Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #43: Billy Lawless

Gastropub, Loop, New American, The Big Heat No Comments »

43
Billy Lawless
Owner, Henri and The Gage
Aside from Next, Henri is probably the only high-end restaurant to have launched in the last two years. While everyone else was out pimping jeans-preferred beer and pork emporiums, Lawless’ fearless investment in Louis Sullivan-inspired decorative plaster, glinting chandeliers, and sea-foam velvet chairs and impeccable service has paid off.

See details on the The Big Heat

Resto 100: Chicago’s essential restaurants of 2010

African, Albany Park, American, Andersonville, Argentinian, Auburn Gresham, Avondale, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Beverly, Bistro, Brazilian, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bronzeville, Bucktown, Burbank, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Caribbean, Chatham, Chinatown, Chinese, Cicero, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Czech, Deli, East Garfield Park, Edgewater, Elmwood Park, Ethiopian, Evanston, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, German, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hermosa, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Indian, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Japanese, Kenwood, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Lithuanian, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near North, Near South Side, Nepalese, New American, Oak Park, Pakistani, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Puerto Rican, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, Sandwiches, Seafood, Soul Food, South Loop, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, West Town, Wicker Park No Comments »

Resto 100 is, as always, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

As last year, when we first dropped Charlie Trotter’s, we’ve continued to cull the old guard of the high-end, both as a reflection of the economic times and as a call to action for such spots to up their game. This year, TRU, MK and Boka didn’t escape the chopping block. While we don’t deny their importance in creating the food scene we have today, there are many other places we’d rather send folks—for example, Sepia, Bonsoiree or Cibo Matto (where, ironically, chef Todd Stein is a vet of MK).

Rick Tramonto and Gale Gand are two of the most successful cooks this city has, but neither spends a significant amount of time at TRU. This is not so much an observation as it’s a cry for the fact that we really miss Rick’s cooking. We appreciate his cookbooks and that he tried to open a nationwide restaurant chain, but with that not working out, why not return to his roots? It should also be noted that Chef de Cuisine Tim Graham was doing some incredibly innovative work, but was recently transferred to Brasserie Jo.

Boka, which we loved for its Charlie Trotteresque complexity, has frankly been a little inconsistent in its execution on recent visits, and frankly maybe too Trotteresque. We love the direction Perennial has gone, look forward to Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat, and think maybe they outshine the original jewel in Kevin Boehm and Rob Katz’s mini-empire.

That’s not to say you have to be cutting-edge innovative or perfect to make the list. For if you do something old-school or classic and you continue to do it well and you didn’t make your bones by being a game-changer, we honor that as well. This year, we added some overlooked classics including Marie’s Pizza, Ginza and, much to our own surprise, Hyde Park’s Calypso Café. Maybe the biggest surprise was Café des Architectes, which used to be as old-school as it gets. Martial Noguier and his pastry chef Suzanne Imaz are probably two of this city’s most underrated cooks, putting out slighty twisted old-school French gourmet plates flawlessly.

Likewise, the trend of informal, casual rustic dining doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere, and we dig that. To celebrate that movement we’ve added The Bristol, Paramount Room, Brown Trout, Kith and Kin and others.

The beauty of any list, though, is that you may not agree. So drop us a line and let us know.

—Michael Nagrant, Resto 100 editor Read the rest of this entry »

Good for the Goose: Chef John Manion steps up the cuisine at Chicago’s classic brewpub

Gastropub, Lincoln Park No Comments »
Pork slider

Pork slider

By Michael Nagrant

Why’s Russell Crowe wearing a chef’s coat and standing in the lobby at Goose Island Clybourn? Maybe craft brewing has finally reached the tipping point and he’s studying up for a role in a beer version of “Sideways.” I can see it now, Crowe bellied up to some tavern next to his sidekick, maybe Steve Zahn, bellowing, “I am NOT drinking any fucking IPA.”

Or, better yet, I thought, maybe Crowe’s studying up on Goose brewer/owner Greg Hall to portray him on some future biopic about the craft-brewing revolution. But, just as I started imagining Crowe, as Hall, locked in Jedi-like combat with the sudsy showman Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head brewery, I realized the Crowe lookalike is actually John Manion, former head chef of the old Wicker Park fave, Mas. But, damn, with his slicked-back tresses, sharply coiffed beard and brooding eyes he sure looks like a dead ringer for Ben Wade in “3:10 to Yuma.” Read the rest of this entry »

Resto 100: Chicago’s Essential Restaurants 2009

African, Albany Park, Andersonville, Auburn Gresham, Barbecue, Belmont-Cragin, Bistro, Breakfast/Brunch, Bridgeport, Bucktown, Burgers, Cajun/Creole, Chinatown, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, Costa Rican, Cuban, Deli, East Garfield Park, Events, Fast Food/Street Food, Filipino, French, Gastropub, Gold Coast, Greek, Greektown, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Humboldt Park, Hyde Park, Irving Park, Italian, Italian Beef, Korean, Lakeview, Lincoln Park, Lincoln Square, Little Italy, Logan Square, Loop, Mediterranean, Mexican, Middle Eastern, Near South Side, New American, Organics, Pakistani, Palestinian, Pan-Asian, Pilsen, Pizza, Punk Haute, Ravenswood, River North, River West, Rogers Park, Seafood, Senegalese, Soul Food, South Loop, South Shore, Spanish, Steakhouse, Sushi, Thai, Trends & Essays, Ukrainian Village, Uptown, Vegetarian, Vietnamese, West Loop, Wicker Park 4 Comments »
In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

In the kitchen at Alinea/Photo: Lara Kastner

Resto 100 is, as it has been in years past, a list of “essential” restaurants, which is most definitely not synonymous with “best.” We strive to reflect a world of dining in a constant state of innovative transition, to capture a snapshot of the state of the food world at this time.

In these particular hard economic times, we find ourselves dining out a lot more at the BYOBs, mom-and pop-spots and small ethnic joints than we do at the high end.  That being said, while we didn’t set out to consciously create a list to address our lighter wallets, it sure turned out that way.  More than ever, this list is a cross section of the wealth of culturally diverse and reasonably priced restaurants Chicago is lucky to have. Read the rest of this entry »

Mercury Falling: Michigan Avenue’s Gage has an identity crisis

Gastropub, Loop No Comments »

chow-picBy Michael Nagrant

I’ve taken measure of the Gage and were it a thermometer, the reading is pretty lukewarm. It’s surprising because as a critic, I’ve been about as slow as the Jamaican bobsled team in filing a review on this somewhat new Michigan Avenue restaurant. It opened in April, and everyone from the fleet Time Out to the tortoise-like Phil Vettel has weighed in. Almost all the reviews were overwhelmingly positive.

In fact, walking into the dark, woody and gleaming green ceramic-brick womb of this spot seemed like a fait accompli. I didn’t even have a review planned, rather I’d just hoped to score some uplifting tavern spirit on a dreary, drizzle-soaked afternoon. As a denizen of the West Loop, I’d really hoped to find a new regular watering hole, a place to park myself for a pint and a tasty bar meal whenever inspiration hit. The Gage is owned by the Lawless family, who among other holdings, own Lincoln Square’s Grafton Pub. I’ve been an ardent fan of their curry fries and burgers, so I figured this would be a great alternative to making the northern trek.

Things started out well. My server was a pretty affable guy, who either had answers about the menu or knew where to get them when we asked. Though he also looked and sounded a lot like Darryl Hammond’s Donald Trump impression on Saturday Night Live. Every time I looked at his hovering form, I feared he was going to tell me I was fired. Read the rest of this entry »