Everything you need to know about this week’s Tribune dining section is in five articles. Two are straight-up reviews: Phil Vettel enjoys indulging his Southern tooth at Blu 47 in Bronzeville. While he, himself, doesn’t love jazz Thursdays, you might, and no one can argue with the Sunday brunch. Meanwhile, Janet Franz is sort of nonplussed by the addition of Winston’s Market, the New Americanish deli/prepared food/cafe, to its particular stretch of Southport. Not bad, but maybe not worth a special trip.
Sandwiched between the reviews and the chain comparisons (more on that momentarily) is an article by Becky Schlikerman about Latin America’s many varieties of empanada, broken down by country of origin, with one local restaurant option given per country. Honestly, they all sound good.
The section’s big theme is chain restaurants, and how they stack up to their upscale equivalents (RL vs. Red Lobster) or to themselves (Olive Garden vs. OG “inspired by the Culinary Institute of Tuscany.”) Okay then. The first battle was inspired not just by the sameness of the initials, but because many of the dishes at Red Lobster are also available at RL. The conclusion, that basically all the food at RL tasted better (except for the cheddar biscuits) but that Red Lobster occasionally fit its smaller bill, came as no surprise; the dish-by-dish comparison is a fun read anyway, though.
The other piece evaluates Olive Garden’s effort to put actual Italian food on its menu. Apparently, every year 100 OG staff members take a trip to the Culinary Institute of Tuscany, near Siena, for a week of learning how to cook what it is they’re supposed to be serving. A crew of Tribunites and members of the local Italorati went to a suburban OG to check out the 14 menu items that resulted (don’t worry, they haven’t taken unlimited breadbasket off the menu), and found themselves not entirely horrified. Much of the food tasted like it could conceivably be found in Tuscany, albeit in much smaller portions and with fewer over-the-top ingredients. If, heavens forfend, any of you find yourselves inescapably at an Olive Garden, you can survive on the shrimp and asparagus risotto.
[Photo: Olive Garden learns to cook!]