The Other Critics

Nagrant Loves Dessert, Sula Goes For Cocktails at City Tavern; Kramer Baffled by Dragon Ranch

Steak and ale pie at City Tavern.
Steak and ale pie at City Tavern. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Michael Nagrant advises jumping straight from cocktails to dessert at City Tavern: “In these times of challenging sweet selections, where dedicated pastry chefs are rare, where a brownie doused in ice cream is often your only hope, City Tavern slings a splendid selection of confection, thanks to the artistry of executive chef Kendal Duque. The cream pie is a custard of the gods flecked with toasted coconut swimming in a moat of thick cat’s meow-inducing cream.” But the rest of the meal is a catalog of executional flubs: “The duck fat-fried potato chips are soaked with the greasy sheen of deep fryer oil, and the salt-light beef cheeks, though tender, are slicked with the slime of broken-down connective tissue. The shrimp po’ boy is po’ indeed, though the nuggets of tempura-fried shrimp are fairly spectacular, they are bone dry, the would-be wetting remoulade soaked into a pathetic hot dog bun. A friend from New Orleans dining with me declares it an affront to his heritage.” [Sun-Times]

Mike Sula finds that the food at City Tavern is the right food for the wrong season: “It’s not that he’s ignoring seasonal produce—it’s just that many dishes are almost ponderously heavy for this time of year… That steak and ale pie is a tall puck of heavy, fat-saturated pastry filled with juicy shredded beef. It’s a workmanlike production that would see you through a day in the fields, or help you recover after one.” For him, the star is Peter Vestinos’ cocktail list dotted with Colonial-era throwbacks: “There are light, refreshing, sometimes sweet-and-sour drinks that are remarkably balanced. They don’t all have the direct historical referent of, say, the milk punch, a gingered rum drink in a copper mug (dairy added to balance the acid) that goes down almost too easy. But even those that don’t—such as an equally guzzleable rum, lime, and cider Stone Fence—seem as if they could.” [Reader]

“What happens when you not only don’t know what a restaurant is trying to do, but you also seriously question why it would want to do it?” Julia Kramer asks of Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ. Open your mind, lady: clearly the world has been waiting for a place where they can get Scotch eggs, a moonshine-based bar program “which not even the sweetness of a rhubarb-lemonade cocktail can keep from smelling and tasting like nail-polish remover,” and ramen that tastes “like nothing so much as spaghetti.” Only once does the concept seem to make sense, when she orders the American-style brisket not with “gummy corn bread [but] with Chinese steam buns, piled with julienned pickled daikon and carrots.” [TOC]

A place called Wood has evidently opened in Boystown, and David Tamarkin calls it “one of the first places in a while to realize that, hey, Boystown’s gotta eat”; he has praise for “soft-shell crab, battered so lightly at first I thought it had been merely sautéed… sitting on a summery mix of corn, fava beans and small tomatoes that had been peeled” and for “squash blossoms, light and crispy ricotta-filled flowers on a punchy eggplant puree.” Service also seems to be a step up for Boystown, “careful and considerate and concerned to the point that I worried the staff might be getting too emotionally involved.” [TOC]

In CS, Michael Nagrant calls Urban Union “a bistro not so much in the French tradition, but in the general idea of a warm and reasonably priced convivial spot to slurp an oyster, share a small plate or two with friends and hoist a glass of something in celebration that you are lucky to be alive.” He says chef Michael Shrader blew him away at Epic and “at Urban Union, he is continuing to blow me away. There’s the manicotti, a staple of dowdy Italian grandmothers everywhere. Here, Shrader sexes it up by stuffing it with luscious pieces of tender lamb, a thick red lacquer of tomato sauce and gooey bubbling ricotta… There’s foie gras, a luxury staple so cliché I’m ashamed at how often I order it. And yet, Shrader poaches his in duck fat. In case you don’t know, that’s duck-fattened liver cooked in duck fat, which is pretty much like deep-frying butter in butter, which is to say, awesome!” [CS]

Phil Vettel seems to be judging Red Door by the standards of Troy Graves’ previous restaurant, Eve, calling it “unambitious.” Then he says “One could assemble quite the globe-trotting meal here, choosing from Korean-style spareribs and pickled cucumbers over a nonthreatening kimchi, Vietnamese-seasoned chicken thighs on a bed of shishito peppers, and crispy, panko-breaded rabbit schnitzel with house-made sauerkraut and honey mustard. Graves’ sole concession to pub-food protocol is the Red Door burger, fashioned with butterkase cheese and bacon-onion jam.” As unambitious goes, sounds pretty ambitious. [Tribune]

Our reviews of Red Door, Publican Quality Meats, and The Dark Knight Rises are here.

Nagrant Loves Dessert, Sula Goes For Cocktails at City Tavern; Kramer Baffled by