On the heels of Time Out’s dismissive review of Premise, which seemed to wish it would just go away, Mike Sula’s near-rave for chef Brian Runge’s delicate and creative hand with seafood in particular must come as very good news: “Sweet prawns are dressed with modernist Thai flavors—lime, basil, coconut powder, red curry foam, and ginger “froth”—and supported by silky spoonfuls of tiny, creamy tapioca pearls, a garnish I wish I could eat by the bowlful. One of Runge’s more conservative dishes is a simple, crispy bass fillet, plated with nutty fregola pasta, bitter rapini, and plummy currant sauce. And he takes notoriously oily, strongly flavored mackerel and turns it into the most refined version I’ve ever had, light and flaky with an olive tapenade, quail eggs, fingerling potato chips, and a citrusy vinaigrette.” But he’s also the first to take a serious look at the cocktail program in the 2nd floor salon, which “reintroduces one of the best things about the early days of In Fine Spirits: an excellent, adaptable, and congenial bartender in Luke LeFiles, formerly of Hot Chocolate… This is not just the greatest cocktail lounge north of Armitage Avenue; it’s among the best in the city, somewhat in the vein of the Aviary’s basement Office, with its hidden, dark, and clubby feel, but with better drinks and none of the exclusivity.” [Reader]
Michael Nagrant wants to like the food at The Peasantry, like “the rabbit pasta, a linguine with a proper satisfying handmade chew encircling rich, braised, melting bites of deeply winey rabbit and thick quartered nubs of well-seared mushrooms showered with a creamy shavings of ricotta salata. It’s also pretty hard to argue with the chicken and corn pancake ‘gyro,’ an inspired riff on chicken and waffles.” But the service makes it tough for him to recommend the place: “Though waitresses at The Peasantry are not glum gum-smacking high schoolers slumming for a buck to pay for cell phone bills or gas money, they’re also not that far removed from them… Cocktail orders are not delivered to everyone all at once, but whenever the bartender has poured an individual drink. If you ask for recommendations, the servers feign ignorance about plates or have a tough time describing ingredients.” The redeeming factor is owner Alexander Brunacci (Frank N Dawgs), who “works the tables well. If this were 1940s Morocco, it would not be hard to imagine him as ‘Casablanca’s’ Rick Blaine, donning a fedora, lighting a cigarette and making sure the folks at the cafe are well-provisioned.” [Sun-Times]
Likewise on The Peasantry, Julia Kramer says that a co-worker begged her not to kill off the most promising recent opening on a fairly dismal dining stretch of Clark. Happily she reports that “it’s not perfect—in fact, it definitely could use a little bit of time to refine its dishes—but it’s a place any neighborhood would be justifiably happy to have. There’s a good selection of craft beers and a reasonable wine list (including house wine for $6.50/glass). And there’s a menu of food that is very firmly an extension of the Franks ‘N’ Dawgs approach to cooking: Make it rustic, make it meaty and why not make it borderline excessive?” As for service… she says nothing, so it must have been all right. [TOC]
Last week Michael Nagrant had high praise tinged with sadness at the opening of Pizzeria da Nella. David Tamarkin hits a different note: “There is nothing new here, no special technique or ingredient to grab your attention. You have to appreciate simplicity to appreciate this pizzeria. If you don’t, there are plenty of other places for you to go.” But for those who do, “If the perfect crust is one so perfectly balanced that it seems without textural inclinations, Nella’s crust indeed may be perfect.” [TOC]
Kate Bernot has the first review of Graham Elliot’s casual spot G.E.B., and says “Dishes aren’t necessarily composed the way you’d expect, but the main flavors always shine through… Flaky pink trout wasn’t overwhelmed by its companion, a mound of herbed spaetzle (German dumplings) that had all the chew and herbal flavor of great Italian gnocchi. The juicy pork slices were comfort food straight from the south, served with cornmeal-battered okra, savory grits and knock-out squares of pickled watermelon.” But dessert is a disappointment which leaves her wishing new graham elliot hire Bryce Caron could lend a hand. [Redeye]
As Nick Kindelsperger points out, just because a place is called Taqueria El Pastor doesn’t mean they won’t screw up the namesake item. But at the taqueria near Midway, “I knew I was in good hands from the moment I laid my eyes on Taqueria El Pastor’s plump and jolly looking spit, which was stacked high, stained red, and glistening by the front window. It just looked good. Though warmed on the griddle after being sliced off, the meat is thankfully left in large slices, and still maintains a good smoky backbone. But it’s the marinade that sets this one apart. Pungent and earthy, this is one of the most flavorful versions I’ve tried in Chicago.” [SE Chicago]
Our reviews of Balena and Goosefoot are here.