Giving it three-and-a-half stars, Michael Nagrant visits Vera and thinks chef Mark Mendez has given new life to deliberate and sensitive cooking. The blood sausage is so tender that you mistake the offal strips for noodles; the crisp plank of trout is a “tangy explosion of flavor;” and his favorite dishes are the cazuela featuring buttery sweet-spiced squash puree and the mound of hen-of-the-woods and shiitake mushrooms perfumed with thyme. Even the bread has a crispy crust and cloudlike, bubble-filled interior and a killer accompaniment of butters. For wine enthusiasts, the wine list is one of the most fearless, affordable and food-friendly that Nagrant has seen. [Sun-Times]
Mike Sula also has a similar, enjoyable experience at Vera. The plate of chef’s tripe, morcilla and garbanzos is textured, soulful and harmonized perfectly. The fish dishes are some of the most vivid, ranging from a formation of cured anchovies dressed minimally with pickled garlic and vegetal celery leaves to a tangle of grilled octopus inflamed with smoky pimento. As a wine bar, the affordable and unusual list includes wines from underrepresented regions and an impressive range of sherries is enough reason to stop in for a drink. And like Nagrant, Sula wishes he had more crispy pieces from the bottom of the pan in his paella. [Reader]
The new Lincoln Park burger joint Butcher & the Burger offers everything you need to craft a perfect burger, writes David Tamarkin. As a build-it-yourself spot, his house-blend beef burger on a split top egg butter bun rubbed with “Grandma’s onion soup” spice rub was pretty much perfect. Tamarkin cautions that the responsibility is on the eater to put together a good burger and to stick with the beef patties or vegan option, a lentil patty. Aside from a few disappointments, he can’t imagine how the place could get even better when it does. [TOC]
At the reopened Italian Gioco, the warm return is welcomed. Laura Bianchi tries the Japanese Kurobuta pork belly and finds it incomparably tender with the five-spice sauce dark and complex. The prosciutto on the pizza beats any she’s ever tried, and the four-cheese ravioli is grand enough to serve as someone’s “last meal.” Likewise, the meat in the duck pappardelle is as tender as the pasta and the sauce is a wealth of complexity. For dessert, the poached pear in mulled red wine is both spicy and refreshing. [Chicago Business]
Eater Chicago intern Jeffy Mai contributed this article.