The Other Critics

Nagrant Uses Year’s Worth of Analogies on Au Cheval; Vettel Looks For Mutants at RPM

The $8 matzoh ball soup at Au Cheval, aka Next: Brooklyn
The $8 matzoh ball soup at Au Cheval, aka Next: Brooklyn Photo: courtesy Au Cheval

Michael Nagrant has many colorful phrases to describe Au Cheval… none of which are particularly its own preferred term, “diner.” What it suggests to him include “some kind of cute pedestrian brasserie/greasy spoon hybrid,” “ridiculously eclectic” with “a familiar lonely heart’s vibe here, sure, but there’s also a futuristic frontier cantina thing going on,” “a great unintimidating date spot, a hipster refueling station late on weekends, and a Sunday evening pit stop for hip young families.” Yet, startlingly, it also reminds him somehow of Next— apparently because it evokes familiar things, but in a way that seems to have come from another dimension: “You have a vague frame of reference for what you’re eating, but almost none of these dishes has really existed until now. Au Cheval’s ‘stuffed cabbage’ is nothing like the slimy packets of grayish rice-studded meat I grew up with. It is instead a glorious hunk of silky pork, larded with funky foie gras fat wrapped in a translucent scrim of caraway-perfumed, slow-braised cabbage.” [Sun-Times]

It’s been a while since Julia Kramer has written an outright slam, but the drought ended for her at Storefront Company, where she disliked everything (including a borderline savory dessert that we, frankly, loved): “a selection of confections was indistinguishable from any corporate, mass-produced product. Still, I would eat a hundred of these chocolates if it meant I could un-taste the parsnip cake, a dense, grainy block set in a pool of sauce that is supposedly made of golden raisins but smacked unmistakably and repellingly of mustard.” [TOC]

Phil Vettel asks the question we’ve often asked: “Where are the mutants dining these days?” His point is that RPM Italian, like Nellcôte and Tavernita, is so full of young and beautiful people that it could give a writer a complex. (Writers, by definition, are not beautiful, and are old even when young.) Where he seemed to put up with it in the previous cases, he seems a little less receptive by the time he gets to RPM’s inconsistent food: “Unfortunately, the kitchen has more than its share of stumbles. The menu touts the prime meatballs, a trio that arrives in a virtual sea of tomato sauce, but my toes failed to curl. Grilled octopus was fine but unremarkable in texture or flavor, and for $15, it should have been. Roman-style fried artichokes taste great, especially with that lemon aioli, but they need to be crispier and/or to arrive to the table sooner. Duck agnolotti and gnocchi with asparagus were surprisingly lacking in flavor.” [Tribune]

At Ada Street, Mike Sula bemoans the abrupt departure of mixologist Tim Lacey (who has since landed at Sprout), but “at least that gives me more space to write about a nicer surprise at this candlelit factory conversion that shares the same stark industrial landscape claimed by the venerable Hideout. That would be chef Zoe Schor.” He says her food transcends the small-plates genre: “I ordered the southern-fried quail twice, the second time in disbelief that such a tough little bird could be so lip-smackingly juicy, clad in a crispy batter with a tangle of pickle-y chard and a pool of thick, white, bacon-scattered country gravy. The octopus was charred on the suckers, meltingly tender underneath, and tangled atop cannellini beans and a sweet-hot Tabasco mash ketchup. Salmon tartare was mixed with bacon, chips of salmon skin, and bursting bubbles of roe.” [Reader]

We always liked Taco El Jaliciense for carne asada tacos and a cool little corner building, but we don’t recall ever really seeing an al pastor pit in operation. Nick Kindelsperger finds that the newly reopened El Jaliciense has the pit going, but his recommendations fall elsewhere: “Taco El Jalisciense was instead a remarkably solid neighborhood joint, with some very good tacos to show for it. That’s especially true of the chicken taco ($2.13), which features wonderfully caramelized and tender little hunks of griddled chicken. The same can be said of the carne asada ($2.13), even if it would have benefitted from being left in bigger pieces.” [Serious Eats Chicago]

Nagrant Uses Year’s Worth of Analogies on Au Cheval; Vettel Looks For Mutants at