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Hungry Magazine - All Things Tasty
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Feature Archive 'Restaurant Reviews'

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« Previous Entries

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01.21.08

A Christmas Story

Restaurant Reviews


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For years, I’ve been telling people Peter Billingsley, the actor who played Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story,” was now a porn star. By the time my family was doped up on rum balls and snoring through their third viewing of the movie, I’d whip out the porn nugget and invariably win friends and influence people. In this age of Google, since no one ever called me on it, I thought it must be true. More »

01.09.08

Power Play

Restaurant Reviews


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The tragedy of good interface design is that if a designer’s done his or her job, no one seems to notice. Sure there’s the occasional Apple product about which folks bomb Internet forums regarding “scroll wheels” and “flicks” like squalling schoolgirls pining for The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. But when’s the last time you got psyched over a computer mouse or a telephone? More »

12.12.07

Italian Beef Stands

Restaurant Reviews


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Last week I did a few pieces for Newcity for their Italian Beef Issue, below you’ll find my individual write-ups on some favorite places.

Al’s #1 Italian Beef

Featuring more than thirteen herbs and spices, owner Chris Pacelli likes to joke that his beef has two more flavors than the Colonel’s secret recipe over at KFC. Whatever the other twelve are, one of them is most definitely nutmeg, making this the most distinctive beef in town. Add a thin giardiniera mix studded with paper-thin celery and red pepper and you’ve got a beef with personality that draws a sharp dividing line. Many detractors can’t stand the sweet aromatic they associate with Christmas cookies. Devotees on the other hand consider it the best beef in town. Love it or hate it, there’s nothing better than bellying up to the stainless-steel counters, unwrapping a beef, assuming the “Italian stance” (legs wide apart, elbows akimbo and gut sucked in to avoid dripping juice on your clean clothes) taking a bite and watching the summertime masses jockey like Merc traders for Italian lemonade across the street at Mario’s.

1079 West Taylor, (312)226-4017 More »

11.26.07

The Dictator Has No Clothes

Restaurant Reviews


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Not since Montecristo cigars and Che Guevara has a Cuban flavored export been more hyped (at least locally) than the Cubano sandwich at west Logan Square’s El Cubanito (2555 North Pulaski). Foodies on lthforum.com have racked up three pages of mostly adoring love letters to the sandwich, and The Reader, Chicagoist.com and a handful of others have also chimed in with confirming odes. More »

11.14.07

Seoul to Squeeze

Restaurant Reviews


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“Hardcore Korean” is not an Asian punk band. Rather, it’s the style of food that Dan Choi, the fervent owner of one-month-old Korean Seoulfood Café, hopes to bring to Chicago. Choi’s restaurant is in the middle of a food desert at the edges of the Loop, and so he doesn’t get much foot traffic. The Mexican spot that previously inhabited his space disappeared quicker than state tax dollars after a Patty Blagojevich real-estate deal, and so if he sees you peeking in the window, he’ll collar you on the sidewalk and sell his food with the verve of an old Maxwell Street peddler. More »

10.31.07

Czech Please!

Restaurant Reviews


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You can tell the authenticity of a Czech restaurant by the appearance of Kung Pao chicken on its menu. If you don’t believe that, the fact that the Bohemian restaurant Operetta (5653 West Fullerton), which seats about fifty but has only three English-language menus, might validate things. More »

10.24.07

It Takes a Village

Restaurant Reviews


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Despite the fact that condos are popping up in the West Loop like sightings of Britney Spears’ nether-region, the number of great restaurants hasn’t followed suit. Since Jerry Kleiner’s prescient Daniel Boone-like maneuvering in the late nineties there’s been a slow dribble of similar establishments such as Blackbird, Moto, Follia and, now, Sepia. Of course, great doesn’t have to mean haute, but most of the ethnic spots in the area feel like Grecian theme parks. More »

09.18.07

Enchantment under the sea

Restaurant Reviews


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I hate coffee houses. It’s true, they are a fascinating study in anthropology, what with Bugaboo stroller-toting moms standing shoulder to shoulder with patchouli-scented Birkenstock-clad granola girls and guys clutching soy lattes copping free air conditioning and laptop zombies milking a three-dollar cappuccino for eight hours of free power to get their Internet start-up off the ground. But in the end, that mix is a volatile powderkeg, where people flash you death stares if you think about sharing their power outlet or stealing the other half of that table for ten they commandeered for themselves and their silicon army of Apple products. More »

09.10.07

A Pie Worth the Drive

Restaurant Reviews


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There are at least a thousand pizza parlors in Chicago, but only about ten spots that people constantly war over as the best. There’s the soft thin-crust of Pat’s (2679 North Lincoln—sausage laden of course) and Vito and Nick’s (8433 South Pulaski), the hard cracker thin-crust of Candlelite (7452 North Western—don’t miss the garlic fries either), the Sicilian style bakery pies of Pequod’s (2207 North Clybourn) and Burt’s Place (8541 North Ferris, Morton Grove), the only real deep-dish that’s not a gut bomb, Pizano’s (61 East Madison—butter crust preferred) and the Neapolitan blistered crusts of Spacca Napoli (1769 West Sunnyside). I’ll even throw in the organic-ingredient-topped dough of Crust (2056 West Division), the Chicago original Uno’s (29 East Ohio—too thick) and the New York/Neapolitan Hybrid Coalfire (1321 West Grand—too much soot on the bottom for my taste) into the mix. More »

08.28.07

Mercury Falling

Restaurant Reviews


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The Gage’s idea of surf and turf, sea bream with braised oxtail

I’ve taken measure of the Gage and were it a thermometer, the reading is pretty lukewarm. It’s surprising because as a critic, I’ve been about as slow as the Jamaican bobsled team in filing a review on this somewhat new Michigan Avenue restaurant. It opened in April, and everyone from the fleet Time Out to the tortoise-like Phil Vettel has weighed in. Almost all the reviews were overwhelmingly positive. More »

06.14.07

Schwa

Restaurant Reviews


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The many plates of Schwa

Turning onto Ashland from North Avenue, my first reaction was, the directions must be wrong. Granted, we were a little early, but there were no cars—well, except for the cars at the huge auto repair shop across the street, one with tall, multi-colored, plastic palm trees. There was a tiny Thai noodle shop, a Hispanic grocery store, and a small, dark bar. It didn’t look like a bad neighborhood, just kind of utilitarian—not the sort of place one would look for a high-end dining opportunity. We stopped in front of a building with a crumbling concrete stoop and an unretrieved morning paper. But the small, yellow building next door had the word “Schwa” over the black-fabric door, and that was the word we were looking for. More »

06.07.07

Chewing on Crust

Restaurant Reviews


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The Flammkuchen at Crust

Visiting a promising restaurant on opening night is probably a lot like scouting high-school and college-basketball phenoms for the NBA. It’s just too early to tell. For every fifty-point whiz like Kobe Bryant, there’s a two-point bust like Darko Milicic riding the bench. Likewise, opening night for a restaurant isn’t usually a fair gauge of future success. Sure, there’s been soft openings for friends and family to fine-tune things, but when’s the last time your best friend told you that you were ugly? More »

05.02.07

Brunching in Brazil

Food Memoir, Restaurant Reviews


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Deep fried stuffed olives and rhubarb caipirinhas

It’s often said that loose women are trying to replace the memory of their absent fathers by sleeping with a trove of men. This might explain some things. More »

04.26.07

Alinea, Still the Barack Obama of Restaurants

Restaurant Reviews


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Alinea’s take on lamb (all photos courtesy Lara Kastner and Alinea)

As we headed for the unassuming front door of Alinea, my friends worried that it might not live up to their expectations. After all, there had been so much press, so many people talking about it. Were there any surprises left? Would they be disappointed? I just smiled and encouraged them to notice the fanciful, diminishing hallway and automatic door, the view into the kitchen from the entryway, and the spare but stunning décor. I figured I didn’t have to convince them. Alinea would do that for me. More »

04.24.07

Hungering for More

Bites: News and Miscellany, Restaurant Reviews


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This article might suck.

Sounds like a set-up? You bet. As a self-respecting writer, one should either skip writing such an article, or just write the article and let the reader decide whether it sucks or not. Similarly, any professional waiter shouldn’t start the night’s service with the following statement: “Hello, I just want to let you know we have twelve large parties tonight, and we’re going to be real busy. Your food order will probably take a long time. Just bear with us and everyone will have fun.” More »

04.04.07

Get Sum II: Chicago Dim Sum

Restaurant Reviews


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Dim sum was born in China more than a thousand years ago, when minced pheasant, lark tongues and sweets made from steamed milk and bean paste were served to Song Dynasty emperors. As the Mongols sacked China in the 13th century, the emperor and his court moved south, introducing the palace cuisine along the way. We may not be south of China, but dim sum fortunately made its way to America. Instead of war-crazed Mongols, you only have to fend off chopstick-wielding Chicagoans for a taste of dumpling zen at these local dim sum palaces. More »

04.01.07

Taking You Down to Chinatown…Bakeries

Restaurant Reviews


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Crystal cake from Wan Shi Da bakery

While American-style bakeries hew almost exclusively toward rich, cloying and frosted treats, the Chinese variety skew more towards a French cafe philosophy—merging sweet and savory elements. In Chicago’s Chinatown, ham and havarti croissants give way to barbecue pork buns, and confections come stuffed with bean paste instead of fruit. Many of these bakeries also feature adjoining cafes that, in addition to providing a space for community gatherings, offer customers the chance to luxuriate over fresh-from-the-oven baked goods or dim sum breakfast with a cup of coffee and the morning news. We plodded through a few of Chinatown’s best: More »

03.26.07

North by Northwest

Food Memoir, Restaurant Reviews


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Arancini from Pasta Fresh

Riunite is kind of like the Italian Boone’s Farm, which is to say, it’s usually drunk by college kids, boozy moms and the homeless. For a proud Italian to have to sell these wines as a traveling salesman is akin to a Parisian butcher turning to sell Spam door to door. More »

03.14.07

Smuggler’s Blues

Restaurant Reviews


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Some people smuggle drugs. I smuggle muffuletta.

Muffuletta is one of New Orleans’ iconic sandwiches, an Italian sesame-seed-studded bread loaf split horizontally and topped with a salad of olives, celery, cauliflower and carrot marinated in olive oil and herbs, and layers of freshly sliced capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler and provolone. You can find the sandwich outside of New Orleans, but as with many regional delicacies, such as the Philly cheesesteak, something gets lost in translation. Thanks to my friends Brian and Sara Gronowski, who fly in a bakery’s load from Central Grocery in New Orleans for their annual Mardi Gras party, I got a shot at the best version before ever stepping foot in the French Quarter. The sandwich might as well have been the president of the New Orleans chamber of commerce, because after my first bite, two months later I was on a plane to Louisiana. More »

02.28.07

Culinary Mythology

Restaurant Reviews


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Scylla chef Stephanie Izard

As a first-generation American (my mom was born in Poland), I’ve seen the ease and speed in which cultural traditions are lost, and so I’m determined to preserve the meaningful ones. It’s probably why as a secular Catholic, too lazy to attend regular Sunday mass, I still try to adhere to most of the other religious traditions, and not just the ones that include bowing to massive binges of guilt. And so with Lenten season upon us, I and 2.4 million local Catholics are in need of a seafood fix for our Friday meat fasts. More »


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