The Other Critics

Sula Says Spend the Night Together With Nellcôte; Vettel Under Urban Union’s Thumb

Pizza from Nellcôte.
Pizza from Nellcôte. Photo: courtesy Nellcôte via Facebook.

Mike Sula admits he heard reports of problems with Nellcôte’s pastas when it opened, but says “whatever the problem was in the two months Nellcôte has been open, [chef Jared] Van Camp has brought it under control. His southern-Italian-style spaghetti, lightly dressed with tomato and bread crumbs and salted with cured tuna loin shavings, is thick and ruddy, with a pronounced nutty flavor, and it sets a new standard for restaurant pasta arts.” He likes the pizza, too: “The crust is what’s most important here: crispy and unusually inelastic. It doesn’t taste like it was stretched from a bland ball of white goo, but rather from the plant from which it was processed. It’s the grass-fed beef of pizza crusts, and there’s nothing else like it in town.” As for Nellcôte’s rock and roll scene, he says, “Today the villa’s owned by a Russian oligarch, so Van Camp and company’s interpretation is as close as you’re gonna get to that gilded age of rock and roll. Fortunately, we’re living in a gilded age of restaurants, and Nellcote is a party all its own.” [Reader]

Phil Vettel gives Urban Union two stars, but he’s more favorably disposed to it than that might suggest, because of “Urban Union’s extraordinary value. Dishes, nearly all small plates, are $10 or less for the most part, and nothing exceeds $12 except the whole-roasted fish (and that was just $17).” He seems happy with almost everything, from “an absolutely terrific trofie, made in-house and tossed with fava beans and pecorino cheese” to “Squash blossoms, filled with goat cheese and placed over a light tomato vinaigrette… one of those summer’s-coming dishes that never fail to make me happy.” He has high praise for rising pastry star Mitsu Nozaki, too, of whose work he says “Seven-dollar desserts rarely have such artistic detail.” [Tribune]

Of the Four Seasons’ restaurant’s rebirth as more casual Allium, Laura Bianchi says “Few dining rooms have such split personalities.” But she’s of one mind on chef Kevin Hickey’s upscale-downhome food as a business lunch choice, calling it “a menu that’s often vivacious and imaginative—will it be the Chicago-style hot dog ($14) or wild striped bass on hominy and lobster stew ($32)? There’s an unusual emphasis on made-in-house elements—not everyone cures their own lamb bacon and pancetta—and the local, farm-to-table ingredients that characterize this level of dining.” [Crain’s]

Steve Dolinsky finds an alternative to too-popular cocktail bars at Humboldt Park’s new Scofflaw: “Their mantra is “gin-focused cocktails” but there were plenty of other spirits on hand, including my favorite: rum. Fortunately, they just started messing around with some swizzles, which have their roots in tiki culture. I love the pebbled/crushed ice in these drinks, as well as their fun colors.” He had more mixed impressions of the food: “We loved the crispy fries with pimenton aioli and a crunchy trio of salads; a fine starter of creamy-smooth chicken liver mousse lived up to its billing, but unfortunately, the accompanying toasts were as hard as the chrome on my front bumper.” []

Nick Kindelsperger just published “12 Tacos We Love,” but as his scathing review of the so-called Pilsen Taqueria at the Lincoln Park Whole Foods proves, there were places that did not make the cut. “Usually I’d start rolling through the fillings, pointing out the ones that worked the best. But none of these really deserve it. That’s especially true of the al pastor, which may have been cooked on a spit, but was then griddled and held in a metal container until it became dry and leathery. That wasn’t even the worst filling. That honor goes to the fish taco, which resembled canned tuna… But it could have been the best al pastor in the city, and it wouldn’t have really mattered, because the tortillas ruined each one. It’s normal to stack two tortillas together for each taco, but here two are stacked and then tossed on the same press that warms up the enormous flour tortillas, where they fuse into one thick, gummy mess. It’s a disaster.” [Serious Eats Chicago]

Sula Says Spend the Night Together With Nellcôte; Vettel Under Urban Union’s