The Other Critics

Vettel Takes Three-Star Reading of Baume & Brix; It’s Lao Time Out Chicago This Week

Chef Ben Roche and chef de cuisine Nate Park at Baume & Brix's grand opening party.
Chef Ben Roche and chef de cuisine Nate Park at Baume & Brix’s grand opening party. Photo: courtesy Baume & Brix

Well, Christmas came early for Baume & Brix chefs Thomas Bowman and Ben Roche, who had been suffering under reviews which can fairly be described as excoriating— and the part of Santa Claus is played by Phil Vettel. His three star review says “Great dishes are all about juxtaposing opposing elements and achieving balance, and Baume & Brix, which opened two months ago in River North, revels in this balancing act… Appetizers are tiny and delicate, the sort of things you might find in a tasting menu, while main courses have the heft and richness of supper club entrees. Hypermodern creations such as the “naked lobster” salad (the raw lobster rendered edible via a high-pressure water bath) share menu space with a massive pork chop with Luxardo cherries.” He acknowledges that the concept is a work in progress, but he clearly understands that he’s coming to the rescue of a place that might have been killed prematurely by bad reviews from elsewhere: “Given its work-in-progress status and its fascination with duality, a two-star rating seems altogether fitting. But you know what? The food’s too good for that. Here are three stars, gentlemen; divide them as you wish.” [Tribune]

Time Out takes a note from its subject, Tony Hu, and opens two reviews right next to each other. Julia Kramer looks at the new Uptown branch of Lao Sze Chuan, in the former Marigold space: “I’d been to this long, narrow room before, when it was Marigold. It felt sophisticated and private then. Now, it seemed ordinary and sleepy. If you think I care about any of these things, you have no idea how much I love Lao Sze Chuan… To eat here is to raise your body temperature, to break into a soft sweat and to know no way out of it, to seek solace in water, in green tea—for God’s sake, pass the baby bok choy. The menu is comically large, hundreds of items whose descriptions rarely exceed four words. But like a prayer service, certain observances are mandatory: There must be mapo tofu (S02), silky, light cubes of bean curd in a tingling, Szechuan pepper-charged broth. The heat doesn’t sting you; it engulfs you. There must be Tony’s Chicken with Three Chili (S10), fried bits of dark meat, sweet and salty and craveable in the same heroin-like way fast food is. You can’t do this without String Bean Spicy Black Bean Sauce (207), diced bites of green beans tossed with agreeably chewy, gently funky fermented black beans. There will be Lamb w/ Pure Cumin Powder Xin Jiang Style (722), and it will be the most tender, meltingly good cumin lamb you’ve ever encountered.” [TOC]

While David Tamarkin looks at the new Lao Ma La, devoted to dishes made with sichuan peppercorn and offering its famous tingly sensation. The only problem— it doesn’t tingle: ” We had ordered the spicy broth, because at Lao Ma La, which has a chili in its logo, spicy Szechuanese food is the point, and we had come seeking big flavors that would make us sweat. We dipped skewers of chicken into the broth, let them cook a little too long, and marveled at how delicious and tender the meat was despite the fact that it appeared to be overcooked and dry. But there was a slight problem: It wasn’t that spicy.” It takes some ordering around to finally get the effect: “The Special Boiled Fish seemed as if it would fix that problem. The fish was buried in a broth so packed with dried chilies and Szechuan peppercorns you could not see it. After digging some out, we marveled again at how flaky and perfect the fish was, the way it gently fell apart. And this time the lemony, tongue-numbing effects of the peppercorns were unmistakably present.” [TOC]

Sam Worley somehow finds the flavor is the thing that’s clandestine about John Manion’s La Sirena Clandestina, calling John Manion’s food “nothing if not, well, workmanlike—efficient, competent, and not particularly exciting… The steak is cooked well enough inside, and of such high quality, that the flesh shines a deep red, and the meat itself tastes fabulously grassy; but the crust is overcharred and underseasoned, and the chimichurri it’s served beneath tastes mostly of parsley, and only faintly of garlic. The snapper effects a striking presentation, arriving at the table whole atop a slick of dende oil (a mild, nutty condiment used in Brazilian and West African cuisines, from the fruit of the African oil palm), hot sauce, and chopped peanuts. A couple of limes on the corner of the plate were the fish’s most potent complement, and I fear it’ll be read as a knock to both parties if I submit that the dish wasn’t wholly different than something you’d find at, say, the Fish Keg. But that’s just to suggest that fried fish is really great, and Manion can fry a fish really well, but one wants to see him work a bit harder here to earn his keep.” Note the comments, where Manion takes exception at one passing metaphor. (We think he has a point, and where it said “vagrant,” it should properly have said “ronin.”) [Reader]

Lisa Arnett looks at so-crazy-it-just-might-work waffle sandwich spot Bel 50: “The waffle bread itself is thinner than a traditional breakfast waffle and, to my surprise, not at all sweet. Crispy, almost flaky around the edges and soft in the middle, it proved a great base for the smoked salmon sandwich ($8.95), which channeled all the flavors of my favorite bagel with chive creme fraiche and wispy slices of cucumber and red onion. The amount of filling was thinner than I expected, but the waffle bread didn’t overwhelm the fillings and vice versa.” But the fried chicken waffle sandwich “oesn’t have the same salty-sweet flavor combination that makes chicken and waffles so satisfying. With both sandwiches, the side that faced down against the wax paper-lined basket lost a little crunch due to trapped steam, but I was amazed that the waffle held together through the last bite.” [Redeye]

While Arnett finds the food at Pilsen’s Pl-Zen too hit or miss: “Calamari fried in beer batter (5 Vulture, a Oaxacan-style dark ale from local brewery 5 Rabbit Cerveceria, to be exact) with spicy giardiniera aioli ($10) was salty enough to drain the water glass of everyone at my table in a matter of minutes. A hunk of braised beef short rib was the better half of a dish piled with gummy butternut squash gnocchi ($19)… On the bright side, the bison burger piled high with stout cheddar, bacon and crispy deep-fried onions ($15) is as indulgent as a dressed-up bar burger should be—and that means a lot for a neighborhood bar.” [Redeye]

Vettel Takes Three-Star Reading of Baume & Brix; It’s Lao Time Out Chicago This