I’m officially done with tasteless beef. Part of this is I’m getting older, and I recognize that, despite pretending to court cardiac arrest in some of my writing like it was a hot prom date, arteriosclerosis, unlike Donald Trump’s promises to make Mexico pay for a border wall, is a real thing. I’ve already seen some of the best minds of my generation stented and statin-ed. Advertisements
Despite pimping black truffle-stuffed pasta or whiskey cocktails infused with bacon, most chefs don’t crave the things they purvey at their restaurants. After years of reporting, I’ve found a chef’s desert island meal is more like a Miller High Life and a piece of fried chicken.
Sometimes when I dine out, a song pops into my head that perfectly describes the experience. In the case of WonFun—the new West Loop Sichuan Chinese spot from Bar Marta vets Austin Baker and executive chef Ben Ruiz—that song is “Last Nite” by The Strokes. The song is about a breakup, but that’s not to say that WonFun is a great place to drop your sweetheart. I generally get hooked by melodies and rarely listen to lyrics. Julian Casablancas growls like a mumbling drunk, and a jangly guitar riff inspires me to head to the nearest darkest bar, put White Stripes on the jukebox, do shots of whiskey and dance until I fall over. Which is funny because I don’t dance. But “Last Nite” is the kind of song that makes you feel like you’re in the right place no matter where you are, the kind of song that makes you want to do stuff you don’t usually do. Stuff you might have to explain to a lawyer the next day. WonFun inspires the same wanton abandon
“I thought it was normal for your mom to make Mandarin pancakes when you were growing up. It was only later I realized nobody was doing that,” said Stephanie Izard, chef and partner behind West Loop’s new Duck Duck Goat. Armed with childhood memories of cooking Chinese food alongside her mother and recent travels to China, Izard teamed up with Boka Restaurant Group principals Rob Katz and Kevin Boehm for her third restaurant, a gourmet take on Chinese cuisine in Chicago. I stopped in recently to see if her efforts could satisfy General Tso’s army or if they’d leave me yearning for P.F. Chang’s orange peel shrimp
I screwed up. I showed up at a hot new restaurant in the middle of dinner rush hour looking for a table for six without a reservation. You see, I thought I’d made one, but it turned out I mistakenly booked a table a month out at Imperial Lamian in River North. The lobby filled with people. The open kitchen was a flurry. Steam poured from bamboo pots, and hand-pulled noodles thwacked against the counter. The restaurant buzzed, and I panicked. But the host smiled and said there was no need to worry—they’d have a table ready in 15 minutes. We were seated 10 minutes later