The Other Critics

Vettel Says Maison Offers Fresh Take on French Classics; Nagrant Checks Out Cajun Down South (Suburbs)

Looks like pretty classic French onion soup to us.
Looks like pretty classic French onion soup to us. Photo: courtesy Maison via Facebook

“The youthful Maison Brasserie displays a reverence for the past, dishing up French food while managing to feel fresh and vibrant. The dining room, for instance, is devoid of French travel posters, Toulouse-Lautrec lithographs and other obvious touches,” says Phil Vettel of the French restaurant from the team behind the recently-closed Custom House, Peter and Sue Kim-Drohomyrecky and Chef Perry Hendrix. He praises Hendrix’s take on classics like “a fine steak tartare, served with beautifully thin and crispy fries, and the best escargots dish I’ve had in quite a while, the supertender snails gamboling with mushrooms in a chartreuse-splashed garlic-butter sauce under a golden pastry-square roof.” [Tribune]

Michael Nagrant does what more reviewers should do: take a road trip out of downtown and check out an interesting place that’s been around forever. The 35-year-old Maple Tree Inn is, first of all, located on “a slice of nearly-extinct Americana that includes turreted storefronts, vinyl awnings and a smattering of Mom-and-Pop businesses such as Gayla’s Irish Saloon and Jeben’s Hardware (whose windows are filled with an assortment of vintage bicycles and hurricane lanterns).” Inside the former speakeasy is a “Cajun brasserie” whose resemblance to New Orleans is more in their own minds: “The crawfish etouffee, though, has a nice, swampy, velvety gravy much like the one served in NOLA. That’s pretty much where the comparisons end. I have never seen Maple Tree’s “Voodoo Nuts” in Louisiana, smoked balls of sweet, roasted garlic cloves wrapped in spicy Andouille sausage, but I bet they’d capture the hearts and minds of Baton Rouge… Maple Tree has a way with smoke. Their ribs are dry-rubbed and slow-cooked over hickory until a deep pink ring sets in to the flesh. The skin transfigures into a dark, caramelized, lacquered bark. The interior meat is tender but still firm. It is one of the finest ribs in the Chicago area.” [Sun-Times]

Mike Sula calls Sumi Robata Bar “the most intimate and welcoming of the half dozen or so restaurants that have opened in the last few years employing this ancient form of Japanese cooking (excepting perhaps the bar at Yusho). And it’s definitely the most faithful to the idea that Japanese food is about proper and minimal application of technique on superior raw materials… The primal intensity of these skewers requires some balance, and the appetizers feature some small plates of astonishing elegance: a dish of smooth, chilled tofu, as creamy as a custard, embedded with salmon roe and tiny mushrooms; a fragile, jiggling poached egg bathing in dashi broth; and thin slices of strong-flavored raw sea bream bedded over fine, firm Tamaki Gold short-grain Koshihikari rice, gently poaching in steaming hot green tea.” [Reader]

Last month Jeff Ruby found his fellow diners annoying and full of themselves, so this month for a change he goes to… the biggest most macho freaking steakhouse on the planet, Del Frisco’s: “Hostesses clad in miniskirts shorter than a tween’s attention span welcome diners to the celebrated Texas-based steak chain’s multimillion-dollar roll of the dice in Oak Street’s revamped Esquire ­Theater. Their bosses have flooded three stories with Gold Coast excess: an atrium skylight, a fearsome shimmering chandelier, an 85-inch flat screen in the bar. A 47-foot suspended wine tower is so enormous it has multiple entrances, a spiral staircase, and its own system of governmental law.” On the steak side, “The 24-ounce porterhouse is a true world-beater: prime Stock Yards beef that’s been wet-aged for 28 days, seasoned with no more than salt and pepper, and left to self-baste in a 1,300-degree broiler. Sounds comparable to dozens of steaks around town, but this specimen produces a remarkable charred crust that encloses an irresistible tangy flavor.” On the other hand, there are “ill-advised curve balls like king crab gnocchi and cheese steak egg rolls, both of which I’m fairly certain come just before the hagfish entrails course in Beelzebub’s prix fixe.” [Chicago]

Titus at Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowin’ With the King checks out Au Cheval to see if it really is a diner and if the burger is so great as everyone says: “It reminded me of a glorified version of the double cheeseburger I used to order often at Salt & Pepper Diner on Lincoln avenue in the 90’s. It might of been my favorite burger back in the day and Au Cheval’s was like theirs as if it had become wealthy. At just under $10 the burger is fairly priced but fries do not come on the side without paying extra ($6)… The best burger in the country? I don’t think so. Although I couldn’t tell you what is based on all the great options of many varieties in different categories. It’s not even my best in city but I liked the taste flash back down to having a cup of mayo on the side which I used to dip their excellent fries in. Same as I did at S&P; back when. I’d stop here again, but next time after a few brews. This is high class fancified drunk food. I can dig.” [Smokin’ Chokin’ and Chowing With the King]

Vettel Says Maison Offers Fresh Take on French Classics; Nagrant Checks Out