Buzz List for November 21, 2016

Ruby puts Smyth over Loyalist, Smoke Show fizzles, how the Fat Rice cookbook was cooked up, and in search of long-lost chicken.

Michael Gebert
Dessert at Smyth
FAT RICE: BEHIND THE MUSHU

Pour a cup of coffee and settle into a comfy chair for this one: Chandra Ram at Plate uses the Fat Rice cookbook to tell the story of how cookbooks get made. Partly this would be interesting no matter the specific book, at least to those interested in how media happens, but it’s great that it’s this book and its interesting subject and authors in particular (versus, say, 101 Easy Low-Carb Recipes)—there’s a great anecdote about shooting a dish in the snow, not that it ever snows in Macau, but it does in Chicago, and that encapsulates what the book is about, the meeting of those two worlds at Fat Rice.

TONY HU SENTENCED

There’s a dark joke here about how maybe Tony Hu turned out to be the governor of Chinatown instead: like so many of Illinois’ chief executives (but so far no mayors), he’s been sentenced to a year and a day in prison and a $100,000 fine for evading taxes via a scheme involving false restaurant receipts. (Tribune)

UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS

Jeff Ruby usually reviews a pair of restaurants, and in the case of Smyth & The Loyalist his choice is made for him: “Every dish at Smyth flaunts deep, unforgettable flavors—some discombobulating, others harmonious. All spark genuine exhilaration, like a Halloween haunted house where the knowledge that you’re in no real danger doesn’t lessen the thrill one iota… Smyth is in the running for the best new restaurant of 2016. It may be only three months old, but I already trust the smart operation to take us all somewhere we’ve never been.”

Surprisingly to me at least, he’s much less fond of what’s downstairs: “The Loyalist is not half as good as it thinks it is—as a restaurant, anyway—and all the more underwhelming given the magic unfolding upstairs. Maybe I’m too old to appreciate the basement setting, a hard and unforgiving space featuring black walls, black tables, black booths, and ridiculous noise. I do appreciate the menu’s ambitions, which are greater than those of most Bars with Real Food. Any pub that serves grilled squid salad has more on its mind than charcuterie boards. Even the requisite biscuit offering—a terrific, buttery one—comes with nduja butter and ramp honey. Too often, though, the food fails to set itself apart from the crowd.”

SMOKE SNOW

Michael Nagrant talks a lot to Myron Mixon about bringing competition barbecue to Myron Mixon’s Smoke Show, but the Wrigleyville restaurant suggests that the tricks that wow judges who have to taste 43 briskets in a row may not work for actual diners—it’s like a restaurant run by a food stylist:

“There was cupcake chicken ($9.99 for 2), boneless chicken thighs smoked in a cupcake mold skin-side down in a moat of butter. When they emerge from the smoker, they look like thick mounds of cupcake frosting. ‘In competition, one of the judging categories is appearance. I got this idea to cook chicken thighs—and most guys use thighs because they have a lot of vessels and flavor—in a cupcake mold so they’d come out uniform,’ Mixon said. The flesh was juicy and had a hint of smoke, but the skin was soggy and gelatinous. I asked Mixon if the skin should be like that. ‘In competition, the judges have to be able to bite through skin, and the way you make that happen is to either make the skin super crispy or soft with butter,’ he said. ‘The fastest way to dry out meat is to cook the skin really crisp, and I’d rather have softer skin than dry out the meat.’”

WHAT DOES THE FOX SAY

Mike Sula finds that Coda di Volpe chef Chris Thompson left a present on the table: “One thing that clearly sets this menu apart is the presentation of a bottle of house-made Calabrian chile oil. It shows a remarkable lack of ego in an accomplished chef that he would arm his guests with the unlimited ability to alter the flavor of his food… I applied that oil to nearly every little plate I tried: the seared spice-crusted tuna, topped with a cool celery-heart salad, already fragrant with orange oil; the smoky charred grilled octopus, as tender as its accompanying fingerling potatoes; the soft but pliable mortadella and prosciutto meatballs; the crispy deep-fried bucatini pasta fritters.”

BAD HUNTER, GOOD EATS

Heather Schroering says Bad Hunter is like a Tinder date. Or something, you kids and your crazy MySpace, but anyway, she talks with “vegetable-focused” Bad Hunter and finds a Whopper of a tale: “I’ve met enough oozing blobs of vegetable mush disguised as burgers between two pieces of bread. This was not that. This was a dense, textured double patty of black beans glued together with cheddar and topped with more cheese, sweet tomato jam (genius!), raw onions, iceberg lettuce (don’t scoff) and mustard aioli on a charred brioche bun smashed to the perfect bun-to-burger ratio. It was a satisfying Burger King Whopper for the vegetarian (or add bacon, $4).” (Redeye)

SOMMBUZZULIST

What makes a “buzz-worthy” sommelier? I’m not sure, but I’m all for somebody digging into who the people are at restaurants these days, and your wine experience at some top restaurants will be better after you read John Lenart’s list of the somms at 10 restaurants (because Alinea has four of them, there’s more than 10 individuals, but that in itself is interesting). (Chicagoist)

BASEMENT TAPES

On the new episode of the Chewing podcast, Louisa Chu and Monica Eng visit the Richland Center food court, subject of this Fooditor guide—and it’s fun to hear a different perspective on the offerings (they eat some of the same things I wrote about, though not my favorite, the jiangbing, and they got their lamb skewers at the wrong stand if they wanted them charcoal grilled). Either way the discussion may be academic, though—someone I follow on Twitter said the whole thing’s been shut down for pest problems at the moment. Anyone have more info?

PRAYING MANDIS

Monica Eng uses a reader’s query for the chicken recipe at an old place called Mandis the Chicken King that closed in the 1970s as an example to show how you do the detective work to reconstruct an old recipe. They get pretty close, but also make this wise observation from the Trib’s Bill Daley: “‘Sometimes the recipe takes on this aura that it was much more delicious than it really was,’ Daley said. ‘And when you’re a kid, your taste buds are one way and they can be different when you are 50 and sometimes memories burnish the palate.'”

BARRACO NAPOLI

Say farewell to a century-old bakery of the kind they don’t make any more, as Evergreen Park’s Naples Bakery closes to allow Barraco’s (a restaurant with a family relation to the legendary Vito & Nick’s) to expand. (Patch)

FISH'LL FIX IT

The British reviewer A.A. Gill, normally a rather harsh sort, tells his readers he has cancer and then goes for one of his favorite meals in a warm, witty, humane piece. Read it.

WHAT MIKE ATE

After interviewing  Ryan Pfeiffer at Blackbird, and shooting his Key Ingredient episode, but never really eating his food, I decided it was time to finally do so and went in for a simple lunch (Blackbird’s $25 lunch remains a great deal). Which wound up being him sending me about another lunch’s worth of courses. Anyway, I’ve always been a fan of Blackbird, who isn’t, but I was sure impressed with the way he creates dishes—delicate and yet with assertive flavors that really push your expectations (an almond sauce with sturgeon sounds like a mistake, yet it worked surprisingly well). That place could be good for another few years!

Got a tip or a link for Buzz List? Send it to [email protected]