One of our trusted spies says she “really loved” Don Diablo (3749 W. Fullerton Ave.; 773-489-3748), the new taquería in the old space of—and by the owners of—Fonda del Mar. “Not all of the $2 tacos were throw-in-the-napkin showstoppers,” she said. “But the carnitas with a healthy squirt of chile de arbol salsa were truly great. Overall, I’d rank these ahead of Big Star.” She also raved about the empanadas (“the fillings—shrimp, crab, et cetera—were deliciously stewy and the pastry was to die for”), the $5 margaritas (“such a good deal, I had two”), and the frijoles charros (“top-notch, with big chunks of bacon, and I’ve eaten lots—they’re my Texan dad’s favorite”). It sounds so good, we hope it’s a better fit for Logan Square than the short-lived Fonda del Mar was.
5 Questions for David Carrier
Carrier, the chef at Lincoln Park’s new Kith & Kin (1119 W. Webster St.; 773-472-7070), also has Table (5022 N. Clark St.), a family-style spot in Andersonville, coming in March.
D: Who are you?
DC: I’m from New York. Grew up in Hollis, Queens. But this is my second time in Chicago. I was with Grant Achatz at Trio [in Evanston] and [before that] at the French Laundry [in Yountville, California]. I started out as poissonier at Trio and became his sous.
D: So after Trio, then what?
DC: I went off to find a project of my own. I wanted to find what Grant found in Trio. I didn’t want to go to Florida, but we got to talking to these people and it got interesting, so I went down to Apalachicola. It was such a Podunk town, right on the water. But there was this beautiful turn-of-the-century hotel called The Gibson Inn, and they leased the space to my wife [Ryanne Carrier, a pastry chef] and me. We ran it for three years as Avenue Sea and introduced a food style that hadn’t been seen there before.
D: What do you mean?
DC: No one was preparing fresh seafood the way we were. And these fishermen would come to the back door with shrimp that they just dragged out of the bay. That’s how fresh this stuff was. By the time I left, I saw rapini at the grocery stores because people were starting to ask for it.
D: What are you doing at Kith & Kin?
DC: My title is consulting chef, but I’m here from 10 a.m. till 2 in the morning. The only thing I know how to do is fully submerge myself. The place has got no pretension. It’s fun, comfortable, cozy. Fireplace. Phenomenal cocktail program. Inexpensive items—curry with the mussels or a hamburger on a brioche bun. Everything from scratch, from the heart.
D: What’s the story with your other upcoming opening?
DC: The guys operating this place also have this project in Andersonville to be called Table. It’s a quaint neighborhood spot. A little more formal than what we are doing down here, but not by much.
Three Chans Are Better than None
Macku Chan, one of the guys behind Kaze Sushi, which closed abruptly this past September, will be back in action when he opens Macku Sushi (2239 N. Clybourn Ave.; 773-880-8012) sometime between Christmas and New Year’s. As before, it’s a family affair, with Chan’s brother Kaze Chan in charge of the nigiri station and his cousin Hari Chan doing maki. Macku Chan sticks to the hot stuff and makes sure all the wines match up with the food. Given the reputation the Chans built at Kaze Sushi, we’re eager to try out a restaurant named for the other brother.
“Do you know what breakfast cereal is made of? It’s made of all those little curly wooden shavings you find in pencil sharpeners!” –Roald Dahl (1916-1990), British writer (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)
Ina on El Bulli
We’ve read everything there is to read about Ferran Adrià’s legendary El Bulli in Roses, Spain, but we were still curious to hear the perspective of Ina Pinkney, the chef/owner of the down-home Ina’s (1235 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8227), who ate there last month. The following details stuck with her—and us.
- No one in the 55-seat room is dressed formally.
- The kitchen is extremely quiet.
- Adrià walks around the kitchen, watching everything. (“He radiates delight at what you are about to experience.”)
- Despite being open only half the year, El Bulli gets nearly one million reservation requests in those six months.
- The trick to getting in is to know someone who can get you on a list for a cancellation. (When people reserve a year in advance, there are bound to be some cancellations.)
- Pinkney’s meal was 38 courses. (“Understand that one course was a candied hibiscus leaf.”)
- Compared with the food, wines are not expensive.
- Some creations that look firm are actually soft; others look crisp but are filled with a purée.
- One of Pinkney’s favorite dishes was a red flower: “You pick it up by the stem, turn it upside down, and let the nectar drip on your tongue. You never eat the flower.”
- As she was leaving, her friend stopped at another table: “He told one guy we have an extraordinary restaurant like this in Chicago, meaning Alinea. And who was sitting next to that person but Grant Achatz. Grant was very moved.”
Why You Should Eat at Conoce Mi Panama
“This is the only Panamanian restaurant in the entire United States,” says Antonio Bailey, the owner of five-week-old Conoce Mi Panama (3054 W. Armitage; 773-252-7440). That seems impossible, but here are more details from Bailey: The food is marinated in special Panamanian spices, they have loads of vegetarian options, and the 45-seat place is BYO. What more do you need to know?
Things to Do
- Show some restraint at Topaz’s complimentary buffet from 4 to 7 p.m. (780 Village Center Drive, Burr Ridge; 630-654-1616) on Tuesdays (barbecue), Wednesdays (chips, salsa, guacamole), and Thursdays (Italian goodies).
- Pony up $5 for a crab cake at Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House in Naperville (55 S. Main St.; 630-548-3764), January 1st through 7th. Why? Because every other week of the year, the price is $14.50. And say “Happy fifth anniversary” on your way out the door.
- Ponder whether Ruby loves, hates, or just doesn’t understand New York City.
Dot Dot Dot . . .
Xni-Pec de Yucatán, whose authentic Mayan cuisine ignited a Mexican revolution in Cicero when it opened there three years ago, has Brookfield (3755 Grand Blvd.) in the crosshairs for a spinoff in early January. . . . Paris Café (810 N. Clark St.; 312-255-0811), a new breakfast, lunch, and dinner spot, has plenty of French twists on the menu, and will also carry on the River North tradition of turning loungey as the hour grows late.. . . . “Bluprint was locationally challenged,” says Sam Burman, the talented chef who gave his all to the beautiful but doomed spot that closed its doors this past Monday after two and a half years hidden in the Merchandise Mart. As for Burman, he’s headed to Southern California to learn more about agriculture and add to his wine knowledge. Now that’s a good location. . . . Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all that jazz from your loyal Dish scribes. Your favorite foodie newsletter is taking a week off but will return in January with all the latest news on the restaurant scene.
Personal Note from Ruby
I’d like to announce some changes in the land of Dishville and to Chicago magazine’s dining department in general. After nearly 20 years of faithful service, Dennis Ray Wheaton is moving on from his position as Chicago’s chief dining critic, though he will continue to contribute his reviews and ideas to the magazine. I have the honor of being his replacement, which means, among other things, this will be my final collaboration with Pollack on Dish, a role that I have relished for the past nine years. You’ll notice a new byline alongside Penny’s in the next Dish column—that of Graham Meyer, a Chicago mag editor, food lover, and all-around smart guy. With Graham on board, I expect the level of the column to only rise, and my first order of business in my new position is to subscribe to Dish. It has been an honor to serve you, the savviest readers in Chicago. Meanwhile, look for my first Dining Out column in the March 2010 issue of Chicago.