Dining and food culture in Chicago

Opening Soon: Billy Lawless Takes On Southern Italian Cuisine with Coda di Volpe

Italian, Lakeview, News etc. No Comments »
Billy Lawless, Chef Chris Thompson, and Ryan O’Donnell

Billy Lawless, Chef Chris Thompson and Ryan O’Donnell

The cranes and forklifts navigating construction at the corner of Southport and Henderson in Lakeview aren’t toting flooring or brick just now. Instead, they’re hoisting a massive Italian-made wood-fired oven into the basement kitchens at Coda di Volpe, the Southern Italian restaurant that Billy Lawless is opening this summer with partner Ryan O’Donnell (of Gemini Bistro and the now-closed Rustic House) and San Francisco chef import, Chris Thompson. Read the rest of this entry »

Master Pasta Maker: Sahro Mollim’s Long Journey from Mogadishu to Chicago

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Alisa Miriam Roadcup, Executive Director, Heshima Kenya, and Sahro Mollim

Alisa Miriam Roadcup, executive director, Heshima Kenya, and Sahro Mollim

By Sarah Conway

Seven years ago, Sahro Mollim was a teen living at a safe house in the bustling city of Nairobi, Kenya. Now, two years after resettling in the United States, Mollim holds the start of an impressive culinary resume thanks to support from Hogsalt Hospitality, one of Chicago’s largest restaurant groups. Hogsalt, headed by Brendan Sodikoff, owns the popular Gilt Bar and Au Cheval, as well as Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf, where Mollim has enjoyed personal and professional success as a prep cook preparing pasta.

Here’s how all that happened.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Chef Recommends: Carolina Diaz of Filini

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Carolina Diaz/Photo: Lauren Knight

Carolina Diaz/Photo: Lauren Knight

When you go out to a restaurant, you’re hoping to get a taste of the best the kitchen has to offer. A menu can be a mystery, so why not go straight to the source? Chef Carolina Diaz of Filini Bar & Restaurant tells us a little about herself… and what she recommends you try from her menu.

Diaz started cooking at a young age, mostly out of necessity. In a family of six, someone had to make dinner, and that usually fell to Diaz and her sister. It wasn’t until later in life that cooking began to have an allure of its own. The Food Network was on the rise with its chef-focused shows; the stars made cooking look “so glamorous,” Diaz says. She was hooked. She dropped out of her psychology studies and enrolled in culinary school. Read the rest of this entry »

The Perfect Cure: West Loop Salumi Brings a Taste of Italy to Chicago

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Drying room at West Loop Salumi

Drying room at West Loop Salumi

By Amber Gibson

Krug salami, anyone? It may be a little early to start planning holiday parties but soon you’ll be able to get some bubbly and Krug-flavored salami from West Loop Salumi to ring in the New Year. This will be a new flavor and recipe for Greg Laketek, who opened Illinois’ only USDA-certified salumeria in July and has been doing brisk business since. West Loop Salumi is already available at restaurants and retail locations including Benny’s Chop House, G.E.B., Travelle, Lush Wine & Spirits, TWO and House of Glunz.

Laketek’s Krug-flavored salami, which will be released in December, is a project with Moët Hennessy and Plum Market, with whom he’ll also be making Numanthia Termanthia and Numanthia Termes Chorizo for a November release. Most of the salumi at Plum Market is refrigerated, but Laketek’s salumi comes straight from his West Loop drying chambers and no refrigeration is necessary. The meat is good for up to a year, “but it’s at its best straight from the chamber,” Laketek says.

As a kid, Laketek spent summer in Italy with his extended family in Centobuchi, Italy, a hundred miles east of Rome. “All their friends owned farms,” he says. “They would make their own wine, bread, pasta and salumi.” Laketek went back to study in Italy as an undergraduate, and after spending two years running his own construction consulting firm, he says he was burnt out doing something he didn’t love. In a sharp twist, Laketek attended Kendall College and decided to open a salumeria, spotting an opportunity to add something new to Chicago’s already vibrant culinary scene. Read the rest of this entry »

The Good Twin: The Ricobenes try their hand at finer dining with Gemellato Ristorante

Bridgeport, Italian, News etc. No Comments »

Under the shade of a crisscrossing concrete canopy, a sliver of 26th Street runs from South Canal Street to I-94 beneath the intersecting Dan Ryan and Stevenson Expressway overpasses. Here, in the far reaches of the Bridgeport, Chinatown and Armour Square neighborhoods, the Ricobene family has carved out their flavorful nerve center.

The Ricobene family has maintained a presence on the 200 block of West 26th since 1946, when Rosario and Antonia opened a walk-up vegetable stand that quickly grew into the big-eats Italian food destination that it is today. Read the rest of this entry »

The Big Heat #35: Tony Mantuano

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Photo: Jeff Kauck

35
Tony Mantuano
Chef, Spiaggia, Spiaggia Café, Terzo Piano, Mangia Trattoria (Kenosha)
One of the so-called FCOs or Favorite Chefs of Obama, Mantuano’s continued, along with his excellent executive chef Sarah Grueneberg, to turn out some of the finest upscale Italian food in the country at Spiaggia and his Art Institute outpost Terzo Piano. He’s also upped his Q rating with appearances on “Top Chef Masters.”

See details on the The Big Heat

Divine Davanti: Little Italy can always use more Italian joints like this

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Roasted chicken

By Michael Nagrant

Anyone who’s seen “The Godfather” or watched an episode or two of “The Sopranos” knows that people like to send messages at Italian restaurants. So what’s a food writer to think when a food runner at the new Davanti Enoteca in Little Italy “accidentally” tips a full glass of Chianti into his lap and all over his brand new white Puma tennis shoes?

I mean I wasn’t worried I was gonna get whacked. This is Taylor Street, Chicago. The worst thing that happens around here is that Oscar DeAngelo, the unofficial mayor of Little Italy, will yell at you at a community policing meeting.

I was concerned however, that maybe I’d been made, that the affable owner, Scott Harris (Mia Francesca, Purple Pig), holding court at the bar made from 180-year-old refurbished barn wood and lit by the glint from a medieval-looking metal-cart-wheel-like lantern, was on to me and wanted to let me know that maybe he didn’t like my pan of his Neapolitan pizza joint, Nella, a few months ago.

The truth is, though I had to eat the rest of my meal with a soggy crotch emanating a bouquet of blackberry and tobacco, I was kinda happy, for this meant my anonymity was probably intact. Even as insignificant as my critical voice is in the age of Yelp, I know even the most vengeful owners probably wouldn’t go so far as to attack me during the first few weeks after opening a new restaurant. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Resto 100: Top Five Takeout Joints

American, Irving Park, Italian, Loop, Mediterranean, Near North, Pan-Asian, Seafood, South Deering, West Town No Comments »

A basic criterion for Resto 100 has been that a restaurant has to have real tables and silverware or a significant place to sit down. Considering a place like Hot Doug’s makes the list, service is generally optional. And, yes, we cheated and totally made an exception for Al’s Beef on Taylor. Still, in the last year, there have been a couple of new places (and lots of old ones) that were generally takeout-only that we really thought worthy of the Resto 100, and so here they are, our top five takeout joints. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Chicago Restaurants, 2000-2009

Brazilian, Burgers, Chinese, Contemporary Comfort, French, Guides & Lists, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Ice Cream, Italian, Japanese, Mexican, New American, Organics, Pastry, Punk Haute, Seafood, Steakhouse, Trends & Essays, Vegetarian 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant

Avenues

Avenues

Since 2000, Chicago has gone from being a Rat Pack-worthy steak-and-potato-slinging stereotype to a destination for international culinary travelers. Chicago’s affordability, its diners’ willingness to suspend disbelief and its proximity to the sublime bounty of the Midwest all play a role in that transformation. Most important to the renaissance are the places that put everything together to inspire our collective culinary imagination, the best restaurants that opened in Chicago this decade.

Alinea
The history of cuisine was written in the kitchens of millions of chefs, but we only remember a few by name, guys like Escoffier, Careme and Robuchon. There are probably only three Chicago chefs, as of now, who have a shot at making that list: Jean Banchet, Charlie Trotter and Grant Achatz. Though Achatz started making a name for himself at Trio, Alinea was the game changer, the restaurant where every aspect of dining from menus and silverware to the wine service and emotional content of the food was reimagined.

Avec
Love it or hate it, this was ground zero for what is now today’s communal table free-for-all. More importantly, Avec was the place that launched a thousand salumi, the fringe of Chicago’s now-burgeoning charcuterie movement. Koren Grieveson’s restrained soulful style is still the late-night hang of choice for chefs.

Avenues
You probably don’t remember Gerhard Doll or David Hayden, the chef-stewards who drove the good ship Avenues through a successful seafood-driven era, but there’s no doubt you won’t forget the Pop Rock and foie-lollipop fantasia, the convenience-store chic of Graham Elliot Bowles. Without Bowles’ whimsical, accessible style, the emotional roller coaster of Grant Achatz’s cooking and the theater at Homaro Cantu’s Moto likely wouldn’t have quite captured the nation’s imagination, nor garnered Chicago cuisine the countless magazine features it received mid-decade. Today, Curtis Duffy, the culinary love child of Achatz, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters, is executing some of the most exciting cuisine Chicago has to offer. Read the rest of this entry »