The Other Critics

Vettel Rhapsodizes Balena; Sula Thinks Deeply About Frog n Snail’s Lightweightness

Pizza at Balena.
Pizza at Balena. Photo: Galdones Photography

Phil Vettel is so rapturous about Balena that his review is less a review than the reverie of someone in a daze: “the pizzas are terrific, tantalizingly thin but with puffy, oil-glossed, satisfyingly chewy edges… The ribbonlike tajarin, topped with pork ragu, oozes rusticity, as do the olives, braised rabbit and fried rosemary that grace twisty strozzapreti… A crudo of lightly smoked mackerel is not for the faint of heart — mackerel is an oil-heavy fish — but matched to a soft-cooked egg, held in place by a nurturing garlic aioli… Super-dense chocolate gelato dressed with sea salt and olive oil is superb, but it’s the dense chocolate flavor that sells it…” So we wonder why, if the food bedazzled him at every turn, is this a three-star review and not a four-star one? He says nothing about the room or service which might give us a clue, but as with Perennial Virant, something about this level of casualness must keep it from the highest ranking in his mind. [Tribune]

Mike Sula goes the long way round the question of Frog n Snail’s possible significance on the culinary scene to arrive at his conclusion about Dale Levitski’s second, more casual spot: “Even when they aren’t meant to be clever, the dishes at Frog N Snail are like Sprout’s in that their appeal is largely visual. That’s what you’d expect of a chef who excelled on television, and it’s particularly true of the salads and saladlike compositions. They don’t always work, but they’re brightly colored and lovely, with an abundance of ingredients that are individually fun to pick at.” [Reader]

In CS, Lisa Shames finds Goosefoot to be the antithesis of all that has gotten offputting about fine dining: “The sense that every ingredient has a purpose is established from the get-go: The first course pairs a perfectly seared plump scallop in a fragrant curry sauce studded with pieces of lobster and hubbard squash. A little mound of microgreens and flowers off to the side of the bowl provides a lovely edible decoration, and the white foam on top adds a hint of licorice… While you always know you’re eating food from a classically trained chef, it doesn’t feel pretentious (and I feel confident assuming there’s no yelling in the kitchen).” [CS]

Jay Doughnuts has a similar take: “Goosefoot is a simple unassuming space for a chef to feature pristine expertly cooked food. It is not an homage to the architecture of a mansion in the south of France. It is not a dimly lit cavern featuring craft cocktails. It is not the hot place to strike up an impromptu conversation with the beautiful people and snap photographs… It is a romantic restaurant that serves marvelous food that facilitates conversation and fun in a completely unpretentious way. I feel like this restaurant brings one back to the very essence of what dining used to be before elaborate themes, cutting edge architecture and dining as theater became the norm in this town. Goosefoot is a throwback to a time and place when all that mattered was fantastic food shared in the company of the people in life that you truly love. How simple and refreshing is that?” [Stockyard Palate]

Dan Zemans has mixed words for a couple of the signature items at Allium, which come down to, loved the shake, not the burgers. A Tallgrass burger is good enough, but wagyu sliders “came across more as hunks of meatloaf than anything resembling a mini-hamburger. The veal sauce went a long way towards salvaging these sliders, but there was just no getting around the mealy texture. I’m not sure whether I got a bad batch or if these are just on the menu to placate Four Seasons’ guests who will convince themselves that anything made out of wagyu short rib has to be delicious, but these were disappointing.” Fortunately there’s the butterscotch miso shake, which is “an umami-loaded caramel shake that is among the best in Chicago.” [A Hamburger Today]

Vettel Rhapsodizes Balena; Sula Thinks Deeply About Frog n Snail’s