The Other Critics

Sula Says Follow Elizabeth Down the Rabbit Hole; Vettel Calls Bavette’s a Comfortable Winner

Iliana Regan and crew in the open kitchen of Elizabeth.
Iliana Regan and crew in the open kitchen of Elizabeth. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

“If you eat with abandon Elizabeth’s price point can rival that of Chicago’s most expensive restaurants,” Mike Sula notes, which might seem presumptuous for a chef who, as another Reader writer noted recently, has hardly cooked anywhere except her own apartment. But he says it’s worth following Iliana Regan down the rabbit hole of her woodsy, foraging-based obsessions, which have “a philosophical alignment with the uncompromisingly local and foraged food of Nordic chefs such as Rene Redzepi of Denmark’s Noma and Magnus Nilsson of Sweden’s Faviken… Regan also gets tagged with the modernist label, and all of her menus are peppered with gels, powders, and foods manipulated for dramatic effect… But the employment of these techniques rarely overshadows the sense that these strikingly pretty dishes have clear connections to the earth. This is unmistakably real food.” [Reader]

Phil Vettel thinks Bavette’s Bar & Boeuf set out to be a European steakhouse, but wound up reinventing the classic American one instead: “the finished product, its menu replete with interpretations of shrimp de jonghe, beef stroganoff and braised beef tongue (which comes across as one of the best pot roast dishes you’ll ever taste), is more American (and more Chicago-American, for that matter) than not… There’s a lot more to Bavette’s than boeuf. There are excellent terrines, for example, such as a scary-rich foie gras with blackberry-raspberry jam, and a luscious peppered-duck and goat-cheese terrine with house-made apricot mostarda. There’s a nice version of shrimp de jonghe, a Chicago invention, the sauteed shrimp heavy with garlic and sweetened ever so slightly with sherry butter. Pieces of smoked whitefish add extra depth to what is otherwise a traditional Caesar salad.” [Tribune]

Four stars for Carriage House: Julia Kramer says that Mark Steuer has found modern Southern food’s sweet spot, “the delicate balance between tradition and reinvention… You can see it in the picnic board, my second-favorite thing on the menu (after the low-country boil), a sampler of the South: distinctive country ham, a giant quenelle of pimento cheese, pickled eggs, bread-and-butter pickles, shrimp remoulade and a mini skillet of corn bread. You can see it in the roasted oysters, the lush crab soup, the ham-hock-and-succotash hash. These dishes prove you can retain a rustic, heartfelt, bold understanding of regional Southern cooking—in fact, you can bolster that tradition—while applying a chef’s understanding of balance to what appear (at first read) to be heart-stoppingly heavy foods.” [TOC]

Tesori, the new restaurant next to Symphony Center, is guaranteed an audience by virtue of location in an otherwise dead zone in the Loop, but David Tamarkin says new chef Andrew Deuel is trying hard to make it a worthy choice: “he puts out a grilled octopus that is so crispy on the outside and tender within that I asked the server if it had been deep fried. His braised veal cheeks fall apart by merely breathing on them; his scallops, paired with sweet crab, can be cut with a spoon like flan. He’s making his pastas in-house; the best one I tried was the lasagna, a stack of circular noodles, the top one of which gets crispy like a cracker. His cavatelli is nice, too, with a toothsome texture, but the braised beef cheeks on the plate only added body, not flavor.’ [TOC]

We’ve had the cecina (thin grilled cured beef) at La Oaxaqueña but it never even occurred to us that they’d put it on a taco. Nick Kindelsperger says we’ve been missing out: “It’s an absolute knockout. Instead of chopped up bits of manhandled meat, the cecina comes out as one glorious sheet of caramelized meat. The salted and cured meat has a rich and beefy flavor, with a slight mineral tang, but it’s also remarkably tender.” He says this old favorite needs new appreciation: “This last visit proved that La Oaxaqueña can still kick out some seriously good items. I can’t wait to get back.” [Serious Eats Chicago]

Sula Says Follow Elizabeth Down the Rabbit Hole; Vettel Calls Bavette’s a