The Other Critics

Sula Tickled by Takito’s Tacos; Vettel Grades 3 Sequels From Well-Known Names

Lamb chorizo taco at Takito Kitchen.
Lamb chorizo taco at Takito Kitchen. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

And now for the latest from the (rapidly diminishing) ranks of Chicago food critics: “I ate nearly every item on his easily navigable menu and I didn’t have a single throwaway bite,” Mike Sula says of Takito Kitchen and its chef David Dworshak, which is high praise given his suspicion of the Wicker-Park-gringo-taco subgenre. But he admires the international flair of Dworshak’s creations: “Crispy redfish is cradled in a purple-tinted hibiscus tortilla and seasoned with toasted coconut and coconut custard, which gives it an unmistakable southeast Asian character. The pork belly is dressed with mozzarella and served on a black sesame-studded tortilla. The best taco in the joint, the ‘lamb chorizo,’ is a single sizzling link that’s like nothing so much as a north African merguez sausage, draped with a charred and melted slab of Scandinavian (via Wisconsin) Brun-uusto cheese and sprinkled with crushed peanut.” [Reader]

Phil Vettel, in a rare themed review, looks at three places that spun off from well-known restaurants. He gives two stars and seems happy with G.E.B. for taking Graham Elliot back to the playful early days of his River North restaurant of that name: “The chef is Jacob Saben, who was part of Graham Elliot’s opening team, and he oversees a menu in which few dishes ever exceed three ingredients. This works quite well, especially with pasta and seafood dishes — the seared scallops with sweet-potato-filled pasta packets and lemon-grass broth, crisp-breaded whitefish over sunchokes and thickened citrus coulis and pappardelle noodles with wild-boar ragu are all terrific. Ditto for the rabbit composition, a confit leg and bacon-wrapped loin medallions over a rich broth accented with house-made ranch sauce.”

He’s a bit more puzzled by Little Goat Diner, which gets one star: “Stephanie Izard’s acclaimed Girl & the Goat is a triumph of precision and balance. Little Goat, her across-the-street sequel is a relative hodgepodge, where ingredients and textures come together in seemingly random and often messy ways. It works, because Izard’s flavors work, but some dishes definitely are head-scratchers.” The Local Chicago, a hotel restaurant from the Chicago Cut Steakhouse team, also gets two stars for “American comfort food classics, albeit much of it representing a step up in class. That’s the advantage of having a top-level steakhouse as a big brother; The Local’s sliders, a trio of mini-burgers, are made from dry-aged prime beef. So is the meatloaf, soft and delicious; served with mashed potatoes and gravy, this dish is comfort-food heaven.” [Tribune]

In what we assume is likely his last review for the Sun-Times, Tom Witom, their suburban specialist, gives three stars to Evanston’s instantly-beloved Found, saying it “offers strong testimony to the power of a creative contemporary American menu and eco-friendly farm-to-table operating philosophy… start with a sumptuous flatbread made in a wood-fired oven. The smoky bacon and leek version ($10) was topped with Pheasant Ridge Reserve Gruyere, an artisanal cheese from Wisconsin, and the crust resembled something one might happen upon in Rome. Other iterations came with arugula and Parmesan and a winter vegetable and quark… Another tasty small plate starred a composition of baby carrots and beets (purple, red and golden) with baby greens and yogurt cheese ­— a sweet, earthy, wintertime dish.” [Sun-Times]

We’re not sure how much content the new web-only Time Out Chicago will have each week, but we assume they’re getting up to speed and it will be more than this week’s sole review, of a Portage Park burger joint, Leadbelly. Laura Baginski writes: “The bulbous buns, made in-house, stand up well to the insane mess that is the Midnight Special, a somehow-delicious heap of chipotle-cream sauce, jalapeno-jack cheese and pico de gallo sprinkled with, yes, Chili-Cheese Fritos. But when bookending the more straightforward Leadbelly burger—lettuce, tomato, onion, Sriracha pickles and choice of cheese—the thick bun renders the whole thing far too dry. That boring burger at least allows you to appreciate the meat, a thick patty made of a ground-in-house beef blend mixed with pork belly, which lends a noticeable smokiness.” [TOC]

Chicago magazine is expanding rather than cutting back its food coverage, and has a new column called The Dining Scout, which may in fact not be Penny Pollack trying to throw us off her track by calling a reservation a “rez” and throwing in a Yelp-ish sounding “Big yum.” In any case, it’s a smart way to give us a first look quickly on new openings while saving deeper thoughts for the actual review after a month or more— assuming some other review will, in fact, follow in every case. Of Carrie Nahabedian’s new Brindille, the Dining Scout says, “Loved, really loved, the salad of soft lettuces with crottin goat cheese and caramelized almond bits. The fancily named Easter egg radish slices tasted just like … uh … radishes. Perfectly dressed and all delish. But what made this worth $17?… My entrée fave was the duck. Overlapping slices of medium rare breast, a silky chunk of foie, wheat berries, and root veggies. All good and not overwrought with specialty flavors.” [Chicago]

The Dining Scout finds a more mixed bag at Shin Thompson’s new Kabocha: “The cocktails are satisfying, particularly a Thai chili basil smash cocktail with honeycomb (dehydrated in-house) and the incredibly smooth Roots of Innocence sake. Unfortunately, that was the best part of my meal… If there’s any dish I’d return for, it’s the coarsely ground and delicious wagyu beef tartare with a quail egg, umami paste, and chile-sesame won tons. This is what we know Thompson is capable of, and why I risked coming to Kabocha when it was but a few days old. Here’s hoping I missed other such gems elsewhere on the menu. [Chicago]

“When Elizabeth opened six months ago, I didn’t know what to make of it… Then I finally went to Elizabeth, and this occasional restaurant curmudgeon (it comes with the territory) found herself smitten,” says Lisa Shames. “Take, for instance, the salmon and winter vegetables. The vibrant color of the fish hints at its luscious flavor (the fresh-from-Seattle guys, i.e., salmon experts, at my table gave it two thumbs up). A gentle cooking technique means the salmon retains a buttery texture, while the roasted beets and baby potatoes provide a nice contrast. The parsley gel, though, became more of a decorative element since it mostly stuck to the plate.” [CS]

Nick Kindelsperger finds a find at the very edge of the city, near the Harlem Blue Line stop— a rare hot dog stand that doesn’t serve Vienna dogs. The big prize at Parse’s, though, is the Polish sausage made by a nearby old school butcher shop called Harczak’s: “I’ve never encountered a fresh Polish as juicy as this one. Steamed instead of grilled, the plump sausage features a crisp natural casing. Sure, most places go with smoked Polish sausage, so comparing Parse’s to Jim’s Original is not particularly helpful. All I know is that I’d rather stuff my face with the steamed Polish from here—dressed with mustard and chopped onions—than a Polish from just about any other place.” [SE: Chicago]

Chicago Cab Fare tells of a new Pakistani spot on Devon: “Serena is the new restaurant from the former chef at Usmania, which I considered to be the best Pakistani restaurant in Chicago… Their paratha was perfectly soft and flaky. My Mutton Quorma was among the best renditions of that dish that I’ve had, with tender meat and a delicious gravy highlighted by generous amounts of ginger, garlic, and coriander. My date went with the Puneer Makhani, which is basically firm tofu in a rich and bright orange-colored butter sauce. Perfect for dipping paratha, naan, or your bare hand, if that’s your style.” [Chicago Cab Fare]

Our reviews of Fat Rice, a restaurant called Homestead (not that one), Laschett’s Inn and Pide ve Lahamcun are here.

Sula Tickled by Takito’s Tacos; Vettel Grades 3 Sequels From Well-Known Names