Sun-Times Dining: Mana, Elitism, Lake Forest

We’ve got 100% website functionality today for the Sun-Times’s URLs, and so it is with a song in our hearts (we initially typed that “snog in our hearts,” and we suppose we have that too, since who are we to say no to makeouts) that we turn to today’s reviews! Bruno gives us a twofer, and Thomas Witom is continuing his trek through the bistros and restos of our fair suburbs (hint: they all kind of start to sound the same after a while).

• Bruno’s #1 was the site of a TOC review last week: Mana Food Bar, the vegetarian small-plates dig that Heather Shouse liked more in concept than execution. The two reviewers seem to have been eating at a completely different restaurant: while Shouse found the pho to be “truly disastrous” and “nearly inedible,” Bruno really likes it (and helpfully tells us that the name of the dish is pronounced “puh”). He goes on to like everything else, but — we’ve got to be honest here — he talks us through the menu with the sort of condescending chirpy supportive tone that we normally associate with mid-1980s reviews of completely alien ethnic food, like “Peruvian chicken! How novel! Your palate will be amazed! Who knew they had chickens in Peru!” Dude, Bruno, it is not food from the moon. It is a vegetarian restaurant. Cease thy amazement. [Bruno, Sun-Times]

• Speaking of condescension! Bruno’s next stop is Haussmann Brasserie (305 N Happ Rd, Northfield, 847 446 1133), and the review starts out with a real suckerpunch of a rhetorical question: “If a restaurant comes off as being too elitist, will it drive customers away?” Well hell, Bruno, you tell us! All in all, Haussmann Brasserie reads like a cookie-cutter French bistro: Bruno predicts he’ll find onion soup, frisee salad, steak frites — he does. Cauliflower gratin, croque madame, endive salad, yawn. It’s done well, but there are no fireworks. Where was the elitism again? [Bruno, Sun-Times]

• Thomas Witom is in Lake Forest this week, at Bank Lane Bistro (670 Bank Lane, Lake Forest, 847 234 8802), where chef Michael Gottlieb pulls out all the stops for a meal that actually has our curiosity quite piqued. The menu is seasonal, and Witom recommends a prix fixe — there’s the standard four-courser, but we get excited whenever we see a tasting menu whose course count enters the double digits, and for $88, Bank Lane’s 10-courser might be one of the best per-plate bargains in the area. Seared tuna with Japanese spices, softshell crab tempura with meyer lemon sauce, foie gras decked out with homemade pancetta, jalapeno, sambuca-infused strawberries, and Virginia peanuts — it’s whetting our appetite just reading about it. Witom says he can “personally vouch” for the quality of the cheese plate, which kind of makes us wonder whether the rest of what we’re reading about comes second-hand, but whatevs. This place sounds kind of awesome. [Witom, Sun-Times]

[Photo: Bibimbap at Mana, via No Olives’s Flickr]


Sun-Times Dining: Mana, Elitism, Lake Forest