As reported yesterday, Esquire’s best new restaurants issue is out, and John Mariani, Esquire’s resident throw-his-weight-around food writer, paid Chicago the backhanded compliment of ignoring all the culinary creativity happening here and zeroing in on what could easily have been the Best New Chicago Restaurant of 1952: a steakhouse. Admittedly, even Mariani couldn’t simply praise Chicago Cut Steakhouse for serving up fat slices of cow and retain his foodie cred, and he finds culinary accomplishments beyond meat at work in the kitchen: “They brought in Chicago chef Jackie Shen to add items no other steakhouse in town is attempting, like Great Lakes whitefish with a clam vin blanc sauce, coriander-crusted sushi scallops with curried cauliflower puree, and her signature dessert, the ‘Chocolate Bag.’” Still, leave it to Mariani to pick a place for Best New Restaurant in part because its chef is serving a (much-loved) dessert she’s literally been making for the last quarter century in every kitchen she’s worked in. Fortunately, if you go past Mariani’s list, the issue does reveal some more interesting takes on Chicago dining in the second decade of the 21st century.
Some other, more modern Chicago openings merit attention in the issue as well. Girl & the Goat and Paris Club make the list of Other Restaurants Not to Miss, while Ryan Poli’s upcoming Tavernita is called out as an early contender for 2012 (Mariani named Poli’s long-ago Butter to the 20 best list in 2006).
Not to sound like a four-year-old who likes only a specific brand of macaroni and cheese, but Thai food doesn’t feed me; it has always seemed too familiar, an overcooked, overspiced, fishy chop-chop that produces a tight band of heartburn across the top of my abdomen…
By the fifth course, I’m making flat-out discoveries. Maybe they’re truisms every foodie knows, but not me, not until one course is gracefully whisked clear and the table subtly reset: another aspect of Thailand is tilted forward once again. Discovery: Beef cheeks provide solace. Discovery: Curry need not overwhelm. Thai relishes, which in my past had seemed worth ignoring in their lifelong perch on the strip mall lazy Susan, are supposed to be funky, foul condiments, but can just as well be a sweet meal of smears by themselves. Coriander root and tiny leaves of the stuff atop a sweet caramel sauce. Nothing more, just coriander root! Had I been walking past this stuff in grocery stores all these years? Discovery: Watermelon consommé is the only real cleansing one’s palate ever needs. Discovery: I like the texture of noodles, except in desserts.
It may not be the only thing worth eating in this issue, but it’s definitely the thing most worth reading.