The Other Critics

Nagrant Calls For Chef’s Dismissal; Sula Isn’t One With Urban Union

Lobster at Urban Union, reviewed in this week's <em>Reader.</em>
Lobster at Urban Union, reviewed in this week’s Reader. Photo: courtesy Urban Union via Facebook

The reviewer walks an awkward line— you ought to be accountable primarily, or even exclusively, to the readers of your publication, but it’s impossible to work the beat without gaining some sympathy for the chefs and other in the industry whose hospitality you (mostly enjoy). Which is to say, it’s a rare thing when you call out a chef and say he ought to get a pink slip, but that’s exactly what Michael Nagrant says about Pasteur. The prospect of a novel kind of French-Vietnamese fusion that the presence of both (original Pasteur chef) Dan Nguyen and (peripatetic French chef) Eric Aubriot in the kitchen held out has, as other reviewers have noted, not been borne out— in Nagrant’s words, “there is no gentle fusion of the two approaches, but rather a very distinct line of confusion.”

And where he has praise for “Nguyen’s nuanced, bright and spicy gourmet versions of Vietnamese classics,” he says Aubriot “doesn’t hold up his end at Pasteur. His fishy-smelling sauteed scallops feature mushy tasteless apples, barely cooked, dusty-hard lentils and a parsimony of balsamic reduction. The seared duck breast is a chewy, desiccated mess. His bread pudding is too dense and has almost no custard. His foie gras, featuring a red grape port reduction that tastes like a foie fat-infused berry pie, is incredible, but up against Chef Nyugen’s star anise-perfumed pho and curried beef, it’s also ridiculously out of context.” His judgement, in the end, is blunt: for Pasteur to realize its potential as a fine Vietnamese restaurant, it needs to “send Aubriot and the whole incongruous, middling, French bistro fare packing.” Some may well feel that this is going too far for a critic, and that it’s being too unfriendly to the industry— but maybe this is the kind of thing only your best friend will tell you. [Sun-Times]

Mike Sula finds the idea of Michael Shrader’s simple, bold food at Urban Union more appealing than the reality often turns out to be: “Yes, the incredibly tender octopus tentacles bathed in the lemon-oregano gremolata were among the most perfectly executed I’ve ever had. But the head-on shrimp was not… the ichor that oozed from their shells was hard to take in, and the flesh of the body was just beyond jellylike. Their short blast in the heat had us worrying we might be paying for it in the morning (we were fine).” The best things were around the edges: the cocktail program (which he suggests was being phased out anyway) and the work of pastry chef Mitsu Nozaki, who is plainly Urban Union’s rising star so far. [Reader]

In a two-star review, Phil Vettel reels off lots of dishes he likes at Tavernita, calling out for particular praise the vegetarian dishes such as “the artichoke salad, in which crisp-fried artichokes share a bowl with beets, arugula and salty Spanish mahon cheese; escalivada, a trio of crostini piled high with eggplant, red peppers, hazelnut romesco and goat cheese; and house-made pappardelle, with manchego cheese and a mushroom ragout so intense you’ll swear there’s meat in there. Include these three in your dinner order, and I promise you’ll go home happy.” [Tribune]

Julia Kramer and David Tamarkin take a look at four new bakeries. At Baker & Nosh, they like both the baker part and the “huge” “satisfying” sandwiches on the nosh side. Flirty Cupcakes Dessert Garage improves on the eponymous cupcakes with “flaky, fall-apart” Pop-Tarts. The Polish baked goods at Fabcakes get faint praise— “A puff-pastry ‘croissant’ with a dollop of goat cheese in the center and a dense plum tart weren’t terribly impressive, but we liked that they weren’t too sweet, either.” And Randolph Street’s new Loretta’s Bake Shop & Cafe is called out for technical issues with its bite-size desserts: “The chocolate-chunk cookies were dry, the pound cake overly spongy. A savory breakfast hand pie was bland, and a vanilla sandwich cookie seemed to be sandwiching pure, warm butter.” [TOC]

Nagrant Calls For Chef’s Dismissal; Sula Isn’t One With Urban Union