Fine dining is having its moment in Chicago and Smyth "shows more than enough originality and imagination to keep it in mind" long after the meal has ended. John and Karen Urie Shields deliver a "wonderful and occasionally weird" tasting menu that impresses Mike Sula. It starts with a briny oyster swimming in a savory tomato slush punctuated by "satisfying pops" from fish roe, before being followed up with "sumptuous" grilled kanpachi belly bathing in beurre blanc. A dish of slow-cooked lamb saddle brings proteins to a "climax of unmatched intensity," while a "miraculous" egg yolk dessert soaked in salted licorice is "one of the most astonishing" final bites Sula’s seen this year. The experience is well worth the price of admission and Sula recommends booking a seat "before the place gets truly packed." [Reader]
El Che Bar is a "love letter" to Argentina’s wood grilling and the drinks are "just as thoughtful," writes Heather Schroering. A pre-meal bitter mango fizz cocktail is "pure magic" and akin to a "flavor wizard’s sensorial recreation of licking a mango seed," while the "crushable" kalimotxo is a blend of red wine, vermouth, cachaca, cola and muddled strawberries. The food menu offers great dishes like creamy and crunchy grilled oysters, as well as a swordfish that’s an "interactive experience for the mouth, served with green watercress, nutty pumpkin seeds, tangy tomatillo and burst-in-your-mouth cherry tomatoes." For dessert, the melting pionono is "everything—dense, flaky, crunchy, sweet" and "on a different planet." On the whole, the restaurant will "take you someplace else. Quite literally, it’s a sensation." [RedEye]
Jeff Ruby thinks that Giant is a "pure expression of the smart people behind it." Jason Vincent and his team are cranking out "fresh and straightforward" fare, such as the much-hyped, "genius" fried uni shooters, "perfect" homemade biscuits with warm jalapeno butter and "succulent" smoked baby back ribs. "Flavors come through crystal clear" on a "mesmerizing" plate of sweet-and-sour eggplant and the pasta program produces a delicious cannelloni with smoked lamb, arugula pesto, mint yogurt and porcini butter. Vanilla cajeta ice cream with butter-pecan crunch and strawberries is the icing on top of an impressive meal.
But where Giant succeeds, Ema fails. Ruby calls the restaurant "unfocused: careful and dull one minute, overly complex and unreliable the next." The menu is "so by the book it feels as if the recipes were crowdsourced by a marketing team." Housemade stracciatella "deserve[s] better than the lifeless roasted vine tomatoes" that escorts it while a dish of charred octopus with fried kale, fingerling potatoes, black olives and arugula "dies a thousand deaths in an absurd preserved-lemon vinaigrette." Worse yet, crispy halloumi with dates tastes like "they were refugees from 30 years of desert wandering." Blunders even find their way into dessert, which features a deconstructed baklava that’ll leave you wishing it had just been left alone. [Chicago]