me, it even offered a pithivier (a round pastry shell which can be stuffed with either savory or sweet filling; in this case it was filled with ratatouille).

Obélix is the work of Oliver Poilevey, whose parents had Le Bouchon and Le Sardine. He also has Taqueria Chingon, and you pick up little hints of that in things like the foie-co (taco) and the foie macarons, which are accented with a little bit of the grease reclaimed from their pastor cone, giving them a slight hint of Mexican spice and porkiness. Beyond that, however, it’s pretty classic French food, and where Le Bouchon tends to be deeply rooted in the kind of classical cooking that feels like the same people have been making it for forty years (this is not, in any way, a knock), Obélix feels fresher, more original—and definitely shows the Asian influences that are all over Paris these days, as in the Thai curry that the duck breast rests in. While the ratatouille in the pithivier (I’m now fond of saying it, like how Dr. Evil says “magma”) shone with fresh summer vegetable flavors.

I wasn’t sure how well the modernist space (formerly Entente) would suit a French restaurant, but packed on a Saturday night, it had a credible brasserie feel, that felt like urban excitement and vitality, even if it doesn’t have big gilt-edged mirrors or the other things that scream “Brasserie Lipp.” After I posted pictures of it I got various comments calling it the best new restaurant in town and wishing they had gone, or would go soon. They could be right!

*  *  *

In the last couple of weeks we’ve gotten a sense of what the hot new thing for 2023 will be—upscale Mexican, often seafood-oriented. Just this week we saw the opening of the Solita chain from the West Coast, which replaced Pink Taco in River North (they come from the same corporate parent), and Fora in the Emily Hotel, doing “Riviera Maya” style food (apparently calling it Yucatan food would be too downscale). Admittedly we also saw Chikatana close, just steps away from Fora in Fulton Market. The one to get the most press so far is Sueños, a pop-up at SoHo House which apparently saw business boom after Nick Kindelsperger’s Trib rave and reportedly has landed a permanent location in West Town (I can’t find any official announcement or publicity, but they talked about it openly when I went). Chef Stephen Sandoval, who’s worked at Leña Brava among other places, calls his food Baja Med cuisine, which Eater said “refers to a blend of Mexican, Asian, and Mediterranean culinary traditions.”

Well, I’m a bit suspicious of some of these efforts to do Mexican ceviche or crudos—Leña Brava can do them with gorgeous minimalism, but too often you get kind of a goopy mess, subtle fish overpowered by chunks of avocado and tangy sauce. (E.g. at Tanta, the Peruvian chain.) That’s kind of where dinner at Sueños started—oysters overpowered by a melon-based mignonette into bivalve candy, fish tostadas were more like avocado tostadas with a little fish—and my expectations lowered accordingly. But happily they rose, mostly step by step, after that. The snapper ceviche, in a tart Peruvian marinade, had the delicacy and subtlety of a crab dish; tender octopus skewers, with butterball potatoes, were wonderful, rivals to Andros Taverna’s best in town octopi. I felt like grilled fish with chunky coconut salsa and a smooth tomatillo salsa along its side needed a little more focused flavor, but the thin, delicate housemade tortillas justified an expensive dish with its cheapest component. (The same could be said for one dish’s side of honey-drizzled plantains, or another one’s side of beans and rice—they’re really good at the common man stuff.)

So I was impressed overall, and will return when Sueños becomes reality, though one caution about the current version. I was in a large party and inevitably got the question “So you write reviews?” I said yes, that’s part of it, but I said I try not to be the guy who writes a paragraph about noise levels and reviewing clichés like that. Well, I’m going to break my own rule—Sueños at Soho House is packed, and with the space’s hard surfaces, it’s as loud as any place I can remember going to in recent times. If that bothers you, wait for the permanent spot, but if not, it’s well worth nabbing a reservation now.