The Other Critics

Vettel Calls You To La Sirena, But Tamarkin’s Experience Choppier; Sula Considers Baume & Brix Still Experimental

Photo: courtesy La Sirena Clandestina via Facebook

Phil Vettel gives John Manion’s Brazilian bar and cafe La Sirena Clandestina two stars, which is almost always the most he’ll give to a place this casual in feel, but the review suggests that on food alone, he could have gone higher: “I love the soulful moqueca (a deeply rich stew of fish, mussels and shrimp over cilantro risotto), the delicate sea bass casserole with coconut and curry notes and, my favorite, the whole-fried snapper, which combines satisfying crunch with beautiful, slightly sweet flesh. I haven’t had a snapper this good in some time.” Maybe he has a few reservations about startup kinks being worked out, but he’s not much bothered by them: “La Sirena isn’t a complete package, but it’s only going to get better… Service and the kitchen, as they catch their respective breaths, will find their rhythm, allowing for a more dynamic menu and even lunch service, which Manion intends to add.” [Tribune]

David Tamarkin certainly found something to like at La Sirena Clandestina— the moqueca, which also turns up on Time Out’s 100 Best Things We Ate list. But he clearly found a more mixed experience there: “much of this food lives in the middle place between fine and good. The chicken thighs lean good—they have crispy skins and the meat is juicy—but because the elements promised on the menu (garlic, chilies) aren’t too detectable, the dish lacks punch. Vegetarian empanada fillings (a mush of squash; the tired combination of mushrooms and goat cheese) can’t compare to the big, spicy, gamey flavor in the venison version….I loved the ceviche (swordfish the night I had it) for Manion’s light touch with the pineapple and the crackly, housemade ‘saltines’ that come with it. And I wanted to love the acaraje (black-eyed pea fritters), but I found that the vatapá, a thick coconut milk/peanut/fish sauce puree, overpowered the plate.” [TOC]

Mike Sula isn’t nearly as negative as Time Out was about Baume & Brix, but he does seem to find that as a bag of tricks, Baume & Brix isn’t up to speed yet— it “isn’t nearly as zany as Moto, or even Ing—though it’s similar to the latter in the way it’s incorporating highly manipulative techniques less expensively and more casually than the familiar temples of culinary modernism…. and for some reason it’s not showcasing the skill and technique of its very able chefs to please even those who appreciate being thrown off balance once in a while.” [Reader]

Michael Nagrant calls Lakeview gluten-free restaurant Senza “a pretty good restaurant in any context. In fact, you might consider its wheat-free status an advantage.” For instance, Chef Noah Sandoval’s “pillowy ‘everything gnocchi’ (a play on the beloved everything bagel) dusted in roasted crispy garlic, poppy, sesame and salt, dripping with the yolk of a freshly breached soft-boiled duck egg, kicks the pants off most of the leaden versions served at Italian joints around town,” though “If it’s pasta you crave, you’re better off getting the tagliatelle. There is no compromise at all in the tender, almost scrim-like, truffle-perfumed sheets folded into a blanket that swaddles juicy, bursting roast cherry tomatoes and sweet, funky chanterelle mushrooms. This is pasta of the gods, and, for my gluten-free friend, a godsend.” [Sun-Times]

In Chicago Social, Nagrant calls Embeya “a palace full of dark bamboo columns, hand-carved wood screens, gray banquettes and emerald green Venetian plastered walls.” He praises ” lime-soaked, chopped baby clams with wispy rice crackers. The salad of citrus-bursting papaya comes tossed with tender cracklin’ bits of housemade beef jerky. Lime-coated pieces of banana blossom are fortified with shavings of Thai chili. Both of these salads are as good as anything you’d get at a really good Thai or Vietnamese joint, but more elegant and precisely balanced.” [CS]

At Crain’s, Laura Bianchi notes what’s changed at C-House: “When it opened four years ago, this intimate Streeterville space in the former Affinia Hotel was a contemporary seafood and chop house with a bustling raw bar and a celebrity chef, New York’s Marcus Samuelsson… Mr. Samuelsson has moved on, the raw bar is dark (though you can still get oysters) and the menu is more meat-centric.” But chef Rah Shabazz “brings a global outlook and a pre-epiphany Paula Deen abandon to his kitchen, inspired by his years living in the South. It may be too rich for some, but this is stick-to-your-ribs comfort food with a chef’s creativity.” [Crain’s]

Dennis Lee takes a look at that exotic specimen the loose-meat burger on behalf of Serious Eats Chicago, hitting Chicago’s first Maid-Rite: “The sandwiches themselves are as simple as they look. This is 80/20 ground beef, never frozen, very finely ground, and cooked to the point where it’s very soft but still retains its beefy flavor… I preferred the zany loose meat with American cheese, also known as a Cheese-Rite ($4.49). The cheese adds a sort of salty and, well, cheesy cement to the mix… Would I go back for a loose meat sandwich? I’m torn. For you fans, I totally see why you like, even love, a good loose meat sandwich. I respect you one-hundred percent. A loose meat sandwich presents beauty in simplicity.” [SE: Chicago]

Our reviews of Next Kyoto, La Sirena Clandestina and Fat Rice are here. We are always looking for interesting voices to highlight; if you review restaurants at your blog or for a publication, feel free to make us aware of the fact at

Vettel Calls You To La Sirena, But Tamarkin’s Experience Choppier; Sula