The food at Frog n Snail is either love-it or hate-it according to David Tamarkin. “Dry and dusty” carrot-curry cake and “ferociously underseasoned” beef stroganoff are hard to excuse, as is a pile of brandade “stix” that have “almost no flavor.” Worse are the frog legs with a snail ragout that “should be removed from the menu entirely.” It’s not all bad though as winners include a “very pretty, very good” garden salad, gnocchi paired with “luscious” bites of lamb, and “lovely” pieces of fish. Unfortunately, a chocolate cake with potato chips and pretzel sticks thrown “haphazardly” on the plate muddles the experience some more.
At Brasserie by LM, the food will turn heads but the rest of the experience leaves a lot to be desired. Julia Kramer recommends “flawless” lyonnaise salad, “perfectly executed” steak frites and excellent roast chicken that is crisp and juicy. The shock arrives when she takes notice of her surroundings and finds a vaguely “mod” look that “does little to express the warmth of the current brasserie style of cooking,” and a “dopey” server who seems apathetic to everything. In the end, Kramer says you’re left with “not much of a dining experience; you’re left with only the food.” [TOC]
Balena continues the trend of pan-Italian restaurants that have sprouted up recently and it’s a party worth attending, writes Mike Sula. Stripes of chewy tripe in a “thick, lemony” sauce of marrow, pancetta, and pureed chickpeas rival the great dish at Vera and olive oil-poached tuna is the “ideal the ancients were striving for when they first canned the fish.” Nearly everything on the menu “is something you want to tear apart with your teeth like a rabid animal,” while the tagliolini nero is the “most delicious, spicy tangle of fish netting to wash up on the beach yet.” For dessert, the tiramisu with roasted pear is “such an evolutionary leap” that you’ll never go back to anything else. [Reader]
Michael Nagrant thinks Nellcôte still hasn’t quite found its ground yet. While the “Fork and Knife” pizza is “one of the best, if not the best” Neapolitan-style pizzas in Chicago, there are also several other failures. A soup made of ramps is “insipid” and in need of a “serious spritz of citrus” and the scallop crudo on the bottom is “bland” and “chewy.” Escargot is also “overcooked, mired in goops of gluey polenta” and a soft-boiled egg is similarly “goopy and gelatinous ? badly in need of a touch of acid.” Most disastrous is the baba au rhum dessert that tastes like someone “poured liquor over a Parker House dinner roll.” Ouch. [Sun-Times]
Argent is capable of something great, but suffers “from a lack of commitment,” says Kate Bernot. It starts with a confusing menu that has “a lot to throw into one pot,” and an oxtail and bone marrow ragu that has a “hearty and savory flavor” but is ruined by a “few tough bites” of gristle. The pork stroganoff has a “refreshing, spicy combo” of habanero pesto and crème fraiche but lacks richness while moon pie comes out “overly cakey.” Highlights include scallops with ginger butter that are “fresh” and “seared perfectly” and the “clearly high-quality” Hamachi sashimi. [RedEye]
New executive chef Thomas Lents makes creating exquisite food at Sixteen “seem almost effortless.” Countless dishes impress with “well-considered interplay” among tastes and textures, “seasonal savoir-faire,” and “general artistry that never veers into preciousness.” The 13-course prestige menu takes the excess to an “even higher level.” [Chicago]