The Other Critics

Sula Takes a South American Vacation at Howells & Hood; Vettel Advises Discovering Storefront Company

Asparagus on a fish dish at Howells & Hood.
Asparagus on a fish dish at Howells & Hood. Photo: courtesy Howells & Hood/FLIK Productions via Facebook

“When things like tomatoes, corn, blackberries, and asparagus appear on menus around this time of year, it’s like spotting the Easter Bunny in August,” Mike Sula says of Howells & Hood, the massive new place in the Tribune Tower. Which is to say, despite the hiring of Scott Walton (Markethouse), known for bringing rooftop gardens and housemade charcuterie to a hotel restaurant, they’re serving the masses off the Sysco truck that rendezvoused with the flight from Santiago: “Asparagus season is right around the corner—but it isn’t here yet. That’s not stopping the kitchen from serving it with Oregon trout. And even that’s not as astonishing as finding a smoked half chicken served with an entire grilled ear of corn. But the pinnacle of these expressions of phantom summer is something called a “lobster shortcake”—a cheesy biscuit covered in a creamy succotash of bell peppers, tomatoes, and corn kernels. It’s like the southern hemisphere in your mouth.” But is it at least tasty? “Most of the food at Howells & Hood comes out fast, in large portions and with a uniformly institutional quality far removed from the kind of thoughtful preparations Walton was known for at Markethouse.” [Reader]

Also visiting Howells & Hood is Ken Zuckerberg, who thinks there are good things to be found in an atmosphere trying to convince you otherwise: “If you order the seafood salad at a massive, corporate-looking sports bar at the bottom of a downtown Chicago office building, you deserve the mushy, tasteless fish with gloppy dressing you’re likely to get. It is a marvel that at Howells & Hood, the dish rivals the best versions at seafood-focused restaurants in places like Boston and San Francisco. Tender, well-charred octopus mixes with a variety of delicately poached shellfish, all adorned simply but robustly with lemon and oregano. Eat this and you can reasonably imagine being at seaside restaurant in Sicily. You’ll have to tune out the very-American couple next to you as they order their burgers to be made without salt, and the very American sorority girl a few feet away as she requests a round of Sex on the Beach for her table.” [FOF]

We think there’s definitely something to be said for reviewers going (or returning) to places well after their initial burst of publicity. Phil Vettel gets around to Wicker Park’s Storefront Company about a year after it opened to middling reviews, and finds a much better restaurant now that he thinks deserves to be better known— which giving it three stars should help: “It’s a good-looking, sophisticated and comfortable space. The chef/partner, the well-traveled Bryan Moscatello, was a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef in 2003, and he oversees an ever-changing, seasonally focused menu packed with beyond-the-usual-suspects dishes… Moscatello has a nice way of composing plates that are easily accessible yet highly creative. Cured salmon on crackers is no biggie, but Moscatello’s beet cure, imbuing the silky salmon slices with a reddish tinge and a pronounced, gentle sweetness, is a revelation… This might be the best restaurant in town to visit for rabbit. Moscatello puts out a fine rabbit composition, an array of rabbit-loin medallions, braised thigh, rabbit-liver mousse and pickled offal (heart and kidney) along with cauliflower ravioli and mushroom-Madeira sauce, both contributing balancing sweetness.” [Tribune]

The undiscovered country for Chicago foodsters is ethnic suburbs, and one area that’s long been discussed, less so explored is Mexican in the western suburbs. Kevin Pang takes an (optimized for tablets, but perfectly fine on a computer) tour of tacos in the Fox Valley, with particular praise for the supermercado taqueria inside the La Rosita grocery in Crystal Lake, longtime LTHForum fave El Pollo Giro for charcoal grilled chicken, and cochinita pibil at Taqueria Arandense. But he also encounters the problems of stalking tacos when a place that serves great steak tacos during lunch rush proves lifeless on a visit during a mid-afternoon dead time. [Tribune]

Michael Nagrant finds self-declared Brooklyn-style pizza Flour + Stone “a reasonable if sanitized facsimile of a Neapolitan pie. And for a neighborhood [Streeterville], which, due to its high rents, has very little in the way of creative or high-quality food, that’s pretty good.” To get to that, he has to overcome a mostly careless experience where “empty neighboring tables were littered with the remnants of crust and covered in sticky soda rings and were never cleaned during my meal time,” “a nervous employee throwing a takeout menu down on my table while telling me to come to the counter when I’m ready,” and “the acidic sauce here pounds you on the head and really could use a touch more salt and a bit of sugar to mellow things out.” [Sun-Times]

“Unfortunately, ‘off’ is a word that comes up again and again during a meal at Vu Sua,” Marissa Conrad says at Time Out. “Spring rolls arrive beautifully plated, standing on end like firecrackers lit with a hefty pile of lobster and foie gras. A pool of sticky sauce is sweet and nutty, the lobster is tender, and there’s just enough foie to add slick fat without overpowering the dish. But why is the rice paper so thick and gummy?… With a few tweaks, Chan could do French-Vietnamese fare as well as he does sushi.” [TOC]

Sula Takes a South American Vacation at Howells & Hood; Vettel Advises