"Maybe the only cuisine cliche bigger than pork right now is all things Southern," Michael Nagrant says apropos of the new restaurant Carriage House, but he suggests the sterile dining room could use a bit more Southern clichéd-ness: "Ultimately Carriage House has more the rusticity of a barn, when what you really want is the cushy reassurance of a Southern lawyer’s living room." He finds the cushiness in Mark Steuer’s food: "Though fried chicken also is everywhere, it’s impossible to discount Carriage House’s silky, juicy rolled thighs glistening with local honey served with a bottle of housemade sweet potato hot sauce. The hot sauce in particular is engaging because it is not all vinegar and pepper, but instead full of a slow-building heat and a nice sugary starch… One side that I have no reservation about is fluffy cloudlike cornbread served in a cast iron skillet and smothered in peach jam and foie gras butter. It seems that Steuer’s real skill is taking dishes I’ve grown tired of and reinventing them in a form for which I yearn." [Sun-Times]
Phil Vettel calls out two restaurants that he thinks need some love; one, surprisingly, is Red Violet, which Michael Nagrant had bruised black and blue some months back. But the menu got a revamp from Gene Kato (Sumi Robata Bar) and Vettel thinks it deserves a fresh look: "Hamachi carpaccio takes super-thin slices of raw fish and cooks them, ever so slightly, with splashes of hot oil, finishing the dish with sprinkles of ginger and fried scallions. The wagyu scroll is more of a true carpaccio, the thin beef given an Asian inflection with toasted peanuts and cilantro. And the shrimp toast is adorable, a pair of panko-crusted shrimp-mousse balls with jutting asparagus spears (which is why some customers call them "shrimp Popsicles") over a sweet-and-sour chili sauce."
He also likes Near, a restaurant in Barrington from a former Schwa chef: [chef Gaetano] "Nardulli isn’t replicating the artistic, highly creative food he fashioned under Michael Carlson. His food at Near speaks to his roots…But no Schwa alum can abandon fun entirely. Opening small plates include a ramekin of shimejii-mushroom confit, along with toasted country bread and slices of Pecorino Romano cheese, a yummy little assemble-yourself crostini. The marinated eggplant, which requires a three-day prep and is a delightful change of pace from the fried-eggplant routine, is so good I could eat it every day." [Tribune]
Mike Sula finds praise for Covo Gyro Market, a restaurant from the owners of the Prasino chain which takes the ubiquitous Chicago gyros back to its Greek roots by using better quality meats: "the quality is apparent. The lamb and beef has the ideal amalgamation of crispy charred bits and juicy interior muscle that you get from al pastor or shawerma joints with high turnover. The pork is treated with equal love, marinated in apple cider and brown sugar… The rotating, mostly vegetarian sides are pretty well done too: roasted eggplant, hummus, Israeli couscous, etc, any one of them a good gamble at $3 per scoop." [Reader]
Julia Kramer joins Sula in finding Masaki a worthy contender for the top sushi tier, from the moment she walks in: "Between the plush pillow and the plush banquette, it was impossible to be any more comfortable. I plopped my purse down next to me, and the hostess offered a small, golden ottoman already at my feet—a personal purse stand. It was too much! But at the same time, it was really something, this magical little restaurant." Okay, but how’s the sushi? "It arrived on two plates: nigiri (bluefin tuna; a scallop of unimaginable opulence; a shot glass worth of sweet, sweet uni) on one, sashimi (two pristine slices each of salmon belly, yellowtail belly and rose-colored otoro, fatty tuna) on the other. These were things of consummate beauty." There’s a moment of sticker shock coming, she knows: "Is a meal for two worth $500? Politically, it’s an unconscionable question. Masaki is a restaurant for people who don’t ask it." [TOC]