The Other Critics

Nagrant Likes Drinks, Not Dining, at Masa Azul; Schmidt Finds Stunners at MorSo

The tequila program at Masa Azul.
The tequila program at Masa Azul. Photo: Courtesy Masa Azul

In his first review as the Sun-Times’ official reviewer, Michael Nagrant fulfills his promise to tell the story, not just check off a checklist: “Masa Azul is not just a restaurant, but an earnest pipe dream of [owner Jason] Lerner, his wife, Valerie, and their chef, Alvaro Chavez, born after a hard day’s night at their old restaurant jobs. Unfortunately, their dream has only partly been realized.” He admires Lerner’s devotion to a serious, Cuervo-free tequila program in the Southwestern-themed restaurant, but faults the kitchen for serving “limp, warm, tasteless baby carrots, the Cuervo of vegetables, with many courses.” The cocktail program by mixologist Jenny Kessler far outpaces the food or the service, as he praises “one of the best drink programs in town. Kessler’s use of scent conjures Alinea’s experiments with burning oak leaves and pillows of lavender air. In her ‘El Jardin’ cocktail, a rim-level bouquet of thyme tempers the exotic floral notes of passion fruit, blood orange and pomegranate juice and fuses with the slight earthiness of the blanco tequila.” [Sun-Times]

In the Reader, Kate Schmidt finds MorSo (the restaurant that gets spelled a different way in every publication) a generally captivating mix. “The raw section looked the least inspired on paper—tuna carpaccio, oyster shooter, yawn—but the first item, antelope ‘tonnato,’ was a stunner. Bright red, lemony, and more tender than any beef carpaccio I’ve ever encountered, it was served with tonnato sauce, focaccia toasts, caperberries, and a side of impeccably fresh dandelions.”

The atmosphere, with a bar in front of the open kitchen, proves appealing too: “While charming, MorSo is a little spendy for my pocket. But it does offer a lounge menu upstairs with reasonably priced offerings… Since several of the “libations” are priced at $10—just a dollar more than a shot of Maker’s Mark at the Park West down the street—I know where I’m headed after a show.” [Reader]

Nagrant Likes Drinks, Not Dining, at Masa Azul; Schmidt Finds Stunners at MorSo