Dining and food culture in Chicago

The Big Heat #50: Charlie Trotter

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

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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Books that Cook: Selections of the season

News etc., Recipes No Comments »

By Michael Nagrant

April showers not only bring May flowers, but a flood of new cooking titles. While I’m usually psyched about all the new recipes, I also get overwhelmed to the point of a potential Xanax habit by the mountain of books to be read. Thankfully, there is a drinks portion of the cookbook market, and this year, inspired by Tony Abou-Ganim and Mary Elizabeth Faulkner’s “The Modern Mixologist,” it only took a few Negroni cocktails to calm me. Through the course of reading ten or so cookbooks, my recipe (and my liver) changed considerably. If you, like me, feel so inclined to lubricate your reading journey through the three tomes I recommend below, here’s my final Negroni recipe:

1) Make your own compound gin: Hit Binny’s for a 1.75-liter bottle of Smirnoff vodka ($16.99). Hit Spice House and procure 2.5 tbsp juniper berries, 1/8 tsp fennel seed, four black peppercorns, 1/4 tsp allspice, 3/4 tsp coriander. Hit up grocery store for 1 tsp fresh orange zest, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and one sprig rosemary. Read the rest of this entry »

What (Editorial) Obesity Hath Wrought

Trends & Essays 4 Comments »

Editor’s Note: This is a  part of a package of stories about the state of criticism. See the links at the end for the related stories.

Illustration: Brett Muller

By Michael Nagrant

A man without a country may die wistful, pining for a homeland. But he might also rejoice that he’s boundless, tethered to no cheap allegiances, and thus able to operate freer than most. Having come up as a journalist in the last four years, launching a career via the internet and now finding myself working often for the print establishment, I very much see myself as such a man. I do not revile Yelp, but I also do not have any nostalgia for the old-time newsroom.

So much of the establishment’s criticism of Yelp and its ilk has been one long apologist rant. Newspaper columnists and editorial pages deriding the rise of citizen or social media-based criticism sounded like a grandfather telling his grandson he walked uphill both ways to and from school every day ducking gunfire and a blinding rainstorm. And gosh darn it, he liked it.

Grandpa hated the old way, he got a bad case of arthritis because of it, and his life expectancy is much shorter. If he’d really been smart, he would have packed an AK-47, an umbrella and found a shortcut home. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Food & Drink

Cookbooks, Guides & Lists 3 Comments »

Top 5 New Fine Dining RestaurantsIMG_9074
Cibo Matto
Brown Trout
Kith and Kin
—Michael Nagrant

Top 5 New Informal Restaurants
Café Senegal
Han 202
—Michael Nagrant 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



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.

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.

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.

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 »

Kickin’ out the Jams: Taking breakfast to new heights

Breakfast/Brunch, Wicker Park No Comments »

jamtoastBy Michael Nagrant

I’m pretty sure I can pinpoint the moment Heavy D, aka Dwight Errington Myers, the rotund rapper who brought us the fine jingle “Now That We Found Love,” jumped the shark. It wasn’t when he portrayed the half-wit migrant worker Peaches alongside Tobey Maguire in the “Cider House Rules,” though that was close. It was much earlier in 1991, when he appeared on Michael Jackson’s “Dangerous” album rapping on the song “Jam.” Consider the heart of his rhyme on that ditty: “Mingle Mingle Jingle. In The Jungle. Bum Rushed The Door. 3 And 4’s In A Bundle.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Heavy also dances in the video alongside Chris “Mac Daddy” Kelly and Chris “Daddy Mac” Smith, aka Kriss Kross, originators of the backwards-clothes-wearing movement and prepubescent crooners of “Jump,” the #75 rated song on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the Nineties.” Oddly, Kriss Kross never actually sing on “Jam.” They just hobble around in their ill-fitting reversed baseball jerseys and flash baby gang signs throughout the video. Did the King of Pop mercilessly cut their vocal part? Read the rest of this entry »

Like a Good Neighbor: Grocery Bistro brings human comforts to the West Loop

New American, West Loop No Comments »


By Michael Nagrant

For five years, I’ve been a food writer without a country, or at least a great neighborhood restaurant to call my own.  You might protest that as a West Loop denizen, I’ve been luckier than most, what with the glittering jewel of restaurant row on Randolph and carnivorous visions of glistening lamb spit-roasting in my Greek-joint-littered backyard.  But expensive, even if inspired, lacquered glitterati-filled palaces and ethnic-focused conveyor-belt kitchens do not a neighborhood restaurant make.  The bustle of such places may boil the blood, but they do not stir one’s soul.

A real neighborhood place is the Hemingwayesque ideal, the café of his short story “A Clean, Well Lighted Place,” where an old man can drink his liquor or take his supper in the company of humanity, staving off the crippling loneliness of old age.  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 »

Duck Soup

Cuisine, etc. No Comments »

9781416556688By Michael Nagrant

He might eat foie gras on occasion, but even if you’re an animal-rights advocate, there’s no question that Mark Caro is a great human being.  The Chicago Tribune scribe and author of the new book “The Foie Gras Wars” gave a reading at Borders in Lakeview last Thursday. He opened the affair with a duck joke told by his young daughter, which engendered a bout of crying from his other daughter who was a tad jealous of her sibling’s moment in the limelight.

As the father of a 2-year-old, I’m pretty sure I would be terrified and would be shuttling off my son in a similar moment.  Instead, Caro gallantly humored his daughters, and continued to allow their occasional involvement, while he entertained with rapturous story and smartly answered questions for over an hour. Read the rest of this entry »

My Favorite Things: Oprah Diet Edition

Cuisine, etc. 1 Comment »

By Michael Nagrant

Well now that Oprah’s declared herself a fatty again and is back on the Bob Greene Best Life diet, you can bet she probably won’t be sharing any food finds during her next favorite-things segment. Have no fear. Though I’ve declared myself a fatty seven times over, I’m always here for you with the latest and greatest of my fabulous food favorites. Enjoy.

red-salt-w-packaging-400x310John Kelly Chocolates—Salted Caramel Truffle Fudge Bars—johnkellychocolates.com
I know that recommending $5 two-ounce chocolate bars in this economy is a lot like telling you to invest all your money in real estate or stocks right now, but trust me, when things go south on those other two investments, these bars will save you from jumping into the Chicago River. Due to a pretty bare bones Web site, I can’t tell you if these bars are organic or local. But, then again, these bars are so good Read the rest of this entry »