The Other Critics

Vettel Tickled By Pickle Tots at Trenchermen; Nagrant Takes Road to Morocco at Shokran

Pickle tots at The Trenchermen.
Pickle tots at The Trenchermen. Photo: Galdones Photography

The Trenchermen is so cutting-edge it tickles Phil Vettel into one of his most animated recent reviews. To wit: “Chicago’s Greektown supplied the inspiration for the scallops dish, though the Sheerins turn the influence inside out. The supporting avgolemono sauce is thickened by oysters, and the bottarga sprinkled on top consists of dehydrated cured egg. Thus there is seafood, but no eggs, in the egg-lemon sauce, and eggs, but no seafood, in the fish-roe accent.” He pretty much loves the Jules Verne look and the playful cuisine: “Among the more inspired creations are pan-roasted duck breast (aged for a week in-house) with umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums) and arancini, the rice balls stuffed with mortadella (made in-house from duck legs) and kimchi; and cold-smoked sturgeon (an upscale nod to deli sturgeon) with ground cherries. I loved the bresaola-style chicken slices, piled high over cubes of pickle tots (the brothers’ terrific take on tater tots) and a beet-tinged, ranch-dressing-meets-borscht yogurt sauce. And the smoked sweetbreads, served with lime-infused carrot slivers and a house-made XO sauce, has become my favorite sweetbread dish in town.” [Tribune]

Anthony Todd takes an early look at Asan-fusion fine dining spot Embeya and finds that “cozied up against the likes of Avec, Sepia, Blackbird and Girl & the Goat, Embeya manages to stand out—but just barely… the restaurant, helmed by Chef Thai Dang (Sunda, L20), showcases ingredients that most Chicago diners will never have encountered before. Unfortunately, some of the unfamiliar ingredients form parts of oddly muted dishes that seem designed to provoke a reaction of ‘oh, that’s not that scary’ instead of ‘that’s amazing.’” [Chicagoist]

In a four-star review in the Sun-Times, Thomas Witom says “At Moderno, the kitchen does a fresh take on Italian fare. Its dishes, typically composed of no more than five ingredients, draw from the entire Mediterranean region and beyond. Pastas are handmade, pizza prepared from scratch, produce locally sourced and meats sustainably raised… [owner John] Des Rosiers established his credentials as a trendsetting restaurateur with the opening of Inovasi in Lake Bluff in 2009, and the same attention to detail is evident at his newest North Shore venue where he’s joined by culinary veteran Phil Rubino (L2O, Bin 36 and Hotel Sofitel) as executive chef.” [Sun-Times]

Michael Nagrant’s month-long tour of superior ethnic spots continues with Shokran, a Moroccan restaurant on the northwest side: “In general, Shokran’s greatest asset is its commitment to authenticity. It is not pandering to some vaguely popular appetite for “Mediterranean” cuisine… Its waiters are detail-oriented, shimming our table immediately when they noticed a tiny wobble, and folding napkins when my wife used the restroom. The waiters are also proud, pedagogical about their homeland, schooling you on the differences between taktouka (a smoky salad of green pepper and tomato) and zaalouk (a relish of eggplant and tomato burning with garlic and a healthy glug of olive oil).” [Sun-Times]

Of Boystown’s new Wood, Mike Sula says “I just finished complaining about the preponderance of unfocused small-plates restaurants last week and here’s yet another, with its beet salad and pork belly, flatbreads and pasta, charcuterie and cheese plates, oversweetened cocktails and perfunctory wine list. To be fair, the neighborhood doesn’t have anything like this. A fear of focus might grip the city’s restaurateurs, but that doesn’t mean every neighborhood shouldn’t have something similar to Wood within walking distance. Sometimes you just want french fries with your spaghetti.” [Reader]

David Tamarkin goes into Bavette’s thinking it will be another clone of Brendan Sodikoff’s previous spots, but finds it a step forward in maturity. He also finds it a steakhouse whose star is chicken: “he fried chicken is crazy good, the juicy wings encased in a flaky and crunchy crust; the roast chicken is otherworldly, with skin a very dark amber, delicate and moist flesh and a thick jus on the plate. It’s the steak of roast chicken, with a lot more umami than the 24-ounce dry-aged rib eye packs. That steak was cooked exactly to the temperature I had requested and had a salty, savory crust, which makes the first bites remarkable. As I got farther into the steak, though, it lost a lot of its flavor, and I became disenchanted.” [TOC]

Julia Kramer contrasts Two with the previous tenant, The Black Sheep: “Say what you will about the Black Sheep, but it presented this city with restaurant drama par excellence. Two is the opposite, a restaurant that could be defined by its reliability… Thyme is about as crazy as Two gets, sprinkling it generously on cavatelli in pork bolognese sauce… The dishes depend on solid execution, and with the exception of a gummy, overly sweet carrot soup, they fulfill that obligation.” [TOC]

Titus at Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing With the King spotted Zizi’s Cafe, a Turkish cafe on Sheffield near Diversey, and reports on its claim to have the best Turkish bread in town: “I thought the house baked breads which I saw them baking when waiting were fantastic. I’ll admit to not being an expert in Middle Eastern food but this place pleased me and it started with their bread… The chicken sandwich is a pretty good deal at $5.95. It includes fries but those are the biggest turnoff thus far about the place, the fries are served soggy, turn that oil up! But damn that bread! I really liked this sandwich which came with the meat of choice and also onions, carrots, lettuce, red cabbage and yogurt sauce.” [Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing With the King]

“The locavore clichés hit me immediately,” Kenny Zuckerberg says of Streeterville’s new Local Root. “The values… are values I share; it’s just that I’ve heard them so many times from counterfeits that my instinct these days is to discount the claims as marketing gimmick. The thing is, Local Root really seems to be living the principles, especially the one about deliciousness being paramount.” He’s impressed by the space devoted to making the food from scratch in this high-rent district, and even with high prices, “I love what the Local Root is doing and will be a frequent customer… there’s a cost to doing a restaurant build-out in the way I described above, and this place is employing a large number of skilled culinary folks, not high school students cooking from a corporate instruction manual as at so many other places in the area. I want to support that and, more importantly, I think the quality of the food here is worth the prices.” [FOF]

Our reviews of The Trenchermen, Stout Barrel House, Ada Street and other restaurants are here.

Vettel Tickled By Pickle Tots at Trenchermen; Nagrant Takes Road to Morocco at