The Other Critics

Sula Suspicious at The Savoy, But Tamarkin Finds It Auspicious; Arnett Rubs BellyQ

Photo: courtesy The Savoy

If oysters are one of your focuses, you better be ready to impress the guy who wrote this, and alas, Mike Sula zeroes in on a fundamental flaw at The Savoy: “on the Savoy’s Facebook page there are photographs of cooks in the kitchen shucking an iced hotel pan’s worth of oysters during prep, rather than to order. If this is standard operating procedure it would explain why three separate orders of east- and west-coast mollusks on the half shell—on two different occasions—were dry and devoid of the briny liquor essential to an enjoyably slurpy oyster.” But he finds “there are also quite a few winning dishes elsewhere on the menu. The kitchen does much better with oysters Rockefeller, the spinach studded with guanciale and licked with anise-y Pernod. That’s not the only instance in which the bar’s collection of absinthes is put to work in the kitchen. There’s an outstanding bowl of sunray venus clams in a chorizo, piquillo pepper, and absinthe-spiked broth. These are remarkable shellfish, which turn a vivid striated orange-pink when cooked and are as sweet and plump as they are beautiful.” [Reader]

Sula also finds an issue at an even more mono-focused restaurant, steak-frites spot Grass Fed: “Full-time grass-fed beef is trickier to cook. Its paucity of fat means you can’t fire it at high temperatures without ruining it. The kitchen crew at Grass Fed gets around this by cooking the ten-ounce strip loins sous vide—as in a long, low and slow vacuum-sealed bath in a water circulator. That’s right, boiled steak. In theory, it’s a not a bad idea. The constant low temperature means the steak won’t overcook and it’ll take on a silky tenderness. The problem comes in when you want to impart that irresistible char you get from a properly grilled steak—you just can’t do it.” [Reader]

David Tamarkin looks much more favorably on The Savoy, though not for the absinthe-driven cocktails, saying “while I have no problem with a little anise in my drink, I don’t know that I find that flavor most compatible with seafood… No, at the Savoy, I don’t want to drink. I want to eat. I want to get my hands on those oysters, which come with a smoked tomato cocktail sauce and a wasabi mignonette, two twists on condiments I normally prefer untwisted but here heighten the notes of seawater. I want the snow crab legs, presented in a manner that makes the sweet meat just a little bit hard to remove from the shell (whatever, I’ll work for it, it’s worth it). I want the crab cake because it’s mostly crab, the scallops because they’re beautifully cooked.” Beyond the raw bar, he finds the preparations too plain, but “you can get a nice plate of fish at many places in Wicker Park. But a Letherbee G&T;, a good plate of oysters and a creamy slice of peanut butter pie? That’s a different story.” [TOC]

RPM Italian got some rough reviews at first, but they’re starting to sound like the big sceney spot has hit some kind of a groove: Lisa Shames says chef Doug Saltis’ “expertise was front and center in the Roman-style artichokes from the hot antipasti menu section. The three, golden-brown pieces of artichoke that include the stem and some leaves—think an edible boutonnière—were wonderfully crispy.” And she finds welcome restraint in “cacio e pepe (spaghetti with black pepper and a sprinkle of cheese), a dish whose strength, when done right, as it is here, comes from its simplicity.” [CS]

Lisa Arnett awards BellyQ four exclamation points out of the gate, with particular praise for Bill Kim’s Korean pancakes, made in One Sixty Blue’s old wood-burning pizza oven: “A batter of rice flour, eggs and ice water with veggies mixed in is poured into a thin circle and then baked. Each pancake is topped with seafood ($8), goat’s milk feta ($7) or chunks of thick bacon and shreds of spicy kimchee ($8), the latter of which makes for a heavenly combo of smoky and spicy flavors.” All in all, “The flavors are bold enough to keep you interested and tantalizing enough to keep you going back for more. Expect to leave with a very happy belly.” [Redeye]

Nick Kindelsperger goes to well-loved Rogers Park spot Huaraches Doña Chio with a theory to test: “if this place prepared the huaraches to order using fresh masa, wouldn’t there be a high probability that it would do the same with tortillas? If so, this place could serve some genuinely tasty tacos.” The answers, in short, are yes they do and yes they do, as he praises the tortillas for being “thick but soft, fluffy yet substantial. They have a pronounced corn flavor, and are so big and warm, I kind of want to curl up in them. Honestly, I haven’t seen tortillas like these outside of the Maxwell Street Market.” [SE: Chicago]

Sula Suspicious at The Savoy, But Tamarkin Finds It Auspicious; Arnett Rubs