The Other Critics

Pump Room Showdown! Sula: ‘Wildly Divergent Execution,’ Nagrant: ‘A Xerox Affair’

The Pump Room 2011: glitz for a new era.
The Pump Room 2011: glitz for a new era.

Two guys walk into the Pump Room, and both leave with mixed feelings. For Michael Nagrant, the question is whether celebrity chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten is bringing his A game for his Chuck Taylor-clad servers to serve, or giving us in the hinterlands a franchised version of his ABC Kitchen like the “Xerox affair” that preceded it at the various iterations of Vong’s Thai Kitchen. In fact, the Chicago version of ABC Kitchen’s menu largely disappoints: “The organic fried chicken breast is dry and the accompanying hot sauce butter parches my throat like a spritz of napalm,” while “the ceviche, a scrim of tender fluke is burnished with lemon, very little of the promised sea salt, and a timid sprinkle of horseradish that should be replaced by an assertive chile.” Even Kady Yon’s heralded desserts seem off: “Grape glaze on the doughnut plate recalls Smucker’s Concord Grape jelly so closely I wonder if pastry chef Kady Yon takes requests for PBJ with the crusts cut off. Then again the dense dry cake underneath invokes a Dolly Madison doughnut gem in the worst way.” Dolly Madison plainly wasn’t the celebrity the Sun-Times reviewer was hoping to run into in Kup’s old haunt. [Sun-Times]

The Pump Room 2011: glitz for a new era.

Though Mike Sula also sees fit to mention the servers’ brand of footwear, his chefly focus is less on Vongerichten than on the lesser-known chef actually resident here, Bradford Phillips, a former Blackbird cook who had “been doing some fairly wonderful but largely unsung things at Lincoln Square’s contemporary French LM Restaurant. While I find the prospect of his involvement far more interesting than yet another unoriginal celebrity chef import, I also worry that his gifts will be wasted on interpreting that chef’s something-for-everyone menu.”

Alas, the result is “meals of such wildly divergent execution that I can’t say for sure what’s going on in the kitchen.” He cites some he admires— a roast carrot salad, the crab and lemon aioli toast— but finds it “hard to understand how others can be prepared so sloppily: a small plate of salt-and-pepper shrimp mined with empty broken shells, rings of crushed-pretzel-coated calamari overfried to ashlike consistency, a pizza crust sogged to the bottom with the fluid from undercooked mushrooms.” In the end, “I don’t know if the food at the Pump Room will attract the caliber of luminaries that once flocked to it… A trickier question is whether it’s delivering enough to attract the rest of us—those who pay with our wallets, not the wattage of our starpower.”[Reader]

Pump Room Showdown! Sula: ‘Wildly Divergent Execution,’ Nagrant: ‘A Xerox