Two reviews have just come in for James Toland’s The Black Sheep, and we’re not sure they could differ more if they tried. Mike Sula and Julia Kramer agree on exactly two things: the desserts by Sarah Jordan are unbelievable, and the drinks by Michael Simon — who recently left the restaurant — work well. That’s it. Otherwise, one reviewer gives a pretty solid recommendation, while the other believes Toland “has a bit too much gumption.” Read on.
Mike Sula writes that chef Toland is “more than capable of harmonizing multiple textures and flavors, subtle and bold.” The “cool, creamy English pea soup” was “phenomenally good,” as was the “Caesar salad riff of sunflower sprouts.” Even Sarah Jordan’s desserts “match Toland’s ambition.” Though he worries that the prices “aren’t as chef- and musician-friendly as he once promised,” he still finds the “highly manipulated, dramatically presented food” to be ultimately worth it.
Julia Kramer, on the other hand, gives the restaurant two stars out of five. She admits that there is a “good deal of talent” walking around, but ultimately the experience is “baffling” and “frustrating” due to “execution errors and unappealing flavor combinations.” The beef tartare was a “promising start” to the tasting menu, but nearly every other dish had issues, including the “overcooked, under-seasoned sirloin paired with a chewy scallop.” Still, the drinks are good, and the chocolate ganache by pastry chef Sarah Jordan was “among the best restaurant desserts you can eat in Chicago right now.”
Like Eater, we noticed the comment left after Kramer’s review in Time Out, which claims to be from “Chef James Toland.” The commenter slams Kramer, saying that she got many of the facts wrong about the meal, and even announced herself as a reviewer when she arrived. (He also calls her “spiteful,” “mean,” and “a vindictive bitch.”) It appears, however, that the commenter wasn’t actually Toland, just someone impersonating him.
For what’s it is worth, we’re finding the difference between the two reviews more interesting than the online spat. Both Kramer and Sula are respected critics, and we doubt either one was swayed by anything other than the experience of dining at The Black Sheep. It’s just strange to see the two end up with such different opinions.