The Other Critics

Schmidt Gets Comfy With Belizean Food; Ruby Beguiled at Found

The winter squash salad at The Lobby.
The winter squash salad at The Lobby. Photo: Galdones Photography

With the same well-known places turning up here week after week, we’re always glad to see publications dig deeper into our scene, so the fact that the Reader seems to be stepping up ethnic food coverage (always one of its strengths, of course) on its blog is just fine by us; we always learn something. That’s the case with Redz Belizean Cuisine, a new incarnation of the longtime Tickie’s in Rogers Park; Kate Schmidt tells us that Belize “is ethnically and culturally diverse, incorporating elements of both Latin America and the Caribbean, which means there are African and colonial European influences in addition to the indigenous strands. Belizean food reflects this: there are familiar Caribbean standards like conch fritters and kingfish, and there are tamales. There are meat pies and fried snacks like fish-stuffed panades, served with a vinegary relish. And there’s down-home cooking like stew chicken… served in gravy with a scoop of piquant potato salad and a mound of red beans and rice parenthesized by a plaintain. Collards, served in a bowl brimming with pot liquor, were the most flavorful I’ve had in Chicago— [owner Levi] Perez says his secret is to cook them with smoked turkey.” [Reader]

Sam Worley has two reviews this week at the Reader: he admires the rock-solid execution and unpretentious nature of Lee Wolen’s food at The Lobby: “Wolen isn’t as audacious or experimental as his predecessors [at the same hotel’s Avenues]. His food is simpler, and it is wonderful… we were bestowed a bonus course from the kitchen: a winter salad comprising Delicata squash, toasted wild rice, Greek yogurt, and smoked paprika. It was maybe the best thing we ate, representing the achievement of an equation (best-quality ingredients, minimally manipulated) that lesser restaurants struggle with. Here Wolen meets the standard, exceeds it, and then stomps the hell out of it. The dish was beguiling: each bite tasted wholly familiar and completely surprising.” [Reader]

And he finds that Matthias Merges’ Billy Sunday is as meticulously conceived as its predecessor Yusho: “Billy Sunday isn’t one of those bars that offers “snacks” in the form of full-blown meals or, more often, liquor-sopping grease bombs. (The closest it comes to the latter is with fried pig ears, doused in malt vinegar and served with thick, pickly aioli.) Overall the snacks here are thoughtful, even conservative, and complementary, which sharpens the point of the place: drinking… Vermiglio zeroes in on a few things and does them well. He’s got a flair for presentation: Pickled sardines—splayed out on the plate with two heads staring up at you, like one of those wall-mounted singing bass—are garnished with tiny potato chips and sauce gribiche. Slices of porchetta di testa, in tonnato sauce, billow exuberantly across the plate and are accentuated with apple julienne and little starbursts of whipped celery root. So dairy-heavy that it tasted more like salted whipped cream than celery, that last element was by far the weirdest, which is really saying something considering the dish is, essentially, pig head in tuna sauce. The porchetta itself is buoyant and tasty, the tuna and apple a perfect complement.” [Reader]

Julia Thiel, though, is underwhelmed by weird comfort food at Little Market Brasserie: “Semolina gnocchi, served in little blocks that looked a lot like polenta, were accompanied by oddly acidic creamed spinach, a flavor that didn’t play well with the funkiness of the mushrooms in the dish. Our side of brussels sprouts arrived after the other dishes, but it didn’t much matter because we weren’t very tempted to eat more than a couple: the sprouts had been halved and deep-fried, and the only discernible flavor was an unpleasant bitterness. ‘I’ve never seen brussels sprouts prepared this way,’ my friend said. ‘Now I know why.’” [Reader]

Like the entire city of Evanston, Jeff Ruby is apparently utterly charmed by Found: “Found’s unique charm could be denied only by someone with a cold, shriveled heart. After eating at a pack of new restaurants whose generic-hip vibes and calculated eclectic menus had all begun to blur together, I started to think mine was that heart. But Amy Morton’s earnest American bistro, with its creative food and vintage-thrift decor funkier than a ­Parliament cover band, thawed my arctic soul… A crock of lamb meatballs softer than clouds and painted with pistachio chimichurri and yogurt is an inventive nibble; the fried oyster tacos with bacon, red cabbage slaw, and tomatillos deliver a crisp and vinegary bounce. Pederson studs the menu with gems, from schmaltz-topped chicken liver mousse with bacon marmalade to roasted Brussels sprouts and squash with pumpkin seeds and harissa. I hereby vow to quit whining about small plates and simply enjoy when someone does them right.” [Chicago]

Kenny Zuckerberg is baffled by Flour and Stone’s business model: “’We’re running a lunch special. A pizza for one and a salad for $19.’ This was the start of my dialogue with the Flour and Stone staff, and at prime lunch hour I witnessed several other conversations that started the same way. I stayed for lunch, but more than half of the others left with various levels of huff and head-shaking… You want to know how the pizza is, and I’m going to tell you - not that good. The crust is thick and overly bready. It’s got more char than Pizza Hut, but it’s in the same ballpark. The sauce is tart and watery, and could use salt. Toppings include onion and garlic that are still raw after coming out of the oven, and mushrooms that are bland and need more cooking time too.” [FOF]

Phil Vettel assures diners of what will be the most important thing for many at The Boarding House: “For those who visit with hopes of catching a glimpse of Singh, your chances are very good; Singh is very much the face of her restaurant, a near-constant presence in the dining room and lounge, chatting up friends and strangers alike.” As for chef Christian Gosselin’s food, “Historically, boarding-house meals were served family-style, so it’s fitting that the menu’s two-star dishes are substantial, hearty creations that encourage, even require, sharing. The Bavarian sausage plate is the must-try appetizer, featuring a soft, light-on-the-tongue sausage of pork, chicken and truffle, supported by braised cabbage with apple, carrots and onions, sweet maple-onion jam and a fried egg. And though it’s something of a commitment, to ignore the signature Chicken Three Ways — a $39 entree sized for two — is to miss the point of the restaurant entirely.” [Tribune]

Michael Nagrant hits a massive new German beer hall in Rosemont, Hofbrauhaus: “The food at Hofbrauhaus is much better than the beer. Considering the dining hall is 20,000 square feet and can feed hundreds of people at a time, I expected ballpark-type quality. There are a few throwaway dishes including humongous overpriced $14 pretzels, but most dishes are solid. The wienerschnitzel, a thinly pounded pork cutlet blanketed in a golden crust, is one of the better versions I’ve had anywhere. The accompanying tangy cold Bavarian potato salad has a nice vinegary punch that lightens the heavy fried schnitzel… Most days, such a carb-laden meal would put me in a food coma, but Hofbrauhaus has a heavy list of dessert cordials, schnapps and brandies that includes the miracle-digestif Underberg, which has a bracing, almost minty finish. A shot of the stuff feels like a slap across the face, but within minutes of quaffing, there’s a spring in my step and I’m ready for a day at the carnival.” [Sun-Times]

Schmidt Gets Comfy With Belizean Food; Ruby Beguiled at Found