Nagrant’s off, Vettel does an al fresco roundup, and Sula was busy with Reader Best-Ofs, so it’s a good week to get attention as a restaurant reviewer. The only big daily/weekly names on the job this week were Time Out’s, and David Tamarkin gives three stars to Red Door for the easygoing pleasure of eating Troy Graves’ food on the former Duchamp patio: “The menu at Red Door appears at a glance to be pretty heavy—steaks, sloppy joes, poutine—and in addition to enjoying the nice weather, I thought being outdoors would provide an airiness I might not find on the plate. But that poutine, layered with chicken confit and spiked with curry, was not nearly as heavy as poutine can get. And some dishes, such as an oyster ssam that paired the crisp seafood with fiery kimchi, and a meaty chicken thigh swathed with lemongrass, were light, bright and summery. When less successful food came to the table, it wasn’t heaviness that was the problem but rather execution: A burger with bacon jam arrived joyless and overcooked. A hanger steak badly needed salt.” He says Red Door’s set for now, but “the place seemed to be letting the pleasant patio do all the heavy lifting… eventually it’s going to get cold out—what’s Red Door going to do then?” [TOC]
Julia Kramer checks out the PT pop-up in the Talbott Hotel, from Mercadito chef Patricio Sandoval and The Tippling Brothers, but finds the decent enough food too unambitious: “there are phoned-in hotel foods like a chopped salad with sad tomatoes and a burned apple turnover (the one dessert). A pop-up is a restaurant you rush to get to before it ends. Dishes like these suggest PT is just a waiting game.” But she’s charmed by Bang Bang Pie Shop, even if “the crust on two visits was flaky and crumbly; in one case, it was chewy and soggy.” The secret winner, she says, are the biscuits: “They are, in a word, necessary.” [TOC/TOC]
In the Sun-Times, Thomas Witom says that Nieto’s, the more casual replacement for Highland Park’s long-running four-star Carlos, is a worthy followup which should keep longtime customers comfortable: “he dining room’s familiar wood-paneled walls are intact, and many staffers, including Chef Ramiro Velasquez, are still on board… Two chef’s specials — braised lamb shank and sauteed halibut — provided proof the kitchen hasn’t lost its mojo. The succulent lamb was falling-off-the-bone tender.” As for wine, a strength of Carlos, “the pared-down wine list still offers plenty from which to choose, by the glass or bottle, and serious oenophiles can inquire about the reserve list, a carryover from the venue’s days as Carlos’.” [Sun-Times]
Jeff Ruby checks out two places which have only one thing in common: crowds.
“Geneva, a charming burg along the Fox River, is home to more than 22,000 people, and roughly half were eating, drinking, or waiting at A Toda Madre,” an upscale Mexican spot from the owners of the popular family restaurant Bien Trucha. He says “Details set the standards apart: The kitchen tops its chiles rellenos with a dab of pitch-black cuitlacoche (corn fungus) and crema, which both end up swimming in the punchiest roasted tomato sauce. The menu changes fast, and small dishes, such as sticky tamarind-glazed shrimp brochetas, pack as much flavor as large ones, like juicy grilled pollo adobado with Brussels sprouts and caramelized onions. About the only things that don’t work are the (now departed) fideos, gloppy angel hair pasta that my table dubbed ‘Mexican Maggiano’s.’”
He is not, however, tempted to reference Maggiano’s when discussing how Melman Bros./Rancic collaboration RPM Italian is coming along: “scathing early reviews from local publications bummed out RPM’s party. I visited early, too, and felt the same disappointment: The giant menu, with 17 separate sections, did most everything OK and nothing particularly well… But the kitchen and confident servers [have] adjusted in the way a good restaurant does in its infancy… Instead of the backhanded slaps of my first visit, like a crazy-salty slow-roasted Sicilian pork arrosti, I encountered nuanced and gorgeous fare such as a Mediterranean sea bass crudo with fennel, black olives, and lemon zest. [Chef Doug] Psaltis knows his way around more than 200 pasta variations and takes some interesting chances, as in an intense sweet pea risotto with acquerello rice sprinkled with golden pea shoots and an even-more-intense duck agnolotti with Brussels sprouts and Mission figs in brown butter sauce.” [Chicago magazine]
Ken Zuckerberg offers one of the first reviews of Next Sicily, and has mixed feelings about the kitchen’s execution of rustic Sicilian food: “While there were a number of food items I didn’t like, only one was a complete disaster. The Bucatini in our first pasta course were unpalatably gummy, so while the flavors in the dish were fine, it was tough to eat… To be sure, there was also some downright fantastic cooking. I’ve never tasted a piece of swordfish cooked more beautifully, and I loved the lightly mashed chickpeas served with it. The Cassata was a very special dessert - beautiful to look at with flavor and texture to match.” In the end, his problem is partly with Next’s whole approach: “We watch what we’re told are the greatest chefs in the world pull off the impossible! We see a team of rising culinary stars push themselves to the limit without breaking! …2I enjoyed much of what I ate at Next Sicily, but I just don’t value those other things by which I’m supposed to be impressed. And without them, a meal at this price - with many service missteps and culinary failures - is not one to be lauded.” [FOF]
At Stockyard Palate, Lauren Zajac checks out Spoon Thai to see if it lives up to a decade of LTHForum hype, and comes away thinking it’s “Pretty good; plenty of things I really liked, but nothing that I couldn’t live without.” She likes the nam khao tawt and the pork beck larb— “otherwise known as a meat salad (seriously, what’s better than a meat salad?).” But she’s less impressed by things like Crazy Spicy Noodles (which, echoing Voltaire’s comment about the Holy Roman Empire, she says “were neither spicy, nor crazy and were completely unmemorable”). In the end she decides “Spoon Thai presents a solid option for quick and flavorful Thai food. Both [Americanized and authentic Thai] menus offered some stand-out (and weaker) choices, so my best suggestion would be to order a variety and take home the leftovers.” [Stockyard Palate]
At LTHForum, “Santander,” no fan of Big Star, colorfully praises Antique Taco’s food and, more to the point, its zeitgeist: “This place is the physical embodiment of Pinterest, and I love it. It takes a kinder, gentler approach to the Big Star concept, and executes it about 600 million times as well as Big Star. With tasteful antiques and cork boards. It’s like Big Star passed through fire, deep water, and Milwaukee [Ave.] and emerged as Gandalf the White, except actually as Ian McKellen in a seerksucker suit holding a delicious ribeye taco.” [LTHForum]
Our reviews of Banh Mi & Co. and Taqueria Mi Guadalupe are here.