Year in Review

Six Ways Dining in Chicago Changed In 2012

All the Grub Street cities are taking a look at how the world of food changed in 2012 in their respective metropoli. From a weirdly ubiquitous fruit to a hilarious new sub-profession, here are the trends that we saw, and where necessary, what we can do to discourage them from spreading any further. Check out our colleagues’ lists throughout the day to see what life is like in other parts of Foodlandia.

Enormous is the new normal.

The perfect restaurant of the year is an aircraft hangar with a woodburning pizza oven. (We can think of at least two: Nellcôte and Balena.) Randolph Street alone must have added a thousand seats this year, and then there’s megasteakhouse Del Frisco, which is applying for nation status at the U.N. We wonder how well some of the concepts will really work out (we weren’t really sure the scene needed a new Moto five times as big, but there Baume & Brix is). Yet everything seems packed night after night, except maybe Alhambra. Maybe instead of worrying about restaurants, we should start to wonder if grocery stores can survive this much dining out.

…And Little is Back!

Two places with “Little” in their name opened in the last couple of weeks. Places like Found and Gather promise a dining experience as intimate as a hug from grandma— in fact, one of our favorite new spots is actually named for a grandma. Chefs are cooking right in front of you, and not because you’re at Benihana. Cozy is the new cavernous.

Yuzu? Whozu? Ubiquizu!

Has anyone ever actually seen a yuzu? Do we have proof that it’s an actual fruit and not invented, like Crunchberries? Yet it was the flavor on menus everywhere, a replacement for lemon that added the same tartness but was strangely different. As in, actually, less distinct and interesting, frankly. We’re not going to say it has no place on menus, but we regard it with suspicion— if you’re going to use it, it better be better than just squeezing a lemon over something like chefs have been doing, for good reason, since Rome ruled the Mediterranean.

Cocktails got real serious.

Remember when it was a novelty to have a place that made its own bitters and made old drinks out of the Savoy bar guide? Now they do that at McDonald’s. There are cocktail “programs” everywhere. And frankly, more than a few of them are mixing sugary slush, lollipops in a glass. Let us honor the good bars and mixologists. Let us order a beer at the rest.

Ice Chefs.

We know exactly when we first heard the term Ice Chef, because we have it on video— Craig Schoettler was showing us the ice kitchen at The Aviary and introduced us to the perfectly named Micah Melton, who was then responsible for making The Aviary’s many shapes and flavors of cubes. The thing that a lot of people don’t get, though, is… the guys in Achatz’s world are funny. They take their craftsmanship super-seriously, but they know they’re providing you with an over-the-top experience, and they have fun with taking it to the Nth degree. So ice chef was a tongue-in-cheek term that quickly became way, way too self-serious. Look, you don’t have an ice program, you don’t have an ice chef. You have frozen water, the same as an ice rink or a popsicle. Get over it.

We’re All Turning Into Uncle Sid.

What was food about, more than anything last year? Comfort. Simplicity. Deli food from Brendan Sodikoff. Chocolate chip cookies and milk from both Graham Elliot and the Baume & Brix guys (which means, in both cases, the descendants of Trotter are feeding us like June Cleaver). Who are we eating like? Uncle Sid, who didn’t want any of that froofaraw and just wanted his steak and mashed potatoes or his knishes. We name our kids Max and Sam and Isaac, we wear porkpie hats, we pickle everything, and we eat Jewish comfort food in fine dining spots. We’ve been taken over by the Uncle Sids.

Six Ways Dining in Chicago Changed In 2012