The Other Critics

Nagrant, Serious Eats Duel with L’Patron; Vettel Picks Embeya Over Jellyfish

Embeya, which Phil Vettel liked a lot.
Embeya, which Phil Vettel liked a lot. Photo: Galdones Photography

Taco joints open up all over town all the time, so how did one in particular rate reviews from two outlets this week (plus numerous other mentions in the past few weeks)? We’re not sure; we didn’t get any publicity materials from them, certainly. Maybe they just got noticed because they’re on the way to some other recent hot openings, notably Fat Rice. In any case, Logan Square’s L’Patron does come with a pedigree of a sort by way of co-owner Ernesto Gonzalez’s tenure in the kitchen at Topolobampo, and Michael Nagrant— whose last review was, incidentally, Fat Rice— sees Baylessian care at work: “The brothers Gonzalez don’t wait around for orders by pushing around mountains of gray lifeless meat moldering in the corner of a flat-top grill like most taquerias. Befitting of Ernesto’s time with Bayless, they cut and grill marinated meat to order. They wash and chop fresh lettuces and toast and griddle the buns for the tortas at the last second.” But it doesn’t pay off: “The tortas are over-marinated, the thin ribbons of ribeye weep grease, and the airy torta bread sogs and crumbles under this deluge… The lengua, or tongue taco, is braised well and tender, but tastes and looks like gray flavorless meat floss. Salt is nowhere to be found.” [Sun-Times]

Maybe Nagrant went on an off night— at least Serious Eats seems to think so: “For proof, I offer up the carne asada taco ($2.00), stuffed with hunks of freshly grilled meat, still slightly pink in the middle, but tender throughout. Extra beefy but surprisingly greaseless, it stands out as something of an instant classic, and a serious contender for best in the city. Though it stuns me to say so, it tops the very good offerings of nearby Las Asadas by an inconceivably wide margin… All said, L’ Patron is already up in the running for one of the best barebones taco joints in the city.” [SE Chicago]

Phil Vettel takes a look at two new Asian-flavored restaurants. His two-star review of Embeya says “My meals here have been like an uninterrupted highlight reel. Crisped sweetbreads tossed in fish sauce, with a red-chili kick; crunchy forbidden rice topped with thinly shaved pickled kohlrabi; Brussels sprouts, heavily caramelized in nuoc cham sauce. There are exotic dishes like thit heo kho, slow-cooked pork in aromatic broth along with cooked quail eggs and coconut; and familiar dishes such as garlic chicken, a simple-sounding dish that’s actually very complex (the skin alone is lacquered and dried thrice, accounting for its irresistible crispness).” He loves Danielle Pizzutillo’s cocktails, but finds service a work in progress. But still: “Embeya is the most upscale Vietnamese restaurant Chicago has seen since Le Colonial debuted and Pasteur was in its heyday. And very shortly, I predict, it will be the best Vietnamese restaurant in town.”

He likes the drinks at Jellyfish, a glitzy sushi spot from Harold Jurado (Chizakaya), but his enthusiasm otherwise is moderate: “There are hits and misses among the two menus, but in general, the more you stick to nibbles, the happier you’ll be… The entrees I tried were all disappointing. The spicy seafood noodle dish was a muddled mess; the East-West filet was smothered in a cloying garlic-soy sauce, perhaps to disguise its meager size. The portion was so skimpy on the $33 miso cod that I kept lifting pieces of baby bok choy, certain there had to be more fish.” [Tribune]

Mike Sula seems to approach Reno like every bagel before it has been an indignity but here, at last, is a bagel worthy of obsession: “They’re skinny and slightly sweet, with a moderate but unmistakable char and whiff of smoke, yet still possessing the all-important chewiness New York partisans live and breathe for. Wyer accomplishes this hybrid by dunking the hand-formed halos in a hot (not boiling) saffron-infused water bath sweetened with malt syrup and honey. They’re topped, then left to cool and rest overnight before being given a brief turn in the oven’s blazing maw. Because they’re skinnier and flatter than the swollen New York bagel, they have a greater surface area to take on the smokiness imparted by the oven. They’re thickly topped, too, with the usual sesame, poppy, and everything options—and an occasional innovation like pumpkin seed and curry. They possess none of the gumminess that’s the chief liability of bad New York bagels, but they’re slightly larger than Montreal style, a bit more chewy, a bit less crispy.” [Reader]

Observing a group of older women fawning over the chef at Tortoise Club, David Tamarkin decides: “They either love handsome young men in chef whites or they really love butter… Is McNally’s heavy hand with butter and salt the one trick he has up his sleeve? Or is he just staying true to club cuisine? I think it’s probably the latter. The menu, after all, is not inventive, or even reinventive—it’s just classic… Is this how the club crowd eats? Before Tortoise Club I wouldn’t have been able to tell you, because I can’t get into any clubs. But now I know the answer is yes. And I don’t necessarily blame them.” [TOC]

Julia Kramer has mixed feelings about the sequel to Chilam Balam, Shaman: “At Shaman, even a simple green salad becomes interesting, when it’s tossed with candied peanuts and a lively chipotle dressing. Shrimp enchiladas are delicate things, plump little crustaceans tucked into fresh, rolled tortillas—no baked cheese in sight. The best dish on the menu might be an inspired combination of grilled cobia, quinoa, tomatillo salsa and roasted sunchokes, a dish that feels new, fresh, unique and instantly essential.” But the room “lacks the excitement and intimacy of” Chilam Balam’s bohemian-hideaway basement charm— “This is the food we’ve come to expect of Chilam Balam; it’s nothing less, but then again, is it too much to ask that it be something more?” [TOC]

Nagrant, Serious Eats Duel with L’Patron; Vettel Picks Embeya Over Jellyfish