The Other Critics

Sula Gets Lost at Storefront; Tamarkin Finds a Dubious Premise

Foie bombes at Storefront Company.
Foie bombes at Storefront Company. Photo: Galdones Photography

Mike Sula loves the Storefront Company dessert that Julia Kramer hated: “a plank of dense parsnip cake with cream cheese ice cream… the best carrot cake riff I’ve come across in a while.” (We loved it too.) Beyond that, though, he’s flummoxed by the attempt to find a coherent identity in the food of chef Bryan Moscatello, finding more commonality in arrangement than approach: “There’s a lot of stacking going on, particularly with cylindrically shaped food. A jiggly sous-vide egg wobbles atop a disc of pork cheek that’s diced rather than hashed, conjuring images of cat food upended from the can. A plank of compressed monkfish bits (cooked too dry) lies across another disk of oxtail fried rice that’s nonetheless delicious on its own, commingled with bits of caramelized pan-fried beef.” He sees signs of the chef’s personality, but calls them “touches that accessorize a memorable, convincing character, but on their own they can’t define one.” [Reader]

Michael Nagrant knows one thing he likes at Nellcôte: the way Jared Van Camp has with flour. “His house-made strozzapreti, dense chewy cavatelli-like pasta twists… chilled and tossed with soft ribbons of lobster, bracing mint, stinging chilis and garlicky bits of spring pesto is a bowl of fireworks, each flavor element bursting in rapid succession or sometimes all at once in a grand tasty finale… Puffy and blistered at the edges, crispy in the middle and slightly floppy at the tip, Nellcote’s pizza is highly portable finger food, one of the best, if not the best, Neapolitan-style pizzas in Chicago.” But then there’s the noise (“the place is an acoustical nightmare”), the servers (“food runners drop dishes off with no explanation, remove silverware without offering replacements for forthcoming courses, and they hover like buzzards waiting to scoop dishes from the table before they’re finished”) and, it seems, most anything that’s not pasta or pizza. [Sun-Times]

With upscale restaurants opening everywhere, it seems funny to say that Andersonville shouldn’t have one on its restaurant row. But David Tamarkin sees Premise, the much more upscale successor to In Fine Spirits, as a wrong turn in the wrong hood: “Disappointment fuels the ’hood’s mourning of IFS. But execution is what fuels the disappointment with Premise. It’s been a long time since I’ve been to a restaurant as disjointed as this one. The sights don’t match the sounds, and neither matches the complex dishes Brian Runge (formerly of Graham Elliot) is putting out. Of those dishes, I found many confusing, and a couple delicious. But more important, I found almost all of them overwhelmingly, almost comically salty.” [TOC]

Tamarkin goes into Frog n Snail a fan of Dale Levitski: “His is love-it-or-hate-it kind of food, which people find either blunt and falsely sophisticated, or flavor-forward and creative. I’ve been in the latter camp.” But Frog n Snail moves him toward the other camp: “There would be dishes I just couldn’t excuse, like the dry and dusty carrot-curry cake, or the ferociously underseasoned beef Stroganoff… And what should be the restaurant’s signature dish—frog legs with a snail ragout—should instead be removed from the menu entirely.” [TOC]

With Matt Van Valkenburgh and chef Yamandu Perez planning to open Two in West Town this summer, Phil Vettel checks out the eclectically global cuisine at their current restaurant, Zak’s Place, in Hinsdale. “Zak’s Place is solid but unspectacular, providing well-crafted dishes that rarely set your heart soaring but almost never disappoint. But there are gems,” Vettel says; he also praises the wine program, noting that Perez worked as GM and sommelier at the north shore’s well-regarded Gabriel’s, “and he knows his vino. Zak’s, though as unfussy a dining room as they come, nevertheless has a 700-bottle wine cellar and hosts regular wine dinners.” He also notes that Zak’s Place is named for a dog, now deceased. Casey Kasem would have something to say about that. [Tribune]

Sula Gets Lost at Storefront; Tamarkin Finds a Dubious Premise