The Other Critics

Kramer Leaves a Big Scratch In g.e.b.; Sula Looks Past Tweeness at Antique Taco

Chicken+buttermilk+tarragon at g.e.b.
Chicken+buttermilk+tarragon at g.e.b. Photo: Galdones Photography

It’s a good thing Julia Kramer already knows what she thinks of g.e.b., because the odds of her getting tossed out mid-risotto on any return visit went up significantly with this week’s review at Time Out Chicago. The vinyl-LPs-go-to-church atmosphere initially leaves her wondering “whether you’re going to be enjoying a meal or merely consuming someone’s brand. If the food is impressive, there’s no reason it couldn’t be both. Then the beet salad arrives… The beets are undercooked to a point that no respectable chef could pass off as al dente, the burrata—that creamy cheese with the almost-liquid center—is as stiff and oozeless as standard-issue mozzarella, and even the arugula becomes defenseless, thanks to an overly sharp hand with the lemon.” She shoots down one dish after another: “The kitchen, where Elliot has installed Jacob Saben as the chef, botches the spaetzle that accompanies the salty trout—it’s structureless and mushy. It bungles the lasagna, bland sheets of noodles with undercooked cubes of eggplant. It can’t even make a decent chocolate-chip cookie.” [TOC]

The vintage atmosphere is also Mike Sula’s initial problem with Antique Taco, but he says “I was prepared to be thoroughly annoyed… but it turns out it’s not as twee as you’d imagine.” As for the tacos, “Across the board, they’re incredibly fresh and beautifully garnished—with bright greens, vivid pickles, and pastel splashes of crema.” But “for all their beauty and freshness, they’re too delicately seasoned—even the salsa verde on the table seems restrained.” [Reader]

“Nella Grassano ruined pizza for Chicago. Or at least she ruined the notion that even bad pizza is good pizza,” Sula says of the pizzaiolo whose work at Spacca Napoli kicked off the Neapolitan-style revolution half a dozen years ago, and who now has her own Pizzeria da Nella Cucina Napoletana. The problem, of course, is getting people equally excited about her work when it now has followers everywhere, but Sula makes a game try: “I used to think it didn’t matter what you ordered on Grassano’s crusts, but I will venture that what she’s putting on top of them these days has changed for the better. According to Franco, the tomatoes, prosciutto, salami, mozzarella di bufala, and burrata all come from Italy, some from Naples (as do the flour and a fascinating all-Italian beer list).” [Reader]

Michael Nagrant thinks Premise “is thoughtfully constructed, not slapdash or cynical, a place the neighborhood needs but really doesn’t have. These are also its burdens.” He also finds a reason to consider it more than a branch office of Graham Elliot (where chef Brian Runge worked) but a thing of its own: “What’s cool about Runge is that where most modernist cuisine is still often rooted in familiar gourmet paradigms, riffs on Caprese or Nicoise salad, and creme brulee bubbles or whatever, Runge is mining the deep American South and Latin America like no modernist really has.” [Sun-Times]

Phil Vettel reviews two revamped, more casual hotel restaurants. At NoMi Kitchen, he first makes an attempt to persuade us that “$16 salads and upper-$20s (and beyond) entrees [are] steps in the direction of affordability,” but accepting that casual and approachable are relative terms in this kind of dining, praises (justly) the “uni-avocado toast, a trio of tartines topped with sea urchin (uni), avocado, capers and Mangalitsa ham” and “sweetbreads, presented over a creamy onion puff-pastry tart alongside a lemony green salad topped with braised veal tongue.” [Tribune]

He says Allium’s pace is set by the “the lavosh… baked with an off-center hole, like an artist’s palette, [which] arrives hanging from a special hook… The only way to eat it is to break pieces off with your fingers, sending crumbs every which way, and while servers quickly tidy up the mess, the point is made: This is a place where it’s OK to get your table a little messy.” He praises a number of dishes— “a steak tartare made with bison sirloin, with a sturdy, satisfying mouth feel”; “minted gnocchi and nuggets of soft sheep’s-milk cheese over a murky pool of lamb Bolognese (a clever work-up of the old lamb-mint pairing)”— though he kind of misses the signature up-meets-downscale porkiness that leaves people speaking in hushed tones of chef Kevin Hickey’s hot dogs and bacon buns. [Tribune]

With the old rule of holding off a month before you review a restaurant dead, reviewers are giving us first looks (or some such euphemism) from opening day— or even earlier. Kate Bernot visits The Trenchermen within days of its opening and finds “there’s not a hint of cuteness on the plate. This is serious food, clearly cooked by dudes with appetites. My Peking duck ($24) arrived as two generous slices of moist but not fatty breast meat, complemented by a sweet-and-sour duo of red bean paste and preserved rhubarb. Pork belly may still be the new bacon, but Trenchermen’s version ($25) isn’t a trendy copycat. Tropical flavors of coconut and banana, along with fresh sugar snap peas, keep it firmly in summer territory.” [Redeye]

Kramer Leaves a Big Scratch In g.e.b.; Sula Looks Past Tweeness at Antique Taco