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Graham Elliot Needs Refinement; Balena is Can't-Miss

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graham elliot
graham elliot
Photo: mdfeeds/Flickr

Under new chef Andrew Brochu, Graham Elliot manages to both delight and disappoint. Julia Kramer sits down at the latest iteration of the restaurant and enjoys the pea soup that exudes the “freshness and brightness of spring” and a carbonara that’s both “elemental and enticing.” However, the second half of the meal is less successful featuring “unremarkable" proteins and “off-putting” flavor combinations. Desserts are also played very safe in “likeable but unmemorable ways.” [TOC]

The range of consistency at Frog N Snail is unpredictable, writes Mike Sula. The appeal of the dishes are “largely visual” with an abundance of ingredients that are “individually fun to pick at.” Sometimes it goes too far such as “bizarrely” accenting a briny-tasting pork chop with fresh strawberries and other times the reliance on seasonality seems “self-destructive,” as with a wilted mint crowing a curried lamb shank. A rib eye with frites leans too much toward sweet that it seems “inappropriate to depend on” as a main course, but it’s “hard to find fault” in a simple bowl of strawberries and cream. [Reader]

Balena is packed with carbs but it’s a don’t-miss destination according to Phil Vettel. Pastas “dazzle” such as the “knockout” tagliolini nero, which delivers “balanced complexity in every bite.” A crudo of lightly smoked mackerel is “not for the faint of heart” and the salt-and-pepper chicken thighs over watercress salad are “very good.” Amanda Rockman’s composed sundaes offer “thoughtful” combinations and “absolutely pure” flavors like the “superb” super-dense chocolate gelato dressed with sea salt and olive oil. [Tribune]

Two new food-focused bars have recently opened and the reactions are mixed. Emily Van Zandt drops in at Mercer One Thirteen and finds the quality of the food not worthy of the steep price point. The meat platter consists of some “stale” serrano ham and three piles of the same type of salami, while the Ruby cocktail “would have been more drinkable without the pink salt rim.” The prices are comparable to neighborhood competitors but there, “the food quality is clearly much higher.” She thinks Mercer will need to “work a bit harder to earn bargoers’ respect.”

At The Monkey’s Paw, the menu seems a little “unfocused” and “overambitious,” but it all turns out “pretty good.“ Chicken tandoori “lollipops” are “flavorful” and “tender” but tenderloin skewers are “seriously tough” and the clam bake is a “little salty.” It won’t attract people far and wide, but for a neighborhood bar, The Monkey’s Paw is “doing a lot right.” [RedEye]

Frog N Snail

3124 N Broadway Street, Chicago, Illinois

Graham Elliot

217 W Huron Street, Chicago, IL 60654 312 624 9975 Visit Website

Balena

1633 North Halsted Street, , IL 60614 (312) 867-3888 Visit Website

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