Steven Song, who owned Tsunami, the Gold Coast sushi temple that closed last spring, returns to the scene with Masu Izakaya (1969 N. Halsted St.; no phone yet), scheduled to open late this month in the space that housed Minnies. It’ll be the second izakaya—Japanese after-work bar—to open in two months (Izakaya Hapa was first). “Izakaya dishes are a little bit smaller in portion, similar to small plates that are really conducive for grazing,” Song says. Among the small plates will be grilled items, skewers, and snacks that typically go with drinks: “like beer nuts and pretzels but more elevated,” Song explains. Authenticity is his goal, which he says means de-emphasizing maki. “I’m a little disconcerted with the plethora of these multi-ingredient rolls that to me don’t represent the Japanese aesthetic,” he says. “They are sweet and soft and crunchy and have so much stuff going on that it’s really not what Japanese food is.”
“Toasted cheese hath no master.” –John Ray (1627-1705), British naturalist and philologist
Six Questions for Anthony Bourdain
Bourdain, probably best known for writing Kitchen Confidential, will appear at the Chicago Theatre April 24th.
D: Who are your favorite Chicago chefs?
AB: Laurent Gras is a heavy-hitting chef—a chef’s chef. L2O: truly great, important, major-league restaurant. Paul Kahan (Blackbird et al.): Love everything he does. One of Paul’s particular talents is that he is able to recognize other talented people with important things to say and good character.
D: What do you think of Chicago’s native foods?
AB: I’m a huge fan of the Chicago hot dog. A Hot Doug’s fan, but [also] most of your major red-hots—Gold Coast, The Wieners Circle. They kick the shit out of New York hot dogs. It hurts to admit it, but it’s true. Your pizza, on the other hand—other than Burt’s—is dubious. Whatever Burt does, I like it. Deep dish is like tomato quiche. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not pizza.
D: What about Alinea?
AB: Alinea is a source of great debate around my household. I was not thrilled with my one meal there. My wife [Ottavia], however, did not accept my version of events. She said, “I don’t believe you. I think you are a jaded, cynical bastard.” And so she flew out to Chicago and ate alone at Alinea to make up her own mind. She thought it was one of the most fabulous dining experiences that she ever had in her life. Absolutely thrilled.
D: Do you talk about molecular gastronomy in your upcoming book, Medium Raw?
AB: I talk about Alinea. I don’t think you can throw Grant [Achatz] in with molecular gastronomists. You can throw him in with Ferran Adrià, but I would not be so disrespectful as to lump him in with other chefs. [Achatz] cooked me the best white-tablecloth meal of my life when he was at The French Laundry. He can do anything he wants, and he could have chosen an easier path. I really respect that he has chosen this path. There are not a lot of chefs that you could say are better, are more committed, are more talented than Grant Achatz.
D: Do you think you’re a celebrity chef?
AB: I’m a chef of medium abilities. A journeyman at best. You know me for my overblown testosterone and my books and my TV shows, not because of any culinary or creative accomplishment.
D: Anything else you want to say?
AB: I think I’ve gushed enough about Chicago.
D: Yes. My phone is wet.
Jeff Ruby’s Meal at Aldino’s in 134 Words
Poor Aldino’s (626 S. Racine Ave.; 312-226-9300). Too far from Taylor Street to be in that action, not quite in the heart of the UIC redevelopment boom, and lacking the abbondanza spirit of Tufano’s nearby, Dean Zanella’s pleasant new Italian corner spot may have a tough row to hoe. A pity, because Zanella (formerly of 312 Chicago) is doing farmer-driven food far more challenging than the red-sauce competition in Little Italy: grilled octopus with blood oranges and lima beans, rigatoni with braised rabbit, grilled pheasant sausage. Ironically, none of the above hit the mark on my early visit—at least not like Aldino’s straightforward veal meatballs with a sprinkling of ricotta salata or the braised short rib on polenta—both red-sauce standouts. The promised to-go market will be unveiled in about three weeks, and I’m curious to see what—and how—Aldino’s does.
Brick by Brick
Appropriately enough for its name, Bricks (1909 N. Lincoln Ave.; 312-255-0851) is building new places. First to open—March 24th if all goes well—will be Bricks on the Run (1940 N. Elston Ave.; 773-252-2220), a storefront near the Armitage Metra stop. The “on the run” part (a little incongruous with “bricks,” if you ask us) refers to the Homemade Pizza Company–style model, where customers buy uncooked pizzas and cook them at home. “People want to be in control of their pizza destiny,” says Bill Brandt, the owner. The other new Bricks project is Big Bricks (3830 N. Lincoln Ave.; no phone yet), where the pizza will be joined by barbecue, made using the Oyler Pit, which Brandt calls “the Cadillac of barbecue pits.” As to when Big Bricks will open, Brandt says, “I would say six to eight months. [Or] two years. You never know.” Later, he told our fact-checker “toward the end of summer,” so we really don’t know.
Get Your Irish Up
McGonigal’s Pub (105 S. Cook St., Barrington; 847-277-7400) planned a soft opening for Tuesday, March 9th, a day that seemed like it would naturally be slow. “It filled by noon and didn’t let up until probably 11:30, 12 midnight,” says Bryan McGonigal, the owner. The menu features traditional British and Irish food: fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, Irish stew, bangers and mash, corned beef and cabbage—none of which McGonigal ate on the first night. “I had nothing. In my own place. I was so busy I forgot to eat,” he says. Exactly the opposite of writing a dining newsletter: Being busy makes us hungrier.
Things to Do
- Get happy with a $3 burger from Elate (Hotel Felix, 111 W. Huron St.; 312-202-9900). During the 4:30 to 6:30 happy hour(s) Monday through Friday, you can get the deal on the Dietzler Farms burger with creamed leeks and applewood-smoked Nueske’s bacon with the purchase of a drink.
- Help bring water to those who need it during World Water Week, from March 21st to 27th. At participating restaurants, customers can donate $1 for their tap water to the UNICEF Tap Project, bringing water to places such as Togo, Central African Republic, and Haiti.
- Try some (more) prix fixe menus at Chicago Chef Week, which, believe it or not, is not the same as Restaurant Week. The participating restaurants—a high-quality bunch—are offering three-course menus for $20 at lunch and $30 at dinner ($2 cheaper than RW, if you’re keeping track).
Dot Dot Dot . . .
From the ashes (and the baristas) of Pause Café now rises Kitchen Sink (1107 W. Berwyn Ave.; 773-944-0592), renovated and with expanded food choices. A recent special was the Cuban cigar, a modified Cuban sandwich with smoked Gouda instead of Swiss. . . . Radhika Desai, who appeared on Top Chef’s fifth season, is the new executive chef at English (444 N. LaSalle Dr.; 312-222-6200). . . . The head chef at the very large (280 seats) Orchid (201 Stratford Square Dr., Bloomingdale; 630-671-0000), which opened just before the new year, is the well-pedigreed Soon Park (Blu Coral, Agami, Sushi Wabi, Wildfish). . . . There was a mini crisis around the Dish offices when we briefly thought we had eaten all our invitations to an event for Future Food, the TV show about Moto. . . . Graham Elliot Bowles announced on Twitter that his low-price, highbrow sandwich place, Grahamwich, will be located at 615 North State Street.