The Other Critics

Nagrant Gets His Pat Bruno On at Gaetano’s; Sula, Kramer Both Wowed By Trenchermen

The real Italian at Gaetano's in Forest Park.
The real Italian at Gaetano’s in Forest Park. Photo: courtesy Gaetano’s

It was bound to happen sooner or later, but after less than a year on the job, Michael Nagrant has turned into Pat Bruno, reviewing some suburban red sauce joint in the suburbs that’s been around forever. No, no, we kid, we kid, Gaetano’s in Forest Park is exactly what you’d hope there’d still be one of out there— “mostly about great food and great service. Servers know the difference between a Sangiovese and a Primitivo. They fold your napkin every time you use the restroom, and they set thick ribeye steaks on fire tableside, carefully extinguishing and removing the ash without setting any guests on fire.” Even the signs of excess endemic to Chicago Italian (cough Rosebud cough) prove exceptional: “Seafood is treated well at Gaetano’s. Scallops are well-seared and nicely nested in perfectly al dente lemon-sauced risotto. Sweet and salty crab is stuffed between a brontosaurus-sized griddle-marked pork chop. I actually order this because the idea of pork mixed with crab seems like some kind of cosmic joke, a stoner’s dream surf and turf. I need to verify it’s as terrible as it sounds. But the joke’s on me as I realize, sucking on the bare pork bone like a lollipop, that I may have gained five pounds.” [Sun-Times]

Mike Sula at the Reader finds discordance between decor and food at The Trenchermen, but somehow that seems to suit the theme of the restaurant, which seems to be weird combinations: “The vaguely steampunk air presents a discombobulating contrast to the precise, elegantly arranged plates the brothers are putting forth. But it’s the intriguing conceptual contrasts on their menu that resonate most. You’ll see things like aged duck breast with kimchi and mortadella fried rice, pork belly and plums with bubble gum, and panna cotta made with bitter pale wheat ale.” Mostly wowed, he concludes by saying “the meticulously plated, artful, and unorthodox compositions they’re constructing now rank Trenchermen among the new class of restaurants, including Acadia, Next, El Ideas, and Goosefoot, that are responsible for the salvation and reinvention of fine dining in Chicago.” Which we must admit leaves us wondering what our scene needed saving from and what the common thread is, beyond newness, between some seriously different restaurants. [Reader]

Time Out Chicago has been breathlessly awaiting The Trenchermen since way back into 2011 (when the Sheerin brothers turned up in pieces with headlines like The Rock God Chefs of 2011). And now comes Julia Kramer’s pretty-much-a-rave review, though it would be a low thing to suggest a link between so much access and a review; it’s surely just a relief that it lives up to the pre-opening hype. Kramer says “It’s the seriousness of the food that makes this a game-changing restaurant, the type, like the Publican or Girl & the Goat, that comes along every few years and nudges fine dining in a new direction… The distinctiveness of the Sheerins’ style comes from captivating flavor combinations that transcend their parts: preserved rhubarb and aged duck breast (genius), cold-smoked sturgeon and malt-powder cream (fascinating), black olives and arctic char that’s so lush it feels decadent. Every plate seems to have exactly the right number of ingredients—not so many that it feels like showing off, not so few as to lack adventure.” Tona Palomina’s cocktails are “just as brilliant,” “but the kitchen loses its grip on flavor when it comes to sweets.” Well, even Rock Gods have their limits. [TOC]

Allium claims to offer a taste of the midwest, whether that means Door County or Bridgeport, and Peter Gianopulos buys it: “My dream meal at Allium is a sweet, peppery bowl of “urban greens” (radishes and red leaf lettuces) with a stinging-nettle vinaigrette, followed by a brandade-smeared Wisconsin walleye, and finished off with pastry chef Scott Gerken’s candy bar take on s’mores, which includes smoked chocolate sauce and wisps of cotton candy. Collectively, it’s a reflection of the Midwest: an edible amalgam of green fields, cool streams, and smoky campfires.”

While Paris is reflected surprisingly well at Maison, whose main dining room Gianopulos calls “a stunning exercise in merging clean-lined modernity with Old World grace.” Of Chef Perry Hendrix’s roast chicken, he says “basted with plenty of lemon and garlic, [it] is a revelation. The drippings soak into a slice of toast under the bird. It will redefine your definition of French toast forever… Dried figs and a potato purée show up too often. But for every misstep—an overpowering take on veal liver, a pale-tasting duck pâté, an uninspired chocolate mousse—there is a success.” [Chicago]

The promise of some kind of Cameroonian-Southern fusion in early publicity for Alain’s didn’t seem to be borne out by the menu. Lisa Arnett says it’s there but hard to detect if you aren’t well versed in African food: “Dinner started with a plate of fried dough, which my date and I happily munched on without knowing it was a Cameroonian street food that Njike likens to Italy’s biscotti. Our server was sweet, but didn’t share any background about the dish’s Cameroonian touches… my date and I ate our tender rabbit ($22) and perfectly cooked but under-seasoned wagyu beef ($28) served atop what we assumed were sort-of runny mashed potatoes. As it turns out, Njike calls them Bamileke potatoes, named for the farmers of western Cameroon and inspired by their technique of tater-cooking. Rather than boiling and then mashing peeled potatoes, he leaves them unpeeled and then steams, purees and chills them before warming in a pan with a semi-soft cheese from France’s Basque region.” [Redeye]

City Winery, the food-slash-music venue, is big. And like a lot of big places when they first open, slow. And like a lot of imports from New York, kind of terrible: “If City Winery opened in New York in 2008 and the Chicago menu is “best of” New York’s, why do some of the dishes feel ripped from a Naperville wine bar menu circa 2005? Panini flights and molten chocolate cake are not going to hold their own on Randolph Street—especially when the sandwiches are under-filled and the cake is overdone. Duck tacos ($10 for three) were so comically tiny we were compelled to take a photo. Paella balls ($13) are a fun Spanish spin on Italian arancini, but these spheres of rice and the occasional chunk of shrimp tasted more like chewy hush puppies.” [Redeye]

Nagrant Gets His Pat Bruno On at Gaetano’s; Sula, Kramer Both Wowed By