Animale, the casual spot from the Osteria Langhe duo of Chef Cameron Grant and owner Aldo Zaninotto, is one of my favorite openings of the year and I’m happy, though not surprised, to see that Mike Sula loves the offal-heavy menu too: “Animale gives Grant a venue in which to continue pushing the limits of the Italian cucina, starting from a solid foundation and taking off on creative flights of fancy… But the most astonishing thing about Animale is its devotion to offal in such a casual environment. Seared rabbit livers mingle with Madeira-sauteed mushrooms on crispy toast. Firm blood sausages are wrapped snug in puff pastry and served over black lentils—pigs in the blanket from the depths of the Inferno. Diced Wagyu beef tongue is braised in acidic puttanesca sauce, while stewy, clean-tasting tripe teems with jalapeños and pancetta. Juicy sweetbreads are wrapped in bacon, deep-fried tempura style, and served on crisp boats of endive with spicy honey mustard. Guts-to-go never tasted so good.” (Reader)


Or at least guys named Earl. Michael Nagrant found something to love at Pilsen’s Andorka’s Sandwich Shop: “As I bite into an Italian sausage sandwich dripping with gooey provolone, a cascade of olive-rich giardiniera flows out like a salty, earthy waterfall. The scent of tomato and garlic flares my nostrils. This is the ideal hero, the kind of red sauce-slathered gem you’d find in an Italian mom-and-pop shop on some lonely corner of Staten Island, N.Y., or at Fontano’s Subs in Chicago’s Little Italy. Or, as my brain is currently processing it, somewhere in Philadelphia’s 9th Street Italian Market. With just one mouthful of this sandwich, a montage of ‘Rocky’ flickers in my head.” (Redeye)


Lettuce Entertain You’s new Il Porcellino—finally someone brings Italian food to River North!—is for the whole family, says Elizabeth Atkinson in Time Out: “When you walk into il Porcellino, the new spot in the old Paris Club space, you’ll see all the trappings of a modern Italian restaurant—old snapshots and vintage liquor ads on the walls, fiascos hung from the ceiling with twinkling lights. The space is large, with a variety of table sizes and a generally warm atmosphere. And it works. It’s charming, it’s friendly, it’s exactly where you want to take your family for a crowd-pleasing meal where everyone can find a dish to enjoy.”


I firmly resist the excitement about chain restaurants—I feel about more Shake Shacks the way one reader of the manuscript of The Lord of the Rings felt when he loudly exclaimed, “Oh, not another f***ing elf!”—but if I have a sneaking interest in anything fast foody, it’s foreign chains trying to establish themselves in America. They’re as often weird as good, but that’s interesting in itself, so on that note… the Filipino fried chicken chain Jollibee (or as Eater puts it, Filipino powerhouse Jollibee) will open this Friday on Touhy in Skokie. Be one of the first 300 to get a plush toy of their mascot also named Jollibee. Hey, it beats chasing Pokemons into traffic.


Happy Hour has existed for one year now and the world has not ended! And if it does, it seems unlikely that this will have been the cause, what with all the other likely candidates just now. Peter Frost reports: “Happy hour’s legalization has opened new revenue streams, helped restaurant and bar owners lure lucrative private parties and host exclusive, ticketed events—and removed fear they’ll be slapped with a fine exceeding $1,000 for a New Year’s Eve Champagne toast, as happened to Girl & the Goat two years ago.”


At New City David Hammond asks some women chefs—who all participated in a women chefs dinner at The Boarding House, which has a woman chef, incidentally—about what it’s like being a woman chef and which they prefer, men or women chefs. Does everyone say they don’t have a preference? Pretty much. Women chefs are no dummies.


Zagat identifies 11 superheroes of the Chicago dining scene. Ok, it’s basically a who’s hot now piece, but the theme is fun and it has some new folks in it, check it out.



The Tribune’s coverage of burgers hasn’t turned up a lot that you didn’t know—hey, I even already knew Oyster Bah had a burger, because I took a fish-averse son of mine there once—but Bill Daley’s piece today on locally-spawned burger chains (besides that golden arches one) includes rare coverage of one of the area’s most overlooked success stories: Schoop’s, the 70-year-old northwest Indiana smash burger chain.


It may be a thin week for news above, but I’ve been busy! I went to a PR dinner at Blue Door Kitchen, the new Art Smith incarnation of Table 52, which aims overall to make healthier food—and did a pretty good job of it; only one dish had an obvious lack of butter or salt that screamed Healthy! (Dessert had no lack of butter at all, obvious or otherwise, but damn that banana-pineapple cake is good.)

I also went to a popup for Dan Salls’ upcoming Quiote at Eataly, which came with a surprise (even more of one than Mexican food at Eataly)—Jonathan Zaragoza (Birrieria Zaragoza, Sepia, The Budlong) helping out in the kitchen. The meal of Oaxaca flavors was fantastic and I can’t wait for Quiote to open… especially if Jonathan is working there too (“I’m glad to be making Mexican food again,” he said to me).

And I went to Americano 2211, sorta coffee bar, sorta lunch and breakfast place. It’s a short and somewhat eccentric menu, and a couple of years ago I could have seen my kids balking at it not having things they were used to, but they did fine with a combination of savory and sweet pastries (don’t miss the Sicilian almond cookies), while I had the much-acclaimed shakshouka, a simple but tasty dish of stewed tomatoes and red pepper with fried eggs in it. One thing it got me thinking about—the new thing of the iPad register where you tap your choice of tip as you pay assumes you know what kind of service you’re going to get, enough to judge what it deserves in advance. But at that point I couldn’t tell if it was a sit-down table service place, or mostly self-service, or what. Anyway, tipping makes even less sense when you have no idea yet what you’ll be tipping for, as is the case in more and more casual spots these days. I don’t fault Americano 2211 for that—it’s a weird system, period.