The Culinary Lexicon: Gourmet Comfort Food

Something has been nagging at our minds all day ever since we posted about Drew Zanella leaving 312 Chicago. When he’s talking about the future of restaurants, he says “That’s the way it’s going if you look at the really hot spots: Urban Belly, Smoque, everybody is going downscale.

Let us say: We challenge the notion that Urban Belly and Smoque are downscale. They’re certainly not haute cuisine, but neither are they buck-a-slice pizza or hole-in-the-wall gyros, which is more what we think of when we think “downscale.”

Rather, places like those — and we’ll add to the list The Bristol, The Publican, and Rick Bayless’s yet-to-open churro outpost — fall into a different category than somewhere like Al’s No 1. These places offer an inspired mashup of pedigreed cooks, top-notch sourcing, and comfort-food cooking styles, minus all the pomp and fuss that normally accompany chefs and ingredients of that caliber, usually in a high-design restaurant space designed to evoke either local-wood-heavy minimalism or a particular rustic authenticity.

So it’s not “downscale,” but what is it? “Haute comfort” calls to mind ramekins of lobster mac ‘n’ cheese, and that’s not what we’re going for. We’re tempted to coin a new word — comfusion? Haute-meal (pronounced “oatmeal”)? Highbrow-Lowbrow? Unsnobby Chic? None of these strike us as just right. But clearly there’s a word vacuum here — and we need to fill it.

[Photo: Shrimp udon at Urban Belly, via foodinmouth’s Flickr]

The Culinary Lexicon: Gourmet Comfort Food