The dishes at Carriage House are "consistent, well-seasoned and balanced," Michael Nagrant writes. The "succulent" clam boil with a "slurpworthy brew" is a "nice salvo" against the ubiquitous Belgian mussels found everywhere these days, while the fried chicken is "silky, juicy" and "glistening with local honey." Braised pork shoulder is served with a "delightful sweet/sour combo" of smoked nectarines and pickled peppers and "fluffy cloudlike" cornbread is a reinvention of old favorites. One of the few knocks includes a "fairly straightforward" pecan sundae that's "not too far afield from the kind of thing you get at a TGI Friday's." Ultimately though, Nagrant thinks if Carriage House wants to compete against the established Big Jones, it'll have to "dig deep and evoke [its] Southern and culinary heritages in earnest." [Sun-Times]
The price is steep at Masaki but it might just be worth it according to Julia Kramer. The meal starts with a bowl of mild broth with three fish balls and a tangle of jellyfish that makes for an "interesting" but not quite delicious course. The sushi are "things of consummate beauty" while a "sensational arrangement" of red snapper, flounder and amberjack atop a bright vinaigrette is "one of the night's highlights." A less successful, "rubbery" octopus is redeemed by the meal's "zenith," a piece de steak tartare resistance capped with a bouncy quail egg yolk. It's accompanied by flash-torched Wagyu and an "intense" mushroom broth that "boosted and united the savoriness of the course." [TOC]
Phil Vettel takes a look at two restaurants that are flying under the radar. At Red Violet, the wagyu scroll is "more of a true carpaccio," with the beef "given an Asian inflection" of toasted peanuts and cilantro. The shrimp toast is "adorable" and panko-crusted shrimp-mousse balls with jutting asparagus spears are "shrimp Popsicles." For entrees, the loup de mare is a "very pretty presentation" of sea bass in pepper sauce while even the "relative snores" like the "so-so" sha cha shrimp are "at least serviceable." Almond panna cotta and white-chocolate-filled doughnuts with black-tea semifreddo are "ambitious West-meets-East desserts."
Out in Barrington, Schwa alum Gaetano Nardulli is doing good things at Near. Marinated eggplant is so good Vettel "could eat it every day" and the chicken-liver crostini are "so rich" that he defies "any one person to polish them off." Delicate gnocchi in a rustic tomato sauce with pork shoulder makes a "good chilly-weather dish" while risotto topped with herbs and shaved bottarga is also enjoyable. For dessert, the "star" is the chocolate cremeux crowning Nutella panna cotta, with grapefruit segments, sea salt and house-made pretzel streusel. [Tribune]
Bill Kim's devotees have come to expect a lot and BellyQ "easily fulfills the on the promise of its predecessors." Melissa Wiley starts with olive oil poached shrimp with red Thai curry sauced and a double-smoked bacon kimchi pancake that could've have been a "killer meal" on its own, with the tangy kimchi making the dish an "unqualified standout." For entrees, spicy lemongrass chicken comes with creamed spinach that "amply rewarded in kind," and the habanero Belly Smoke sauce is a winner. "Kim could have sautéed a rabid squirrel culled from the alleyway and chances are we still would have left singing the praises of BellyQ," Wiley writes. Now that's high praise. [Chicagoist]