If anyone can get that super-obscure literary reference, I will buy them breakfast at Arbor. Anyway, an inspired pairing of new and old restaurants getting reviewed at Chicago magazine. First, Fooditor fave Arbor (I was actually there the day Chicago mag was shooting pics for this review). Jeff Ruby admits it’s a not for everyone place, especially when they’re quizzing you about your likes for the midwestern omakase menu: “Some might find the attention charming. Others might find it irritating. Some might be terrified.” But he’s pretty favorable: “Hollander gives the impression he’s casually messing about with ingredients. But that shortchanges the thought that goes into stunners such as the fatty white tuna tacos with giant paper-thin radish slices acting as tortillas, pickled lotus root playing the part of salsa, and an avocado purée studded with crumbled corn chips and sesame seeds… This sounds precious, and it is. But in a neighborhood where residents want to know their farmer and the farmer’s chicken personally, Arbor takes Logan Square to the next logical place.”

Then he goes back to the original know-your-farmer-and-your-chicken place in Loan Square—Lula Cafe. “Seventeen years later, Lula is the granddaddy of a neighborhood overrun with the same DIY hipster vibe that stirred up Silver Lake in Los Angeles and countless pockets of Brooklyn… My favorite Lula offerings these days tend to happen at dinnertime. Chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage does striking dishes such as a creamy-crunchy risotto that she stains jet black with squid ink, mixes with Parmesan from Reggio and black trumpet mushrooms, and tops with tender baby squid. Pure textural dynamite. And her soups, such as a bubbly smoked salsify bisque oozing Widmer six-year-aged cheddar, are quietly remarkable.”


Nah, nobody gets Scroogey with Oyster Bah, or Naoki Sushi either, both in Vettel’s view the spawn of Shaw’s. Phil Vettel finds the selections at Naoki a bit tame—”a step up from Shaw’s, clearly, but not yet a giant leap forward.  High-quality product and artistic presentation still count for something, however… Naoki’s sashimi plates are particularly pretty, slices of flawless fish arranged in a starfish pattern and sparingly seasoned. Yes, three of the five options are salmon, tuna and hamachi, but the flavor and mouthfeel are beautiful.”

As for Oyster Bah, “It would be a disservice to think of Oyster Bah as a ‘Shaw’s Light’; it’s actually a more focused version of Shaw’s, which opened as an East-Coast-inspired concept but broadened over the years… Best of the [entrees] is probably the shrimp and grits. Six hefty shrimp, Parmesan grits with just the right texture, and lobster-tomato gravy. I inhaled this dish.” (Tribune)


Michael Nagrant is enraptured by the cured fish at Snaggletooth: “What you might know of cured salmon, if anything at all, is that sad vacuum-packed orange mush tucked away in the refrigerated section of your neighborhood grocery store. Jennifer Kim (Blackbird, Nico Osteria) and Bill Montagne (C Chicago), owners and partners at Snaggletooth, a tiny new restaurant in Lakeview, don’t sell mush. They purvey the real deal: delicately spiced, heavenly thin, sustainably fished, super-fresh cured fish. It’s a rare and addictive addition to Chicago’s deli scene.”


He’s brewery-less, but not for much longer—Rick Bayless announced lots of details about his long-awaited brewery project at last on his Facebook page. Chicagoist analyzes the details here.


Aimee Levitt shares the good news that Loba is a winning substitute for much-loved Bad Wolf Coffee: “Loba Pastry + Coffee is not Bad Wolf Part II, but rather its own entity, with some of the same DNA… And there is still kouign amann! Taylor fills hers with ham and cheese, a twist on the Monte Cristo sandwich. It seems almost sacrilegious to mess with the perfection that is kouign amann, but the savory element works surprisingly well.” (Reader)


I was just talking about WBEZ killing off perfectly good podcasts involving Monica Eng, and thus underusing her, so I’m pleased to see her back doing the kind of investigative journalism she’s so good at—the story of a professor who just kinda forgot to tell anyone how much funding he gets from Big GMO.


Nick Kindelsperger joins in the general praise for Immm Rice and Beyond—”In many ways, Immm is less of a restaurant and more of an edible education. If your idea of Thai food is limited to sticky-sweet pad Thai, you’re in for a genuine shock. But even if you know the difference between tom kha kai and nam pla prik, you’re bound to find something unexpected.” (Tribune)


Always a fan of Ina Pinkney’s breakfast column in the Trib, especially when it has one of my favorite friendly neighborhood places in it—Grandma J’s Local Kitchen in Humboldt Park.


Big news in In The Weeds podcast #50, which I wrote about for the Reader. First, chef-podcaster Ben Randall has left the pseudonymous C.J.’s, the institutional kitchen he worked for, and second, he feels like he’s covered his own life enough, and it’s becoming more of an interview show. If you like really deep insider stuff about kitchen life, check it out.


Finally went to The Promontory, the Hyde Park joint from the Longman etc. team. Generally the smoky porkiness and hipness of everything was a good thing, easy to see why it’s a hit and well-deserved—but I have to say, a couple of dishes were just too deconstructed. When something is called a Kentucky Burgoo, that’s a stew, and “stew” usually means that the parts had met each other more than 30 seconds before it reached your table. It was like getting a list of the ingredients in place of the dish, even if some of them were really tasty in their own right.