The Other Critics

Sula Loves the Hulba With Zhug at Sheeba; Nagrant Says Go, Go Goosefoot

Fahsa with hulba and zhug, and some of the tandoor-baked bread.
Fahsa with hulba and zhug, and some of the tandoor-baked bread. Photo: courtesy Andrea Bauer/Chicago Reader

We love the middle-eastern restaurant enclave in Bridgeview and Worth in the south suburbs, arguably the most authentic in the area (okay, there isn’t even really that much argument), and Mike Sula takes a break from our rash of fine dining openings to introduce a new cuisine, Yemeni, at a restaurant in Bridgeview called Sheeba, which goes far beyond the customary falafel and shawarma. “Hulba (also known as hilbeh and hulbah) is an ethereal fenugreek froth used most often to top simmering stone bowls of salta, a tomato-based vegetable stew (fahsa when it’s cooked with lamb or tuna)… Unlike some of the more gratuitous and silly applications of foam that proliferated in the wake of [El Bulli chef Ferran] Adria, hulba contributes flavor and texture to the dish, merging with the tomatoey broth and giving it a buoyancy that endures to the bottom of the bowl. Add a dollop of zhug, a salsalike tomato condiment ground with chile, garlic, and cilantro, and its flavor will resonate with anyone who loves Indian or Pakistani food (or the Three Arrows manhattan at Yusho).” You’ll want to make the trek to 90th and Harlem after reading this and watching the attached slideshow by Andrea Bauer. [Reader]

Michael Nagrant is enthused by Goosefoot but just can’t quite give it four stars yet. There are wows throughout the evening: “One of my favorite dishes of the evening is a simple, velvety chestnut soup topped with a truffle foam and garnished with a buttery gougere (cheese puff) and verdant California peas (a nice touch in the middle of frigid February). The mingle of smoky chestnut and earthy truffle is a swoon-worthy perfume… I once gave a great review to a restaurant that accidentally knocked a glass of red wine in my lap. You could pour a magnum of Cabernet in my lap if you serve me Nugent’s cheese course.” Like Mike Sula, he admires what chef Chris Nugent is doing but wants him to cut loose a little: “There’s a fussy occasional fascination with technique over flavor. It feels like Nugent’s holding on to the idea of what fine dining is instead of pursuing what he knows it could be. If Nugent can just discover a little punk rock within, I guarantee he’ll find his missing star.” [Sun-Times]

Julia Kramer gives scene-y Tavernita three stars, despite its sceney sceniness: “For one: It’s so bloody loud in here you can’t hear your own thoughts. For two: The food is better at being immensely satisfying in the heat of the moment than it is at creating some sort of timeless food memory. And for three: Time spent looking at your food is time lost looking at the other people who possibly may be looking at you.” Still, she finds time to admire much of Ryan Poli’s food: “The croquettes, obviously. But also the surprisingly tender housemade lamb sausage, which is paired with an awesome reinterpretation of giardiniera as spicy, spunky pickled whole vegetables. The rock shrimp set on top of a poblano pepper-studded corn “pudding” (it’s closer to a corn bread) couldn’t be sweeter or more delicate. And if you don’t like the escalivada—a toast topped with hazelnut romesco sauce, fantastic goat cheese, and the charred eggplant and peppers that give the dish its name—you are simply in the wrong restaurant.” [TOC]

Titus at Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing With the King calls Pleasant House Bakery “where everyone now eats,” which indeed pretty much sums up the position of the universally beloved, reasonably priced farm-to-table Bridgeport British pie shop. “The main attraction at PHB are the ‘Royal Pies’ and they live up to the hype, all you gotta do is ask around. I don’t remember a place that was agreed upon as great by as many people in a while… Possibly my favorite thing on the menu is the “Pleasant Poutine” as I call it. Described on the menu board as “Deluxe Gravy Chips” this is a mighty bowl of many eats. The twice fried potato wedges get covered with real housemade gravy, chopped tender bits of skirt steak and then shreds of real cheddar are dropped on and allowed to melt which makes this one of the best potato based dishes anywhere. They don’t do it like this in Canada, not when I was there anyway. What would piss the Canucks off more, not winning the gold in hockey or not having the best poutine in North America?” [Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowin’ With the King]

In a very interesting review Chicago Foodies’ Josh Brusin looks at Next’s El Bulli menu from an artistic perspective: “Art can be explained as having two primary components, a technical narrative and an emotional or story narrative… Why should we look at Ferran Adria any differently? His work tells a technical narrative, as any foodie can attest to, utilizing spherification, emulsions, stabilizers, pots and pans… Food also is by its nature contextual. As a medium it comes with associations… The visuals might be abstract as in an orange foam or a stunningly beautiful sauce of dried ingredients but flavors are not. It’s an overwhelming mouthful of carrot. It’s a combination of flavors where you may pick out an ingredient here and there visually but once together it’s melted into a sauce. Either way, you just can’t put your finger on it. That’s the tension that these dishes create. They are both abstract and familiar.” [Chicago Foodies]

Our review of Next’s El Bulli menu, which makes rather different analogies to art, appears at our blog today. [Sky Full of Bacon]

Sula Loves the Hulba With Zhug at Sheeba; Nagrant Says Go, Go Goosefoot