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. Advertisements
Like a baby boomer Justin Timberlake, Old Town Brasserie owner Bob Djahanguiri is on a quest to bring sexy back, or in his parlance, “romance.” In the ’80s and early ’90s, Djahanguiri—who opened hot spots like Toulouse and Yvette—was the grand master of the Chicago night circus, hosting visiting celebrities like Liza Minnelli and Harry Connick Jr. Once, Mikhail Baryshnikov and his posse danced on Djahanguiri’s pianos way past the 4 a.m. closing time.
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.
Chef John Hogan of Tavern at the Park started his career in the French major leagues, apprenticing at L’Escargot, Le Perroquet (both now closed) and Everest, vaunted kitchens where the chefs were always right, even over the customers. He has seen Rod Stewart kicked out of Everest for bad behavior, and watched one of his mentors berate no-show customers on the phone. “This was before cell phones,” Hogan said. “You get a call at 2 in the morning, it’s usually because a family member died. This guy was telling people they were no longer welcome in his restaurant.”
Diego Rivera is mad as hell. A portrait of the Mexican muralist hangs on the south wall of the sunburst-orange dining room of Sol de Mexico. In the original painting, Rivera’s expression is pensive, but in the reproduction at this Mexican restaurant in Cragin, the artist has turned Rivera’s mouth into a grumbling scowl. It’s as if Rivera knows one of Chicago’s finest spots for authentic Mexican may be in jeopardy.
If you comped me a $300 meal at one of Chicago’s top restaurants, I believe I’d be able to write honestly about it. That being said, it would be impossible for the reading public to know what’s in my heart, and, admittedly, it’s possible some unintended subjectivity might creep in. That’s why I never write critically about free meals. This of course includes friends and family cooking, which has had the unintended but delightful consequence of keeping me invited to dinner parties and in good standing with my mother-in-law.
Chicago’s reputation as ground zero for the molecular gastronomy movement overshadows the fact that it’s one of the best places in the country to score traditional high-end cuisine. And while classic spots like Charlie Trotter’s and Spiaggia still shine brightly, a new chef, Christophe David of NoMI, is leading the latest charge of haute, seasonally focused cooking in this city.
Unless MTV launches “The Real World: Florida Retirement Home,” it looks like I won’t achieve one of my life goals: to make it on the show as a cast member.
For most of us, celebrating Halloween as adults has little to do with trick-or-treating and candy-scoring and more to do with pumpkin beer hangovers and regretful costumes. At best, you might make a shameful visit to Target to score a few bags of Peppermint Patties and mini peanut butter cups.
Despite what Jay-Z would have you believe (before he turned his back on it), Cristal isn’t the shiznit. It’s a good bottle, but I can think of many different Champagnes, some cheaper than “Cris,” that taste better. Like many luxury items, Cristal’s ascendance as the champagne of choice in the hip-hop community had as much to do with its marketed prestige and high price tag as with its quality.