The Other Critics

Sula Unwinds at The Boarding House; Tamarkin Wound Up By Little Goat’s Dinerness

Meat and potatoes at The Boarding House.
Meat and potatoes at The Boarding House. Photo: Galdones Photography

Compared to Julia Kramer on The Boarding House— or himself on Table, Donkey and Stick— last week, Mike Sula approaches Alpana Singh’s The Boarding House in a spirit of mellow goodwill born of Singh’s own accessible and unpretentious approach to wine: “The Boarding House is, simply, a large-format wine bar on a grand scale. Singh’s populist approach to the wine—and the inclusive environment in which to drink it—comes across easy. Finding something good to eat with it is a little more intimidating… You’re eating meat and potatoes (or something very close to it) and the more you eat the more difficult it’ll be to heave yourself out of your chair. Even when entrees forgo roots for another vegetable or a grain, it’s still a bloated, dull affair. From a poached and seared salmon fillet on polenta studded with whole black garlic cloves to gelid seared scallops atop cauliflower puree, one starts to sense that Gosselin is operating out of a slim playbook.” [Reader]

We had heard that Michael Nagrant was being encouraged to do more roundup pieces and fewer lengthy reviews at the Sun-Times; too bad if they think getting suggestions for the 5 Best Latkes is more useful and practical than an in-depth consideration of some place you’d never actually go to— you always learn more from a critic working in high gear, no matter the subject. That said, we don’t entirely mind finding out Nagrant’s top fried chicken choices, which include “maybe the best local mom and pop bird… Mini-Hut (6659 W. Archer; 773-586-2115), a tiny take-out dive near Midway that serves up “Chicken Boats,” two pieces of some of the most buttery fleshed fried chicken in Chicago, along with a soft Parker House-style roll and crinkle-cut fries,” while “The Little Hotties at Take Me Out, Let’s Eat Chinese (1502 W. 18th; 312-929-2509) — chili-, garlic- and soy-coated, lollipop-style chicken drumettes — are just the thing if you’re looking to score a nice capsaicin high.” [Sun-Times]

AT CS, Nagrant reviews Riccardo Enoteca, the new spinoff of the popular Riccardo Trattoria: “Though it’s much more laid-back—the minimal and quite basic interior design adds to that vibe—than its sister spot, there’s nothing casual about the service at Enoteca. The dark-haired waiters and food runners (pretty much all possessing slicked-back hair and crisp white shirts, looking like extras from Goodfellas) are doting. A plate, even an empty one, never gets removed from the table without permission, wine glasses are always full and, if you leave the table, napkins are refolded. And you can bet, almost all the plates are empty, scraped clean with the soft golden focaccia served in the house bread basket.” [CS]

Personally we’d disagree with David Tamarkin’s premise that “the sad truth nobody wants to admit about diners is diners are not very good,” arguing that it’s only true a bare nine times out of ten, but it’s a perfectly logical premise on which to build his case toward The Little Goat Diner— “that some of the food has been left true—overly true—to the diner food that inspires it is disheartening and very unappetizing. The pitfalls are all over the menu: lifeless mashed potatoes that quickly dry into hard clumps on the plate. Limp fries wilting under bland goat chili. An uninspired plate of trout and an overcooked plate of shrimp, exhibit A and exhibit B in the case against ordering diner seafood… But there were wonderful moments at Little Goat, times when I knew I was eating at a Stephanie Izard restaurant. One came at breakfast, when sun poured into the space and transformed it from a cartoonish replica into the most pleasant room on Randolph Street. That morning, I ate a paratha breakfast burrito garnished with a salad of avocado, beans, sliced chilies and some frisée—a classic Izard flourish that shows how deftly she can finesse a dish with bright, vibrant flavors.” [TOC]

Ther are only two stars on Table, Donkey and Stick’s review, which is hard to square with Julia Kramer’s fairly positive review— or with the three stars that Little Goat Diner got. Of the wanderteller she says: “The German word translates as hiker’s plate, but what it means is charcuterie: subtly smoky, tongue-shaped strips of venison loin; gorgeously rich duck-liver mousse; delicate slices of pheasant galantine. In other words, it’s not exactly amateur hour in the cured-meats department over here. In fact, these snacks, as well as a nice cheese plate (served with honey and sunflower-oat bread), are standouts of a menu that otherwise struggles—these are things you don’t have to be a Mountain Man to appreciate.” True, she dings a number of entrees, but ends with praise for the braised beef shank— “it was, like a lot of chef Scott Manley’s food, rich and rustic. Yet, it was so satisfying and well-executed that it did what few of its cohort could: It made the concept of an Alpine-inn-and-obscure-Grimm-fairy-tale-inspired restaurant seem appealing, not limiting.” [TOC]

Sula Unwinds at The Boarding House; Tamarkin Wound Up By Little Goat’s Dinerness