Today’s Tribune food section contains our favorite piece by Phil Vettel in recent memory, wherein he mourns the impending loss of restaurant matchbooks in the face of the imminent smoking ban. We like the matchbooks, too, even though we (like Vettel) don’t smoke - they’re good for candles (this on the heels of Hannukah!), and they make nice mementos. But what we like about the piece is how it highlights the esoteric unintended consequences of the public health measure while ignoring the much larger and more obvious issues concerning it. Indeed, who cares about the impact on smokers and restaurateurs! We prefer Vettel’s utterly self-centered take any day. The underlying assumption of the piece is that smokers don’t deserve any rights (to smoke, at least), and that is entirely correct. But woe are we to lose matchbooks!
In other Vettel news, the review of the week is for Brasserie Ruhlmann, thus completing the Vettel-Tamarkin-Old Town Brasserie-Brasserie Ruhlmann matrix. We thought we’d learn something by critically reading each critic’s reviews of both restaurants - by fixing a variable, maybe we could uncover hidden biases, or at least get a triangulated read on the brasseries. But no! We’re not smart enough. Basically, they’re both very good (the restaurants, that is). If you have to choose one, we think it’s fair to let the fact that OTB is local and BR is a New York import inform your decision. If/when you do make it to Ruhlmann, Vettel recommends the lamb navarin.
Moving on from Phil…when you hear the phrase “Tom & Jerry,” do you think cartoon or hot alcoholic beverage? We sincerely hope it’s both! Judy Hevrdejs reports on the Christmastime alternative to hot toddies and the somewhat wretched eggnog. A classic Tom & Jerry, at least as served by Miller’s Pub for the past half century, contains “brandy, dark Meyers rum, sugar, egg white and a nutmeg sprinkling.” We like that it doesn’t involve dairy, which is hell for the Kosher set.
Monica Eng writes about restaurants near highway exits in and out of town. Which is basically just an excuse for her to talk about some of her favorite places. Then again, what review roundups aren’t? (Ours - we don’t like anything.) But it would be more socially responsible to talk about favorite restaurants near train stations, now wouldn’t it!
Finally, the Answer Angel tackles the burning question of where to find fried rabbit in Chicago. Or rather, is tackled by it. While Blackbird used to carry it, the only actively available rabbit dish the AA could come up with is an ale-braised rabbit served over linguine at Bluebird.
Now it’s true that rabbit doesn’t usually have a permanent place on the menus of high-end restaurants, sharing its slot with quail and frog and other small plains and woodlands creatures. Case in point: we called a few places that have been known to serve rabbit, and only half of them still offered the little mammal. Hopleaf, for example, just stopped serving its rabbit rillete appetizer today! The Dining Room at Kendall College served rabbit as part of its fall menu, but not on the new winter menu (as we approach the solstice, the seasons get particularly hazy). But The Gage still offers its salad of braised rabbit with farmed greens, crisp rice and horseradish vinaigrette for $12, and Marche offers an entree of braised rabbit with caramelized onion, carrots, bacon, lardon, and creamy polenta for $23.95. Not to mention the whole constellation of Chinese and Mexican rabbit on the South and Southwest sides. See, if you really want bunny, you can find it!