The Other Critics

Tamarkin Says The Sauce Is Boss at Pecking Order; Kramer Finds Zen at Kai Zan

Photo: courtesy Pecking Order

David Tamarkin says, basically, that if you’re focusing on the chicken rather than the sauces that the chicken is a vehicle for at Kristine Subido’s Pecking Order, you’re missing the real point: “There’s a sauce at Pecking Order I want to smear on everything I eat for the rest of my life. It’s made of soy sauce, vinegar, chicken livers and magic. It’s called P.O. (Pecking Order) sauce on the menu, and chef Kristine Subido refers to it as lechon sauce, which is the Filipino sauce P.O. sauce is modeled after. But considering the tweaks she’s made, I’m calling it Subido Sauce.” As far as he’s concerned, “The more chefery a dish requires—that is, the more opportunity Subido has to layer flavor over flavor—the better the dish. In the Pinoy eggs, a spicy and crisp take on the Scotch egg, Subido makes the longaniza sausage. In the arancini, she pairs fragrant garlic rice with a savory chicken adobo. For the chicken-and-egg noodles, Subido crafts a lovely and sophisticated broth.’ [TOC]

Julia Kramer hops on the bandwagon for new sashimi star Kai Zan, praising the restraint with which it approaches maki: “There were one-bite ‘rolls’ of salmon-wrapped scallops (called ‘Orange Rush’) and shrimp tempura wrapped in strips of avocado (the ‘Green Monster’). If these sound a little indulgent, they are. But this is the mystery of Kai Zan: The chefs veer close to excessive but never go anywhere near the grotesque cream-cheese realm that has poisoned many a neighborhood-sushi restaurant. Instead, their creations are positively refined.” She finds the atmosphere equally delicate and entrancing: “This is the sweetest, tiniest restaurant on Earth. The room is seamlessly both contemporary (a video projector screens fish swimming around the floor of the entryway) and traditional (tiny plants and lovely ceramics turn the booths homey). And the service is as unpretentious as it is attentive.” [TOC]

Untitled, the pseudo-speakeasy, surprises Mike Sula with quality, seasonal food: “The promise of seasonality seems remarkably true for an operation of this scale. There’s arugula with firm but sweet grilled peaches, delicately battered and deep-fried squash blossoms filled with warm farmer’s cheese, favas and mache sprinkled about with bloodred bresola shavings, and the ubiquitous beet salad with goat cheese, this one accented by golden raisins and pistachios.” But the praise for the kitchen runs off the rails of inattentive and downright snafu’d service: “On each visit runners were on top of everything, but my table was abandoned by its assigned servers, who failed to check in, failed to inquire if I’d like to spend more money, and failed to return unless hailed in the manner of a drowning victim… The restaurant boasts ‘the largest selection of American whiskey in the world’… but there’s no printed list available, and some bartenders in other rooms don’t seem to have been granted the power to access it.” Along the way he buries one lede: Matthew “Choo” Lipsky, acclaimed MorSo bartender who joined the operation to help open it, has already departed. [Reader]

Phil Vettel retells the story of Chef Graham Elliot for four paragraphs before introducing Andrew Brochu and Bryce Caron, actually in charge of the food at Graham Elliot these days, and turning to consideration of what’s different now: “If you’re a fan of sharp flavors, as am I, you’ll find Brochu’s style delightful. If you’re sensitive to high acidity, as is my wife (who begged off attending our follow-up visit), dining here could be less so.” He says “Brochu’s plates are so gorgeous they ought to arrive framed” and that “Caron’s best dish is the one not listed on the menu”— “the brilliant intermezzo course for both tastings, a mini-terrarium (cleverly echoing the herb-garden centerpieces decorating each table) of sesame cream, powdered black olive, pickled cherries, chocolate and myriad herbs.” [Tribune]

Kevin Pang uses Red Lantern, a Chinese restaurant (you’d never have guessed from the name, we know) in Rolling Meadows as a springboard for a longtime foodie question— how do the roundeyes get the good stuff in a Chinese restaurant with one “Pan-Asian” menu in English, and one in Chinese with the good authentic stuff? “Maybe there is truth in that 95 percent of non-Chinese prefer the crab rangoon, but perpetuating the two-menus-for-clientele philosophy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It inhibits the remaining 5 percent from growing larger. I’m not ready to brand this as reverse discrimination (or simply, ‘discrimination’), but it is, as George W. Bush coined, the soft bigotry of low expectations.” He points out what we wind up missing, dishes like san bei ji: “Plump chicken chunks simmer in soy sauce, Chinese rice wine and sesame oil, a savory and sweet lacquer that’s liquid manna on steamed rice. The chicken is cooked with scallions and ginger slices, plus whole garlic cloves that absorb as much flavor as they impart in the sauce… I’d gamble the contents of this stainless steel pot, its lid uncovered tableside with sauce still bubbling, is more satisfying than any other dish with a recognizable name.” [Tribune]

Through careful study and years of experience, Nick Kindelsperger determines that the thing to order at House of Wings is… wait for it… wings: “Unlike most joints slinging the fried food, here the buffalo wings ($6.25, for 12) are small, crispy, and bathed in a seductive spicy, sweet sauce, which is a genuine pleasure to lick off your stained fingers… That said, wings only make up only a tiny part of the menu, and I couldn’t wait to get back to see if anything else was equally good. The short answer is no. Nothing I tried was bad, but none of the items even came close to the glory of those wings.” [SE: Chicago]

Tamarkin Says The Sauce Is Boss at Pecking Order; Kramer Finds Zen at Kai Zan