The Other Critics

Sula Finds Duality at Two; Nagrant Does Neighborhood Filipino and Likes It

Photo: courtesy Two

We were just wondering if Two had slipped by the Reviewer-American community entirely, but here’s Sula with a review of the Noble Square farm-to-table restaurant from the owners of Hinsdale’s well-regarded Zak’s Place. He finds it two-sided: “I had meals of such significant inconsistency I felt I was eating in different establishments, on one occasion snarfing up a bowl of ruddy, thick duck egg pasta with duck confit and cracklings with such reckless abandon I lost all sense of self. Same goes for a fall-off-the bone chicken thigh with an abundance of sweet corn and chewy fingerling potato coins, and a stack of lightly crispy and fluffy potato croquettes with a chile aioli.” But on another visit “my table was subjected to a succession of dishes so fundamentally wrong it felt as if culinary students were feeding us. The off odor of grilled octopus swimming in stewed tomatoes arrived well in advance of its leathery flesh, while a chilled plank of smoked salmon had a mushiness that wouldn’t have been noticeable had it been sliced thin rather than nearly an inch thick.” [Reader]

MIchael Nagrant kicks off a month dedicated to mom-and-pop neighborhood restaurants by doing something we can’t remember any major publication reviewer ever doing: reviewing a Filipino restaurant. (Pecking Order doesn’t count.) Unlike many of the steam table places, Isla Pilipina on Lawrence cooks to order, and he praises “the lumpia shanghai on offer at Isla — thin, golden-fried cigars stuffed with pork, egg, jicama, and carrots and served with a sweet chili sauce […] some of the best egg rolls in town,” and says “If noodles are your thing, the pancit bihon — crispy rice noodles strewn with tender planks of roast chicken and shredded vegetables — is well-seasoned, unlike the pancit palabok, which is gummy noodles sogged down with a semi-congealed bland tofu sauce… But it’s the giant Jules Verne-worthy, char-grilled whole squid stuffed with onion and tomato that really gets my juices flowing. This plate features firm, but not chewy squid kissed with smoke and a nice touch of salt.” [Sun-Times]

A Paladar is a privately-owned restaurant in Cuba, usually in a private home; think of it as a pop-up restaurant where the penalty isn’t a health inspector shutting you down but 10 years in a Commie jail. Julia Kramer says the Logan Square restaurant of that name “has a surplus of warmth and homeyness” that even Fidel can’t kill, recommending the “’premium’ mojito, which has a deeper, more distinctive flavor from fresh sugarcane juice” and the ropa vieja which is “perfect as is, rich and comforting, accompanied by sweet caramelized plantains and tender rice, simple proof that sometimes, nothing beats a home-cooked meal.” [TOC]

Mostly so-so pastas (with one standout) at Alimentari, in the former Meiji space from the owner of the recently-closed Pane Caldo, prove a contradiction for Julia Kramer: “between the busser and our genuine, bubbly waitress, the service at Alimentari is phenomenal. So, yes, this restaurant’s very-average Italian food is an odd, dated indicator of how far Randolph Street has come. But it’s also a reminder of how far it has to go.” [TOC]

Grandma J’s Local Kitchen lives up to its comfy, welcoming billing for David Tamarkin: “Here, it’s all about well-prepared eggs, well-toasted toast, crispy bacon, crunchy housemade potato chips. The fact that the eggs might come with a tiny pile of very delicious, very herby mushrooms, or that the eggs and bacon and cheddar in the “morning sandwich” are slathered generously with chive mayo—these are just extra gifts from the kitchen. They’re the details that separate Grandma J’s from a run-of-the-mill diner, sure. But it’s Grandma J’s dinerlike qualities that make the place appealing.” [TOC]

Kenny Zuckerberg goes into Moderno in Highland Park suspecting John des Rosiers is all hat and no bufala, but a simple order of cacio e pepe “flat out rocked. Moderno uses house made stangozzi which are wonderfully chewy - perfect to me. In a dish this simple where all the punch comes from black pepper, it darn well better be good pepper. It was. This had the aroma and taste of very fresh stuff that had been ground by hand with a mortar and pestle.” But tagliatelle all’amatriciana at Nando Milano Trattoria “was a disaster. The sauce featured some kind of housemade bacon that tasted like it had been soaking for a year in maple syrup.” [FOF]

Sula Finds Duality at Two; Nagrant Does Neighborhood Filipino and Likes It