Monthly Archives: May 2014

Life Outside the Food Internet

If you’re reading this post you probably got here via Twitter. If you follow me on Twitter, it’s more than likely because you’re interested in Chicago-related restaurant discussion. We’re fortunate here in Chicago to have a vibrant community of smart and engaged folks who love to chat about food on Twitter, and the result is that there’s a ton of information constantly streaming about the local restaurant scene.

But I think what we forget sometimes, or maybe it’s just hard to quantify, is that there is another (probably larger) part of the population that is completely removed from this discussion. Believe it or not, there are actually people out there who are capable to going to a restaurant and not dissecting it on social media, or posting #tons of #pictures of their #food on #Instagram.

This occurs to me every so often when I find myself at an otherwise very good and very busy restaurant that no one I know ever talks about. It happened this past weekend at Taxim. Taxim got a bunch of buzz when they first opened in 2009, but hardly anyone on Food Twitter ever really talks about it anymore. The last LTH Forum mention was almost a year ago. The place does have about 260 Yelp reviews which, for a 5 year old restaurant, breaks down to only about 1 review a week. And yet my meal there this weekend was fantastic. One of my most enjoyable of probably the last six months. Most interestingly, the place was packed. Who are these people?

I’m sure there are many other examples of this around town. Coco Pazzo (245 Yelp reviews, open since 1992) is another that I can think of off the top of my head. That place is usually busy, the food is always good, and nobody I know goes there (or if they do they don’t talk about it). Porkchop has become a joke among a few of us for being the perfect representation of restaurants in this category. I mean, who ever goes to Porkchop? Well, apparently enough people for them to be opening two other locations. In fact, they have 20 more Yelp reviews than Taxim and they’ve only been open since 2011.

I’m not sure what the point of all of this is other than it’s a good reminder to not ignore restaurants just because they don’t happen to be the flavor of the month. Or if they don’t come up on people’s lists of recommendations, year-end lists, or lists of 18 places to get a wonut. A good restaurant is a good restaurant, and those of us who tend to obsess over this stuff are more likely to be the exception than the norm.


 

Just for reference, here are the top ten most reviewed Chicago restaurants on Yelp. Not a bad list, actually.

Ceres Table – The Restaurant East Lakeview Needs

I’ve lived in the vicinity of the Lincoln Park/Lakeview border since moving to Chicago in 2001. When I first arrived the dining options around me were dreadful. I ate at Duffy’s a lot, but that was fine since I was a 22 year old former frat guy working in consulting. Fortunately though, as my tastes matured, so did the restaurant scene in the area.

If you start south of Fullerton on Clark Street and work your way north (switching over to Broadway once you hit Diversey), you can come up with a pretty solid list of places to eat. Riccardo (I prefer Enoteca of Trattoria), Eleven City Diner, del Seoul, Lito’s Empanadas, Senza, Crisp, Pastoral/Bar Pastoral, Flub-a-Dubs…you can really do a lot worse. What was missing though was a nicer sit down place with “grown up” food, but nothing too serious, stuffy, or expensive. Chilam Balam is probably the closest thing we have, but they don’t take reservations and that usually keeps me away from nicer places.

Ceres Table has stepped in to fill that void. We made a last minute reservation for Friday night and had a great meal, sharing a bunch of charcuterie, crudi, pasta, and cheese. We also wanted pizza but unfortunately the oven wasn’t working.

The beef tartare is a wonderful version, the meat well diced and with an excellent mustard to mix in. Amberjack crudo was made with high quality fish, but could have used a touch of acidity (maybe lightly pickle the cucumbers that it came with). Arancine were fried perfectly and had just a little bit of melty taleggio in the interior. Spaghetti nero had a nice kick to it and the bites of cuttelfish mixed in were well cooked (neither chewy or mushy). Instead of dessert we finished with some cheese: crescenza stracchino (closer to butter than cheese, which isn’t a bad thing), taleggio, and pecorino sardo.

I never went to the original Ceres Table location. But given our dinner last night and the fact that this location is within walking distance from our place, I think we’ll be going to this location often. It’s a great menu for either nibbling or a proper meal, and both the wine and cocktail lists have a lot of interesting options.

Welcome Ceres Table. I think you’ll be here a while.

Cicchetti – Blending into a Crowded Field

We had tickets last night to Buyer and Cellar at the Broadway Playhouse, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to check out Cicchetti, which is just a short walk away.

I arrived early and had a drink at the bar, a good Manhattan with one of those giant ice cubes that make you feel like you’re drinking a Serious Cocktail. They had bowls of cold, somewhat limp potato chips sitting on the bar for snacking.

The space is sort of interesting. It’s loft-like without actually being a loft. But then the room oddly opens up to the Soprafina next door. Now, I have no issues with Soprafina. They’re a minor part of my office lunch rotation. But it’s a little strange to be enjoying a “nicer” meal while a doctor in scrubs is enjoying his panini about 10 feet away.

The appetizers were the weakest part of the meal. We had the cobia crudo and the aged hangar steak carpaccio. Both dishes were victims of flawed concepts. The cobia was served on rice crackers in a pool of harissa. The first bite was a nice mix of textures and flavors (particularly the smokiness of the harissa) but over time the rice cracker became soggy from both the fish and the sauce. By the end of the dish the textures had become pretty unappealing. The carpaccio had a funk to it that has no place in a good steak carpaccio. I don’t know if it was the aging, the cut, the cauliflower served on top, or a combination of the three, but it was a disappointing take on what is usually a lay-up of a dish.

Main courses were more successful. I had the squid ink orecchiette with lamb soppressata. The pasta was decently made (though probably a little too flat) and was well cooked. The hunks of lamb soppressata packed a good amount of heat. There were also Brussels sprouts involved, diced and maybe fried, adding some crunch. I enjoyed the dish, and Marissa enjoyed her saffron risotto with a fried egg.

Dessert was my favorite course. I had the Reverse Affogato, coffee gelato with vanila milk and donuts. My one criticism is that there were too many donuts, which is probably the worst bit of restaurant criticism ever written. The point is, you should plan on sharing at least the donut portion of the dish.

Cicchetti has been pretty well reviewed from what I’ve seen. But the problem is that we have so many Italian restaurants opening now (roughly 7 each day*) that it’s hard for any of them to stand out. And I don’t think Cicchetti really stands out. Marissa commented on the way to the show that we could have gone to Bar Toma (which I don’t really like) and have had a comparable meal. I’m sure Cicchetti will do well given it’s location, but it’s not a restaurant I see myself having any desire to go back to.

 

 

 

* Figure may not be accurate