“The Chipotle of …” is quickly becoming a ubiquitous phrase used by food entrepreneurs. What it usually means is the chefs or business people behind the venture have so many stars and dollars signs blocking their eyes in the quest to become a fast-casual sensation by serving quick versions of international foods that they forget the food actually has to taste good. Advertisements
How many civil engineers does it take to build a great Vietnamese sandwich? Judging by the excellent banh mi served at Lotus Cafe in University Village, the answer is at least one.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to dine like a dictator or an imperial ruler, then the newly reopened, upscale French-Vietnamese Pasteur in Edgewater is probably just the ticket.
A.A. Gill is not a nice guy. Over his career as a restaurant critic for “The Sunday Times,” a UK newspaper, he has offended gays, Germans and the Welsh. He was once thrown out of a Gordon Ramsay restaurant because he’d written that the sauté-Satan of TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen” was a “second-rate human being.” In one review Gill decried the citizens of the Isle of Man as “hopeless inbred mouth-breathers.” Still, when it comes to food criticism, Gill, as foul and hard as a writer can be, has nothing on my boy. When last I wrote of my son’s food adventures, he was a grinning eight-month-old happily gnawing pieces of Manny’s pastrami, one of the first solid foods we’d ever given him. We thought we’d hit the jackpot. The kid sucked up ratatouille, curried cauliflower and purees of organic vegetables I’d dutifully procured from the farmers’ market. Pretty soon, I figured we’d have him on to sushi and Indian. By age two maybe we’d convince Alinea to serve him a five-course toddler pre-fixe. He was a foodie. It was ordained. One thing they don’t tell you in the baby books is that most kids between six months and a year-and-a-half…
Unless you’re a Pritzker, a Zell, a Wrigley or a Winfrey, or a member of any of the other handful of elite Chicago clans, living in the city usually means making some compromises. If you just graduated from college, you’re apparently forced to live in Wrigleyville and wallpaper your third-floor walk-up with “Twilight” and Lady Gaga posters. The good news is you now have a job and no longer have to buy Natural Light. The bad news is your rent is more than your mortgage will be in a few years, so you can only afford to trade up to Miller Lite. If you live in certain places on the South Side and you want a farmers market, a venti latte, and the promise of no random drive-by shootings, you’re generally screwed. However, you do have more Harold’s Chicken franchises than most, not to mention a pretty good selection of BBQ joints. If you’re a cop or a fireman, you’ve probably got a nice bungalow on a tree-lined street on the Far West or South Sides. The bad news is airplanes are roaring over your home all night and the only bars you can find are fake Irish-pub/Bennigan’s clones. For…
I like it when a restaurant owner dines in his own establishment.
If chicken soup feeds the soul, then pho (pronounced “FUH”), the traditional Vietnamese beef noodle soup, is the curative for frozen bones. Usually served with a condiment tray featuring limes, chile paste, hoisin, bean sprouts, Asian basil and culantro (a sawtooth-shaped cilantro-like herb), it’s also the ultimate tableside soup buffet. Customize to your heart’s content, but for the purpose of this article, we stayed away from the extra flavorings and focused solely on the quality of the base broth, cuts of meat and noodles. In order to ensure the most “beefiness” and to compare apples to apples, we ordered our pho at each restaurant with eye of round steak, brisket, tripe, tendon, flank steak and tendon meatballs. Excepting the pho at the Noodle (where it’s called Pho Chín, Nam, Gau, Gân, Sách) and at Tank (Pho Xe Tang), this was always the pho dac biet or “supercombo” version.
If your mother was Vietnamese, she probably made pho when you were sick. If not, there’s always Hai Yen restaurant on Argyle Street in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood serving up a feast of the senses and the seasons.