Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #45: Giuseppe Tentori

River North, Seafood, The Big Heat 1 Comment »

45
Giuseppe Tentori
Chef, Boka and GT Fish & Oyster
Value pricing and casual small-plate concepts are all the rage these days, but with this movement often comes tradeoffs in execution level on the plate.  Not so at GT Fish where Tentori is executing time-consuming terrines and fine brunoise dicing on garnishes, stuff you rarely see outside of four-star temples.

See details on the The Big Heat

A Fish Story: Chicago’s seafood history lives on in its shrimp houses

Fast Food/Street Food, Seafood, Wicker Park 2 Comments »

Joey's Shrimp House

By Michael Nagrant

Though it wasn’t exactly Cape Cod, Chicago did alright in the fresh-catch business. Prior to World War II, it was one of the largest seafood shipping points in the country with twenty-two large wholesalers operating on the banks of the Chicago and Calumet Rivers. In the thirties and forties, Lake Michigan trout used to be more abundant than long lines at Apple stores on iPhone launch day. On April 6, 1951, a fishing tug named the Iva T hauled in 2,000 pounds of perch and dropped them off at the Lawrence Schweig’s Fish Company located at 2120 South Canal. Restaurant barges and, during prohibition, speakeasies served thirsty fisherman and lumber and ore haulers on Lake Michigan.

During that heyday, the fish house or shrimp shack also sprung up, serving deep-fried, smoked and fresh seafood. Troha’s flourished in Little Village in the 1920s. In 1948, brothers-in-law Sid Kotlick and Len Toll launched Calumet Fisheries, the now-legendary fish house sitting over the 95th Street Bridge where Jake and Elwood Blues eventually jumped their Bluesmobile in the “Blues Brothers” movie. Before Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. preyed on tourists, locals used to swing over to Rocky’s Bait Shop just south of Navy Pier for fried smelt and oysters. 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 »

Hell Yes: Gordon Ramsay survivor triumphs with Big and Little’s

Burgers, Fast Food/Street Food, River North, Seafood No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

The only thing I’m more ashamed of than my Hot Pocket addiction is that I wasted hundreds of hours of my life watching the television cooking battle royale, “Hell’s Kitchen.” Host Gordon Ramsay, the vicious foul-mouthed Brit who has more angry scowl lines on his face than a geriatric Shar Pei, is a terrible man. If you’re not familiar, and if you aren’t, you should be proud, Ramsay’s a decorated Michelin-starred chef from Britain who made his bones in America dehumanizing a long procession of cooks on TV, calling them animal names (donkey, his favorite) or inanimate objects (“fucking donut,” my favorite).

Mostly Ramsay’s continuing the cycle of French-brigade-begotten kitchen violence and dealing with daddy issues he hasn’t resolved with his own mentor Marco Pierre White (a legendary chef who’s machismo makes Anthony Bourdain look about as tough as Kim Kardashian) who was rumored to once have had the young Ramsay slumped in the corner of his kitchen crying on the floor.

But, as when an Elvis-impersonating governor allegedly sells an effing golden United States senate seat or a lieutenant governor nominee maybe assaults his prostitute girlfriend with a knife, “Hell’s Kitchen” is just one more train wreck from which it’s tough to look away. 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 »

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 »

Gabbin’ with Gras: L20’s tireless Laurent Gras

Lincoln Park, Seafood No Comments »

grasBy Michael Nagrant

You can run Laurent Gras over, but you can’t stop him. Though Gras, the chef of L20 in Lincoln Park, was hit by a car while cycling earlier this year, he’s already resumed a nineteen-hour work day and kicks out four-hour bike rides on his days off. In the last two months he also picked up best new restaurant honors from Esquire magazine and Newcity. I checked in with Gras to see how he was doing post-recovery and to see what was afoot at Chicago’s high-end seafood emporium.

Tell me about the cycling accident.
I was on my road bike and after four or five hours of cycling, I was coming back to the city and…when I got to the middle of the intersection I got [hit] by a car at about forty [miles per hour]. I had seven broken ribs, one of my lungs collapsed, [I had a] fractured pelvis, a big cut in my back. I [had] to go to [the emergency room] and have surgery. It was a horrible accident. I’m still recovering. Read the rest of this entry »

The Captain of C-House: The cuisine of Prince Marcus Samuelsson

Gold Coast, Seafood No Comments »

chouse-004By Michael Nagrant

If, as restaurant lore suggests, many chefs come from the ranks of artists, bandits and miscellaneous misfits, then Marcus Samuelsson, executive chef of C-House and Marc Burger at Macy’s is, by comparison, a prince. The youngest chef to receive three stars from the New York Times, he’s also an entrepreneur, a TV personality, a cookbook author and a tireless ambassador for Swedish and African culinary and cultural heritage. He’s as much an intellectual as he is a master culinary craftsman. More importantly, those of you who read my burger round-up a few weeks ago know he also makes a mean grilled patty. Samuelsson was in town last week to work on some new dishes at C-House and I caught up with him to see what’s on his mind.

You opened up Merkato 55 (in NYC) which honors your African heritage, and of course you’re famous for Scandinavian cooking at Aquavit which honors your Swedish upbringing. Is cooking in one particular discipline more satisfying? You were born in Ethiopia, but maybe you have more nostalgia and memories of growing up Swedish since that’s where you were raised?
Africa will always be a part of me and Sweden will always be a part of me. They are also both minority cuisines. Read the rest of this entry »

Dipping in the L20: Is this Chicago’s best restaurant?

Lincoln Park, Seafood No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

Pour my beer in a Solo cup and give me a spit-roasted pork taco and I’m a happy man. It’s not that I don’t appreciate luxury dining, but the balance between food and other details at the high end has increasingly tipped toward silly. Given the current climate, it’s probably only a matter of time before someone offers high colonics in lieu of a post-meal digestif.

Couple this kind of silliness with $4 gas prices, disappearing rice and wheat, increased prices on European wines, and top it all with $20-plus pizzas, and it’s enough to make a food lover grab a leg of prosciutto and a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano and head for a cave.
Read the rest of this entry »