The Other Critics

Nagrant Comes Home To Mom at Rickshaw Republic; Ruby Praises Chef As He Checks Out of Boarding House

Tempeh satay at Rickshaw Republic.
Tempeh satay at Rickshaw Republic. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

“One of the bigger restaurant myths is that the recipes are from Mom or that Mom’s in the kitchen… Given that, it makes it all that more extraordinary that at Rickshaw Republic, a new Indonesian restaurant in Lincoln Park, mom — Elice Setiawan — really is in the kitchen — and she’s rockin’ it,” says Michael Nagrant of Chicago’s newest, and currently only, Indonesian restaurant. “Her Rickshaw fried chicken — crisp fried Brian Urlacher-sized chicken wings — are lacquered in a gooey brown suger and ginger sauce flecked with fiery red chili. They may be the best wings in Chicago… The batagor, a heaping mound of crispy tofu dripping in rich peanut sauce is so good, I consider going vegan. But I think better of that as I dip in to the flaky-fried fish and shrimp dumplings accompanying that beautiful bean curd.” He also has praise for the interior by designer Suhail, noting that “Most of Suhail’s best work has disappeared to the caprice of the fickle restaurant industry… Because Rickshaw Republic is so good, I pray, hope and believe his work here will be around for a while.” [Sun-Times]

Ah, the vagaries of print deadlines, as a review from the current issue of Chicago magazine goes online to announce that The Boarding House’s Alpana Singh “is betting heavily on [chef Christian] Gosselin, a Quebec native and former chef de cuisine at Martial Noguier’s Bistronomic. Smart gamble.” After the issue went to press, the management cashed in Gosselin’s chips, never mind Jeff Ruby’s praise which found that “Beauty and nuance seep into most everything here, including a showstopping slow-poached citrus salmon with a blood orange beurre blanc atop tarragon polenta. But the same precision might surprise you in a double bone-in pork chop, caramelized yet ridiculously moist with cheddar grits, cipollini onions, and a vinegary slaw of Brussels sprouts and apple.” There was perhaps more of a clue to the reported heaviness of Gosselin’s food seeming a bad fit for wine in Chicago in this passage: “Sporadic misfires, such as leaden buttermilk biscuits, sludgy lobster poutine, and limp fried cumin cauliflower bites, remind you that the operation is still young. ‘Restaurants are a lot like children,’ says Singh. ‘We still have a great deal of work to do.’” [Chicago]

“To say Grace isn’t for everyone is an understatement,” Lisa Shames observes after noting its prices. “But for those willing to forgo jeans and Twitter for an evening and who aren’t put off by its price tag, Grace offers plenty of rewards… It’s the dishes that seem the simplest—I know, a relative term here—that keep haunting me. And I mean that in a good way. Take, for instance, the carrot dish from the Flora menu. Duffy coaxes so much flavor out of the root vegetable, you’d swear they were a different beast altogether (the quenelle of whipped mascarpone, though, was a wee bit thick for my taste). Root vegetables, this time sunchokes, are the main component of another dish that tops my favorite list. Deep fried so they’re crispy on the outside yet creamy on the inside, the nuggets of sunflower tuber are plated in a wreath-like pattern with ribbons of celery, freekeh, braised mustard seeds, and a sprinkling of microgreens and tiny flowers. Yes, Duffy and his nimble-fingered crew have tweezers and they’re not afraid to use them.” [CS]

Once prominent, Czech and Bohemian food has nearly died out in Chicago, so Jennifer Olvera takes us to one of the survivors, Berwyn’s Riverside Restaurant, at Serious Eats Chicago: “Bohemian restaurants serve big, inclusive portions, and the tabs won’t break the bank. Typically, meals kick off with a basket of plush rye bread and butter, followed by homey liver dumpling or chicken noodle soup. (If you’re so inclined, tomato juice is offered as an alternative). Also included with entrées are two sides and dessert. Customarily these spots are cash-only. They may even charge extra for carryout containers. As for the clientele, let’s just say blue-tinged hair is the norm.” But if any of that scares you hipsters off, she says Riverside is rightly revered for shatteringly crisp-skinned roast duck ($9.50 for 1/4 bird or $14.50 for 1/2). Opt for yours with dumplings and kraut.” [SE: Chicago]

Our reviews of Grace and Reno are here.

Nagrant Comes Home To Mom at Rickshaw Republic; Ruby Praises Chef As He Checks