The Other Critics

Nagrant Baffled By BLT American Brasserie; Sula a Doubting Thomas at Bread & Wine

Mozzarella swimming in the tank at Bar Toma, which gets 3 stars from Phil Vettel.
Mozzarella swimming in the tank at Bar Toma, which gets 3 stars from Phil Vettel. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Are reviewers ready to declare BLT American Brasserie the disaster of the year? The year may be young, but this New York export to the hinterlands wouldn’t wow Grand Forks, North Dakota, to judge by reviews (well, except Phil Vettel’s). Tamarkin skewered it, Sula salted the earth where it stood, and now comes Nagrant… more in sorrow than in anger: “A silver embossed relief over the bar featuring horses and a flying shirtless dude flying around a compass rose is Michelangeloesque, at least in its grand ambition, and ultimately redeems the space. That is until you recognize that the direction of north on that compass rose points directly east toward Lake Michigan. This is not a metaphor. It is exactly the kind of detail that BLT, especially its servers and cooks, miss all the time.” In its dry way, Nagrant’s take is as funny as the more brutal reviews preceding it: “It is the kind of place that starts with a service of gratis black pepper and gruyere popovers, which, the server proudly declares ‘famous.’ I have never heard of them. But, maybe that’s because they are dried husks of crust featuring burnt cheese and a gummy interior. Even if they were perfect, one wonders what a British Yorkshire pudding-like treat stuffed with French cheese is doing in an ‘American’ brasserie?” [Sun-Times]

Mike Sula likes the idea of Bread & Wine— the whole neighborhood is glad to have a BYO casual-upscale place— but has his doubts about the hit-and-miss menu. He likes the charcuterie (“a nicely fatty, snappy pig-face pancetta, salty tasso, slices of ruby red duck breast prosciutto, or a generous jar of creamy chicken liver paté”) but finds it served far too cold to spread easily. But he pooh-poohs the promised Pittsburgh pierogi: “the dough of his duck confit-stuffed dumplings is dry, thick, and cakey. One of the two I was served (there were supposed to be three) was nearly burnt, making a pool of cool creme fraiche a necessary lubricant rather than a complementary condiment.” In the end it seems a mixed bag which nevertheless will be embraced by its restaurant-starved neighborhood, as the nearby Smoque was a few years ago. [Reader]

We mentioned Sula’s Tavernita review last week, but missed by a couple of hours its companion on the Reader’s blog: Julia Thiel’s review of Tavernita bar within a bar, Barcito. She seems to think it’s actually the star of the operation: “Barcito’s food menu is almost entirely different from Tavernita’s—and judging from Sula’s review, that’s a good thing. While he criticizes many of the Tavernita dishes for being overdone, the snacks at Barcito are smaller, simpler, and more successful. A variety of pintxos ranges from $2 to $5, the best among them being an incredibly tender pork belly bocadillo (little sandwich) with apple jam and pickled red onion.” Even so, in the end the noise and busyness of Barcito defeats her as Tavernita’s did Sula— “Despite enjoying nearly everything I ate and drank here, I’d still pick Small Bar over Barcito any day.” [Reader]

Speaking of Small Bar, it’s one of three places reviewed in this week’s Tribune, which after a spate of high-end openings, looks at chefs going downscale, or at least midscale. Kevin Pang takes on Small Bar in the Cheap Eater column, though we wouldn’t be surprised if you could rack up a bigger tab here eating ex-Bristol cook Justin White’s food than at the others reviewed in the same issue. And Pang seems to think you might as well: “To make sense of Small Bar’s anti-bar food philosophy, set your sights at the simplest-sounding item on the menu: tomato jam and farmers cheese on toast ($9). It’s a dastardly succinct dish that, like many things here, tempers expectations on paper then over-delivers.” He notes that “White’s Lowcountry roots surface in two dishes (he attended school in Charleston, S.C.). First, a sandwich with three treatments of pork — chopped roast shoulder, smoked loin and crispy bacon — texturally varied like whole hog barbecue, finished in the hot pan to form a “carnitas” crust. Peruvian aji peppers are the basis of the spicy vinegar sauce, bringing the Eastern Carolina ‘cue homage full circle ($11).” [Tribune]

Elsewhere, Phil Vettel bestows a surprisingly high three stars on both Slurping Turtle and Bar Toma. He praises Slurping Turtle’s ramen, saying “not only is there no monotony in the nine or so items in this category, there’s scarcely any duplication,” while from the hot items he says “the irresistible items are the sticky-glazed pork belly astride round flats of steamed bun, and the nuggets of duck-fat-fried chicken, which are nearly as good as the clay-pot chicken served at Takashi. Which is saying something.” [Tribune]

Of Bar Toma, he says “A couple of these small plates are revelations. House-made, pistachio-studded mortadella, a specialty of longtime Spiaggia sous-chef Effy Medrano (also sous-chef here), is sliced medallion-thick and finished on the grill; more meatloaf than salume in mouthfeel, the mortadella is an absolute treat.” [Tribune]

At A Hamburger Today, Daniel Zemans goes to Inovasi in Lake Bluff for burger night and calls it worth the hike: “Two things that jump out upon viewing the burger menu [PDF] are that some of Inovasi’s toppings combinations are ones you won’t find anywhere else, and that there’s a section for grilled burgers and one for griddled burgers. Other than the stellar Edzo’s (reviewed here), I can’t think of another place that even attempts to offer both styles. That Inovasi is able to pull it off even though burgers are only on the menu one night a week is particularly impressive.” [A Hamburger Today]

Titus at Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowin’ With the King checks out a new gyro shop— when was the last time someone opened a new gyro shop? Like deep dish pizza places, they don’t open new ones, they just exist. But the owner of Philly’s Best has opened one in the space next door at 905 W. Belmont called Gyro-Mena, with pork, chicken and lamb cones all running at the same time. His advice is practical: “Not looking for a salad with a side of meat I opted for the pork on a pita in the traditional fashion including onions and tomatoes with tzatziki sauce on top and then I went “Greek Style” which adds fries on top of all that (free of charge). Not bad the pork meat was actually pretty damn good and I liked the fries on top addition. Good late night eats. Check them out of drunk and hungry.” [Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing With the King]

Our review of EL Ideas appears this week. [Sky Full of Bacon]

Nagrant Baffled By BLT American Brasserie; Sula a Doubting Thomas at Bread &