The Other Critics

Nagrant Gives an Order to Pecking Order, Kramer Says Nando Milano is Nada

A sampel of Pecking Order's fried chicken from a preview party.
A sampel of Pecking Order’s fried chicken from a preview party. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

“This week in reviews: ‘No one likes anything,’” our friend and occasional Grub Street contributor Carly Fisher tweeted, and we can’t add much to that as an intro. Michael Nagrant grants that the fried chicken at Pecking Order is “fairly perfect” but otherwise is disappointed that “it is one thing for an occasional side dish or a dessert to be off, but when the centerpiece — in this case the chicken — isn’t quite clucking on all cylinders, that’s a problem. The menu says the roasted chicken is stuffed with lemongrass and ginger, slow-cooked in a rotisserie and basted with annatto-Calamansi butter. It may have been massaged and fed a steady diet of top-shelf whiskey too, but it did not taste of any of these things.” His advice to chef-owner Kristine Subido is blunt: “She is a mother hen working the room, warmly greeting and generously thanking all comers… but she needs to leave the dining room behind, and get back in the kitchen.” [Sun-Times]

Time Out is so-so on two new Neighborhood Italian spots. Briciola, in the former Jam/Dodo space, gets two stars from David Tamarkin, who is underwhelmed by anything but the patio it inherited from past occupants: “Fritto misto is light and crunchy, but that’s where the adjectives—and the flavor—stop. Beet carpaccio (from the carpaccio section of the menu, naturally) is simple to the point of boring and topped with balls of fried goat cheese, or what more accurately might be called pre-fried goat cheese, as what I experienced was only lukewarm and had a rubberish quality.” [TOC]

But they get off easy next to Nando Milano, a Ukrainian Village spot heretofore unknown to us (and apparently likely to stay that way) that gets a rare one star from Julia Kramer for the most basic of executional failures: “Recipes warn of it: Carefully toss the pasta with the yolks, they read, unless you want scrambled eggs. But not until Nando Milano had I ever actually seen it, carbonara with a Diner Grill’s worth of yellow scrambled eggs in place of a silky, rich sauce.” There’s an even worse sin on the complimentary bruschetta: “It’s a nice gesture, but at a moment when ripe, colorful, juicy tomatoes packed with flavor are finally arriving at the farmers’ market, it’s a shame to serve the whitish, tasteless version found in cafeteria salad bars every day of the year.” Kramer often gets described as a harsh critic, but this review is more on the order of a mercy killing. [TOC]

We tend to think any criticism of The Peasantry runs into the practical brick wall of “So where do you suggest we eat before a movie at the Century?”, but Mike Sula looks at it in a somewhat higher sociological context: “It isn’t Alexander Brunacci’s fault that we live in a city that’s afraid of food trucks and runs down outlaw eloteros, fruteros, and tamaleros at whim. But it does smart a bit to see a full-service restaurant pairing wines to ‘elevated street food’ in a city historically hostile to the real thing.” But he has mixed feelings about where that elevator lets off, noting that both a chicken and an octopus gyro “illustrate a pattern at work: sweet fruit garnishes that often tip the dishes out of balance.” Burgers fare the best: “A dense hanger steak and bone marrow patty is delicious and powerfully beefy (if too salty), its shallot marmalade balanced by Manchego and pickled cauliflower. And a duck burger, spiced with coriander and blanketed by the apricot, is brought back from the brink with a luscious slab of foie gras torchon.” [Reader]

On the other hand, Sula makes a nice find in Kai Zan, which he calls a decent substitute for Arami down the street following B.K. Park’s departure: “I’m not going to say it’s matched the erstwhile Arami in exquisiteness—for one thing, the rice they’re using isn’t as fine. But they are putting together some really nice stuff, including a modest and thoughtful selection of specialty sushi with none of the cream cheese and Krab-stuffed hoo-ha that passes for makimono on nearly every block these days.” [Reader]

Phil Vettel turns in what seems like the week’s one positive review, giving two stars to John DesRosiers and Phil Rubino’s Highland Park Italian spot Moderno, which stands out in the burbs for managing “a tricky balance of authenticity (important in a suburb with deep working-class Italian roots) and creativity. But every nontraditional element is in the service of flavor… chitarra pasta, with baby-fist-size veal meatballs and soft dabs of ricotta, gets its zing not from chile flakes (arguably the default seasoning) but from a roasted Thai-chile paste. The dish still delivers that mildly spicy hit, but it’s a deeper, more mature heat that underscores the comfort-food nature.” [Tribune]

Dan Zemans is pleased to see Nella Grassano back at work at Pizzeria da Nella: “The Bufalina, a Margherita but with buffalo mozzarella rather than fior di latte, serves as a reminder of how good even the simplest pizza can be. Nella is a fervent nationalist when it comes to pizza. She thinks that the tomatoes, the mozzarella, and the flour Italy are all better than their American counterparts. While I and countless people who have done blind taste tests strongly disagree, I couldn’t help but think she might be right while eating this pizza.” Still, careful inspection reveals flaws: “a thin line of undercooked dough is evident in the middle of the end crust. None of noticed a negative effect while eating the pizza before or after discovering the flaw, but it does raise two questions. First, if this is a consistent problem when the restaurant isn’t particularly busy, what’s going to happen if it ever takes off? Second, how good the crust can be?” [Chicago Pizza Club]

Lauren Zajac at Stockyard Palate likes Next Sicily: “Coming off of a menu as intricate and detailed as their El Bulli menu, one has to wonder if Next can continue to keep up the pace of the past year. In turn, Sicily ends up being subtle, unpretentious, and comfortable… I heartily enjoyed the fact that this menu was refined and not at all in-your-face - it just let the ingredients shine through the tasteful presentation and flavors.” [Stockyard Palate]

Nagrant Gives an Order to Pecking Order, Kramer Says Nando Milano is Nada