Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #40: Bruce Sherman

Lincoln Park, New American, The Big Heat No Comments »

40
Bruce Sherman
Chef/Partner, North Pond; Chefs Collaborative and Green City Market Boards
Sherman is actually the antithesis of hot. He’s one of, if not the most deliberative and intelligent chefs we know. But, that attention to detail and nuance makes him one of Chicago’s best advocates for locally farmed high-quality food.

 

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The Big Heat #42: Joe Catterson

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Photo: Lara Kastner

42
Joe Catterson
GM/Sommelier/Wine Director, Alinea
If you don’t truly understand wine and food pairings—and few really do beyond, say, a big red and a hunk of ribeye—go see Joe. Like most sommeliers Catterson has an incredible palate and taste memory, but he also has the discipline of a monk. If he can’t pinpoint a perfect pairing with his brain, he’ll open up twenty bottles and taste them side by side with the course he’s trying to nail. In the end, whether it’s matching Slovenian Veliko Bianco (who knew they made wines in Slovenia?) with orange and lemongrass broth or hooking up a funky sherry with turtle soup, his pairings are as logical as ice-cold milk and a chocolate-chip cookie.

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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.

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The Big Heat #48: Carrie Nahabedian

New American, River North, The Big Heat No Comments »

Photo: Paul Strabbing

48
Carrie Nahabedian
Owner, Naha
Though her restaurant is ten years old, her blend of Armenian, Mediterranean and California cuisine is as fresh as it was the day it opened. She’s also built an incredibly smart and influential team—her cousin Michael is one of the great wine dudes of the city—and recently garnered a Michelin star. She’s also the only woman inducted into the Chicago Chefs Hall of Fame.

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The Big Heat #50: Charlie Trotter

Lincoln Park, New American, The Big Heat No Comments »

50
Charlie Trotter
Chef/Owner, Charlie Trotter’s, Trotter’s to Go
He shuttered most of his new concepts. He only got two Michelin stars. The New York Times called him a “leader left behind.” We know. That being said, every person on this list stands on his shoulders. He made this cow town into a chow town and for that alone he belongs on this list. If Charlie calls, people still pick up the phone. He can do whatever he wants. It’s only a question of what he wants. So, we wait Chaz. What exactly do you want?

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My Favorite Things: Vegas Edition

Burgers, Hot Dogs/Sausages, Little Italy, Near North, New American, Pastry, River North, Steakhouse, West Loop No Comments »

Girl and the Goat

By Michael Nagrant

If he weren’t dead, I’d sure like to have a few words with Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable about the weather in Chicago this past July. I mean I’m sure in 1779, Lake Michigan’s unbesmirched shores were breathtaking and all that. But, as the area’s first non-indigenous settler (usually this means Native American-exploiting white dude—but, refreshingly du Sable was a black Haitian who married a Potawatomi woman and became a high-ranking member of the tribe) Du Sable must have known (he set up a fur-trading post on the north bank of the Chicago River) that, when the pelt business dropped off in July because it was hot and swampy and no one wanted to drape their sweaty bodies in beaver, well, the sticky heat might also be a minor annoyance for future generations. Of course, Du Sable was no Al Gore, and thus couldn’t be expected to anticipate global warming, let alone invent the internet, and so I guess the jungle climes we’ve endured most of this past month aren’t entirely his fault.

Still, what to do when my curly blond fro is frizzin’ like one of those “just add water” sponges that turns in to a four-foot-wide dinosaur from the humidity? Head to Las Vegas in August. Crazy, right? Well, as the joke goes, it’s a dry heat.

Actually, while I’ll relish swimming next to Elvis-jumpsuited dudes in huge football-field-sized pools while sipping on suntan-lotion-scented pina coladas in the shade of fake plastic architecture, my real intent, as it always is, is to discover the real side of Vegas food. While I’ll check out French masters Joel Robuchon’s and Guy Savoy’s places and local boy Shawn McClain’s new Vegas spot Sage, I’ll also be out searching for what some consider the best Northern Thai food in America at Lotus of Siam and the Japanese charcoal-grilled fare at Raku. However, while I’m baking in that arid desert, I couldn’t leave you without a few of my new favorite things. Every single one of these tasty treats is as sure a bet as a pair of panties gracing a Tom Jones concert stage. See you in a few weeks. Viva Chicago, baby! Read the rest of this entry »

Believe the Hype: Heather Terhune’s Sable is an overnight sensation (ten years in the making)

New American, River North 7 Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Public Enemy was right: Don’t believe the hype. I don’t usually take my cues from a dude who spent nine weeks in Rikers Island for unpaid parking tickets, but when it comes to restaurant PR, Flavor Flav is on to something.

I usually stay away from the coddling beast, the well of untruthful paid advertising, but a few Friday nights ago I fell hard. I’d eaten this chef’s food twice already and it was really inconsistent, and every time his PR people insisted my experience was a blip. And indeed, the guy had everyone on Check Please! bowing at his toque. Most reviewers in town, including the Yoda-like sages at the big dailies were declaring him a Jedi Master with their three stars. 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 »

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 »

Dinner Dynasty: The surprisingly, unconventionally great Han 202

Bridgeport, New American, Pan-Asian 1 Comment »

hanawningBy Michael Nagrant

The Bridgeport blue-hair mafia is not happy. This gathering of neighborhood ladies bedecked in sweatsuits, tattoos and cut-off jeans who came in search of “an egg roll and some good fried rice” is expressing confusion over what a “tasting menu” is and disgust over Han 202 restaurant’s “extraordinarily expensive” $20 price tag (for five courses). After a bout of sighs and bickering, they decide to stay, but spend the next ten minutes having their waitress discuss the relative spice level of all fifteen entrée choices.

The thing is, who could blame them. Not only does Bridgeport not have a restaurant like this, but there’s nothing like it in all of Chicago. Eclectic (along with phenomenal and to die for) are probably the most overused expressions in all of food reviewing, and yet there’s no better word to describe Han 202. Chef Guan Chen and his wife Yan operate so idiosyncratically, they make the peculiar Schwa look like as professional as Charlie Trotters. Read the rest of this entry »