The Other Critics

Nagrant Passes The Salt to Antique Taco; Ruby Passes a Crown to Sixteen

Carnitas taco at Antique Taco.
Carnitas taco at Antique Taco. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Michael Nagrant likes Antique Taco but thinks it needs an age-old lesson: “The single biggest difference between a great restaurant and merely a good one comes down to the kitchen’s ability to season. And by that standard, Antique Taco, a new restaurant in Wicker Park, is merely good.” He has high praise for the ingredients: “The tortillas at Antique Taco are warm, redolent with corn perfume, and satisfyingly chewy with a touch of flour. They are stuffed with tender, glistening, grill-marked ribeye larded with hunks of gooey cheese and gorgeous juicy bits of tomato… others are brimming with funky mushrooms, toothsome pickled cauliflower florets and Barbie Dream House-pink onions and wilted garlicky kale. But without a lifting pinch of salt, the chili in the chicken comes off as dusty, and the ribeye is flat. The mushroom’s natural funk fades and the kale’s greenness smacks too much of eating raw from the garden.” [Sun-Times]

Jeff Ruby says that Sixteen is the most serious contender to join Alinea at the top of Chicago dining in a long time: ” There may be no dining setting more striking, with its massive Swarovski crystal chandelier, smooth steel and granite details, and 30-foot-tall windows boasting a panoramic view of Chicago you’ve never seen and won’t soon forget… Then there is that staff, trained within an inch of their lives to treat you like the multimillionaire you suddenly imagine yourself to be.” But what matters is that there’s food to live up to that setting: “Even offerings that sound fairly innocuous (fillet of Dover sole?—yawn) become showstoppers in Lents’s rejuvenated kitchen. Each delicious, mild chunk of sole is blessed with osetra caviar, and when the runner pours on a warm carrot and ginger nage, it may as well be your sense of wonder streaming from that ramekin.” [Chicago]

Mike Sula says that G.E.B.’s three-word descriptions “reinforce[] the claim of simplicity, and it’s a conceit that attempts to set high expectations by diminishing all expectations.” At times it lives up to that: “coins of dense pork tenderloin strewn with cubes of luminous red fruit, creamy grits, dollops of chimichurri, and breaded and deep-fried okra [typify] much of what’s on [chef Jacob] Saben’s menu: a lemony mussel and pea shoot risotto, a thick tangle of vivid green linguine with plump little clams, a cool shrimp and avocado salad with tangy, creamy dressing garnished with Thai basil… It all adds up to a majority of solidly prepared dishes, and it’s hard to fault even some of the less exciting ones, such a trout fillet with dry green sorrel spaetzle and mushrooms that needed some kind of sauce to help it go down, or a grass-fed skirt steak that was lean and beefy but not distinctive enough to stand up a simple bearnaise sauce. That makes the cost, which tops out in the low $20s for entrees, a little hard to swallow, particularly when accounting for $12 cocktails that miss just as often as they hit.” [Reader]

David Tamarkin is happy that Cru Cafe & Wine Bar is back to hang out at, but he’s not wild about the food: “I wouldn’t return to Cru for dinner. For a snack, maybe. There’s actually a “snacks” portion of the menu here, and from it I tasted a bowl of creamy egg salad with crispy capers on top, and another bowl of lightly pickled fennel and beets. These were nice plates that were all the nicer for not stealing the spotlight from the drinks… But when it comes to anything other than a snack, Cru’s kitchen sends out plates that are either confusing or awkward or both.” [TOC]

With Sicily, Tamarkin walks in wondering when Next will jump the shark— “In the very first moments of Next’s Sicily menu, I worried that moment had come.” But after the pork shoulder, “the beautiful, tender, savory pork shoulder of your dreams,” he leaves asking “How can Next get this pork so right and other restaurants can’t? I don’t know the answer, but as long as Next is putting out food like that, the thrill of the place is going nowhere.” [TOC]

Julia Kramer’s expectations for Black Bull are perhaps not overly high, knowing that it’s kin to TV-bedecked upscale-bar food spots Hubbard Inn and Barn & Co. Given the tapas theme, you can imagine her bashing it with a leg of jamon serrano from Vera. But she finds that head chef Bob Zrenner “and his chef de cuisine, Matt Wilde, pretty much nail it… A bowl of beautiful marinated olives is set down as soon as you’re seated. Follow it up with an order of the jamon toasts, then the mejillones en escabeche: The mussels are purportedly pickled, though they have none of the piquancy you’d expect from the description. Instead, they’re plump and mild-flavored, set on top of a rustic potato puree in one of those tins you usually see filled with imported tuna. Patatas bravas have the crunch of triple-fried french fries and are drizzled with ketchup and mayo: How could that be bad?” In the end, “The flavors aren’t new, and they’re not especially bold. But they’re nothing if not satisfying.” [TOC]

With longtime suburban spots dropping like flies, Phil Vettel hurries back to 30-year-old Tallgrass in the canal town of Lockport in the southwest suburbs. Despite the rustic setting, he says “this restaurant is firmly in the now, the kitchen’s output as fresh and relevant as anything in downtown Chicago… Yes, the food emerges from the kitchen on carts, and main courses arrive at the table beneath silver domes. But that’s about it for yesteryear. Beneath those cloches you’ll find dishes such as Burcenski’s Prawn BLT, a salad featuring a large Madagascar prawn topped by a crisp-fried, paper-thin slice of prosciutto, flanked by overlapping slices of heirloom tomatoes. Equally impressive is the multiple-textured composition of crunchy endive supporting a creamy slab of red-pepper panna cotta topped with asparagus, feta cheese and crispy cheddar biscuit.” [Tribune]

“Though I’m sometimes cynical about the food scene, one can’t help but think things have changed for the better when a stereotypical sports bar - ‘a total bro place’ as a friend described it - serves food that’s as real as at Stout Barrel House,” says Kenny Zuckerberg. “On my first visit I ordered what you’re supposed to order at a sports bar: the burger. Served on a thoroughly buttered, well-toasted potato bun, this was a loose, juicy patty with a nice exterior crust. It was served with mustard aioli, some barely-melted sharp white cheddar and peppery arugula - pungent, quality ingredients that told me someone in the kitchen is sourcing products with care. On the side were some picture perfect fries - crisp on the outside, potatoey in the center and well-salted. I also ordered the house pickles -a seasonal assortment of carrots, radishes and more stuff that tasted as if it had come straight from the farmer’s market.” [FOF]

Our reviews of Au Cheval and Vera are here.

Nagrant Passes The Salt to Antique Taco; Ruby Passes a Crown to Sixteen