The Other Critics

Nagrant Finds the Humanity In the Neapolitan Pizza; Sula Likes Monti’s Despite The Philly-ness

Margherita at Pizzeria Da Nella Cucina Napoletana.
Margherita at Pizzeria Da Nella Cucina Napoletana. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

When Pat Bruno wrote about pizza, he wrote about pizza. When Michael Nagrant writes about pizza, he writes about pizza and its maker— about the sadness of seeing Nella Grassano, who launched our whole Neapolitan pizza movement, making masterpieces for a mostly empty house at Pizzeria Da Nella Cucina Napoletana: “She showed us that great pizza is a study in contrasts, of blistered, bubbling, high-rising crispy edges and a chewy, slightly droopy center. She showed us that a real pie does not take 45 minutes — roughly the time needed to consume an order of garlic bread, an antipasto and a fried mozzarella stick/’shroom/onion ring appetizer basket… And yet, despite the adulation, as Grassano pulls a pizza peel across a wood-fired oven made of imported Italian ash and Vesuvio stone, she looks as though she’s slumping under some major, but invisible heft.” [Sun-Times]

Pittsburgh native Mike Sula is not, shall we say, a fan of Philadelphia’s cheese steak sandwich: “Among regional beef sandwiches such as the Chicago IB, the Los Angeles French dip, the New Orleans debris po’boy, the Baltimore pit beef, and the Buffalo beef on weck, the dominant national profile of the Philly cheesesteak can arguably be attributed to the commercial success of its appalling bastard offspring, the Steak-umm—which in turn must have something to do with the extremely low bar a more faithful Philly cheesesteak needs to meet.” But he winds up admiring Monti’s anyway: “There’s a delicacy to these sandwiches that refutes their nature. Measured in eight-inch and footlong lengths, they offer mouthfuls of lacy, griddle-crisped meat, an alchemy that issues an involuntary command to the somatic nervous system: stuff this in your hole as fast as possible.” [Reader]

Julia Kramer goes to the new, Andrew Brochu-fied Graham Elliot, and answers vital questions: “Was Graham Elliot the chef or not? Was this an everyday restaurant or a special-occasion one? With the appointment of Brochu, the answers to those questions are now clear: no, and the latter.” But the third question— how is it?— gets an equivocal answer by the end: “the second half of the meal disappointed: The two entrée courses featured unremarkable proteins (slimy redfish, squishy chicken) and off-putting flavor combinations (tough root vegetables and capers with the fish, blueberries and noxiously bitter edible flowers with the chicken). And desserts played it very safe, hewing to familiar flavors (chocolate, coffee, doughnuts) in likable but unmemorable ways.’ [TOC]

We generally prefer reviews talking more about the food than the space, but David Tamarkin is right that at the heart of Argent are problems it has inherited from Aja in the same space: “it started narrow and bulged out as you walked through it, and it felt as if you were eating in the hotel’s lobby. A stairway in the middle of the room led to a sushi bar, but it was never quite clear whether diners were allowed up there. Or whether they should want to be up there. Because we certainly didn’t want to be down here.” Argent’s very mixed-together menu gets a very mixed review: “There are Waldorf salads, and popovers that taste as if they’ve been baked in the morning and reheated for your antipleasure. There’s a perfect roast chicken, and notably tender scallops that ultimately are overly rich. And there’s a moon pie. Some Southerners have fond feelings for the packaged moon pies, which sandwich marshmallow and cake. I’m no Southerner, and I think the things taste awful. Argent’s version is only slightly better.” [TOC]

As “a very contemporary restaurant, set in the futuristic-corporate Sim City that is called Lakeshore East,” Julia Kramer finds Eggy’s a diner throwback to… diners, and much of chef Zach Millican’s food impresses her: “a man with an uncanny ability for sandwich making. You cannot eat the beef-tongue sandwich—festooned with sliced jalapeños and a big fried onion ring—and not think this guy has a gift.” As in many other diners, it’s the last bite that makes the sale: “Desserts are charmingly simple: a big slice of dense chocolate cake; a petite sundae with roasted pecans and whipped cream. If you think it’s hard to make simple dishes like this transcendent, you’re mostly right. But you also haven’t had the masterfully rich chocolate sea-salt brownie. I got it to go, shrink-wrapped, and I can’t think of a plated restaurant dessert that would have been better.” [TOC]

Nick Kindelsperger goes to what we always considered the other Zacataco’s (our fave is the spartan white one at 59th & Pulaski) and comes away feeling very close to having found taco nirvana: “From the moment I walked in Zacatacos (which is technically located in the South Side neighborhood of West Lawn) I knew I had come to the right place. Al pastor was spinning on the spit, fresh beef was sizzling on the gas grill, and every single table was filled. Honestly, it’s hard to even say where to begin.” The pastor had “one of the best marinades I’ve encountered yet, with a strong presence of achiote paste, along with a nice vinegar tang. I also liked that the pieces were left in larger hunks, instead of being chopped up to bits”; the steak was “one of the best carne asada tacos ($2.00) around”; and he praises a lesser-known standout of this mini-chain, the papa taco, whose “fried exterior of the papa taco ($1.75) is exceptionally thin, providing just a momentary resistance before your teeth dig into the fluffy mashed potatoes.” [SE Chicago]

Nagrant Finds the Humanity In the Neapolitan Pizza; Sula Likes Monti’s Despite