Michael Nagrant was just about ready to snort his meal at Elske: “The dish in question featured crispy roast maitake mushrooms ($17) and shaved raw chestnuts swimming in a pear cream that’s poured tableside. The pear cream was sweet, fruity and redolent with spicy ginger and winey shallot. Like some kind of pheromonic bat signal, it had me sniffing deep within the earthenware bowl while dipping my fork in for a taste. Not only did the cream give off a heady aroma, but it provided a bright and light acidity that complemented the rich earthy mushroom.” (Redeye)


In a world of surveys and top tens and slideshows of easily-found things, the ones that really drill deep into a subject are worth their weight in gold, or even better, in wagyu. One such is Steve Dolinsky’s latest epic quest to get all the knowledge he can about the state of a particular food stuff. In the past he’s done Chicago classics like Italian beef and pizza, but this time it’s a sign of the increasing Asianization of our scene: the great Vietnamese soup pho. He tried 31 of them, with pho-pilot Paul Nguyen, and as he says, “Pho broth is typically made in enormous stockpots, over the course of many hours, but the thing that makes this beef broth truly unique is the aromatics. Of course there are bones aplenty buried beneath the surface, which will eventually express their marrow, but also a sachet or filter, holding cloves, star anise, black pepper and ginger. I’ve also seen some places rely on shallots, beef bouillon and leeks.”

The whole adventure starts here, or jump to the top five here. 


And as if a comprehensive survey of pho wasn’t enough, Dolinsky also checks out an authentic banh mi place on Broadway that bakes its own bread and everything. (ABC 7)


Lisa Shames of CS likes what’s happening with vegetables at Bad Hunter, the not-a-vegetarian restaurant in the West Loop: “What chef Dan Snowden is doing is taking his culinary experience at places such as Nico Osteria and The Publican and creating vegetable-focused dishes like you’ve never had before. Take, for example, the tempura-fried lemons and delicata squash. Inspired by a fritto misto Snowden had years ago in Italy, it’s a weird dish that works wonderfully with the acidity of the lemon balancing out the richness.”


At Time Out, Elizabeth Atkinson warms to the idea of an all-day bar (no, not that you’re drinking at 9 am, but it morphs from coffeehouse to cocktail spot over the day), as personified by Estereo: “The drinks are exceptional, but what really makes this place tick is its vibe. Music from a turntable fills the air with bright Latin-American tunes. Settle in at the large, triangle-shaped bar that dominates the space, or for a more intimate setting, snag one of the tables set along the perimeter for smaller groups. On a warm summer day, roll-up garage doors flank two sides, opening up the space even more to solidify the bar’s South American–style charm.”


Chicago mag checks out four self-proclaimed healthy alternative restaurants. On the positive side, Left Coast Food + Juice is “delicious,” and Sweetgreen “should especially appeal to downtown office workers who’ve exhausted their takeout options,” a somewhat lower bar. But Upton’s Breakroom won’t convert you to fake meat and Little Beet Table continues the worst run of reviews for a New York import since BLT American Brasserie.


Sanctuary cities are one thing, but it’s not immediately obvious what a sanctuary restaurant is going to do as a response to supposedly tougher immigration rules coming under the new administration (build a fort out of waffles?). But of course if there’s any place to look for immigrants working, it’d be restaurants. Chicagoist talks about what it means that Honey Butter Fried Chicken has announced that it’s a sanctuary restaurant.


John Carruthers of ManBQue forecasts the year’s food trends. Example: he predicts that even less desirable cuts will be hot: “All it takes is one chef with knuckle tattoos in a mid-sized city to cook it up with whatever vegetable is in season, throw in some expensive chiles, and talk about the ‘integrity of the ingredient.’ Then suddenly everyone’s talking about pork taint or lamb ankle like they were all about it from the start.”


This article on places to eat all over Illinois is a little click-batty and clunky—it starts with Alinea, then it’s all wineries in rural towns—but it’s still got some cool tips if you’re looking for an excuse to get out of town.


This interview with Rick Bayless at a sponsored site is three years old, I just happened to stumble on it, but it’s got some nice stuff you haven’t heard him talk about before, from specifics about all that yoga he does to a moving answer to the question “Who would you want to cook for?”


The LA Times had a piece a while back on why chasing what’s hot is bad for your food scene, that fits in with a lot of 2017 forecasting: “What’s been happening here foretells L.A.’s future, unless restaurant-goers change their ways, and it’s not a happy picture. The numbers don’t lie: New York has fewer full-service restaurants this year than it did last year or the year before that. Everything moves faster than it used to, including closures, thanks to people who would just as soon eat last month’s lettuce as patronize last month’s headline restaurant.”


Mike ate in Charleston SC all last week, and says do not miss the fried chicken at Husk, while Hominy Grill was the one place to earn a return visit—when the kids wanted to go back for the last Sunday breakfast.