The Other Critics

Kramer: Bombs & Brickbats; Nagrant: Lula Still a Lulu

Baume & Brix.
Baume & Brix. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Anybody read any good slams from food critics lately? Julia Kramer calls Baume & Brix “the unlikely marriage of the whimsical, modern cooking espoused at Moto (from whence chefs Thomas Elliott Bowman and Ben Roche came) to the thumping, clubby scene of nightlife-restaurants like Tavernita, Sunda, etc. I’m not saying this merger can’t be successful (see: José Andrés’s Bazaar in Beverly Hills), only that my two meals were not. In fact, they were haphazard, dissatisfying and, occasionally, comical.” Besides service woes, she calls the food “a parade of dispiriting, ill-conceived courses, which ranged from palatable but dull (one-note “umami” mushroom soup with a poached egg, your basic burrata salad, a muted chicken-liver “parfait” layered with egg salad) to confounding and a little vile.” What went wrong? For one, “Bowman and Roche (the latter of whom was the pastry chef at Moto) intend to create some sort of symbiosis between sweet and savory. This is occasionally charming… But more often, the sweetness in the savory food feels intrusive and overbearing, and their dishes don’t convey a clear or convincing concept.” [TOC]

Music and food venue City Winery has received little love for the latter half of the equation, and Julia Thiel suggests that act is still not together: “Our waitress recommended the salumi flatbread (crispy and sparingly topped with red peppers and thinly shaved salami) and the funghi rice balls—which were a little bland but could have been saved by the black pepper-cream sauce if the latter had had any discernible pepper in it… the flank steak in our steak frites entree was so tough it was impossible to eat while talking, each bite requiring a minute or so to get down. The flavor of the underseasoned piece of meat did nothing to make up for the texture, though the chimichurri sauce served with it helped a little. And, City Winery, if you’re going to serve meat that’s impossible to cut without a steak knife, it would be nice if you supplied steak knives instead of butter knives with it.” [Reader]

“There are restaurants, and then there are movements that happen to serve great food,” Michael Nagrant says of Jason Hammel’s Lula Cafe, which seems exactly right to us. “Nowadays, everyone is concerned with creating a neighborhood touchstone, serving value-priced gourmet food and pimping their local farms. Ten years ago there was, mostly, only Lula.” He praises owner Hammel but also current chef Michael Simmons and pastry chef Kate Neumann for lifting “what began as a simple coffee house fronted by a former TGI Friday’s line cook” to “a restaurant grounded in the local/sustainable ethos of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse, the detail and thoughtful approach to cooking espoused by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry and the ideal of an American version of a French brasserie.” [Sun-Times]

Jeff Ruby thinks Bill Kim’s BellyQ has basically invented its own genre— “a hub for soulful Asian cooking… Each section of the laser-focused menu harbors at least one instant classic. From ‘Belly Bites’ there’s Thai-style fried chicken: crispy triple-battered boneless thighs, supple and moist in a tangy lemongrass-basil chili sauce. Among salads, the leader is chilled soba noodles with marinated Chinese eggplant, fried shallots, and plump shrimp poached in olive oil— a brilliant combination of tastes and textures. Under ‘Wood Burning Oven,’ Kim finds a home for savory Asian pancakes like his mom’s… Even tofu hot pots—words roughly as exciting as “accrual-based accounting”—are creamy stunners, particularly one stocked with pork belly, rice cake, mushroom, and zucchini. BellyQ gave me what I wanted before I knew I wanted it.’ [Chicago]

Chef Thai Dang, of Embeya, however, has tackled a similar challenge but for Ruby, “his ‘progressive Asian cuisine’ at Embeya is not where it needs to be. For every standout, such as a clever green papaya salad with crispy shallots and nubbins of beef jerky, the kitchen offers a dud like the banana blossom with royal trumpet mushrooms and red perilla or gimmicks like ‘sea snails,’ pork stuffing in escargot shells. You’re meant to extract the pork, drizzle on garlic lemongrass nuoc cham, and smile. You’re not meant to leave them half uneaten.” [Chicago]

Alison Neurner starts by praising a bar snack of a stuffed, fried olive Scotch egg-style at Tesori. “Why begin a review here? It’s a bar snack, yes, but it offers a fair picture of Tesori: rustic yet elegant, hearty yet balanced… soulful food makes this restaurant a treat. Chef Andrew Deuel, most recently chef at Armani Ristorante 5th Avenue in New York, brings excitement and refinement to a menu of robust, accessible Italian flavors.” [Crain’s]

Kramer: Bombs & Brickbats; Nagrant: Lula Still a Lulu