Heather Schroering says Bad Hunter is "as much indulgent as it is refreshing" and shows that veggie-focused dishes can also turn heads. Even carnivores will be impressed by the "satisfying Burger King Whopper for the vegetarian," containing a "dense, textured" double patty of black beans with cheddar, sweet tomato jam, onions, lettuce and mustard aioli. Tempura-fried lemons and delicate squash "play with Italian flavors and are not to be missed," while fry bread with burrata results in a "next-level stuffed crust pizza-like experience that makes the deep dish vs. thin crust argument moot." Texture "goes a long way with vegetables," as maitake mushrooms a la plancha is an "impressive example of creativity and thoughtfulness," and the chocolate cremeux dessert brings together an array of elements for a "secret garden of deliciousness." Simply put, it’s a "bang-for-your-buck experience that highlights all of the best parts of vegetables and the most dynamic ways they can be used." [RedEye]
Coda di Volpe is "hardly reinventing Italian" but it’s a welcome addition to the Southport corridor according to Mike Sula. Chef Chris Thompson makes a "commendable version" of margherita di bufala pizza, featuring "high, blistered crust descending to a thin plain of pliable dough leading to a soft, gooey center, with a judicious application of fatty cheese and acidic sauce." It’s the housemade Calabrian chile oil, though, that lifts nearly every plate to new heights. Sula thinks it adds an "interesting element to the bittersweet balance" of a chicory and persimmon salad, while also "perk[ing] up the earthy bass notes" of roasted carrots and parsnips. Pastas include fettuccine made with chickpea flour and topped with pork ragu and dried ricotta; and chitarra with clams, meaty nduja, preserved lemon and minty herb nepitella. A seasonal pumpkin spice brioche, stuffed with sweet potato gelato on a pool of pumpkin creme anglaise and topped with sweet toasted pecans, is the capper. [Reader]
Newly Michelin-starred Smyth "flaunts deep, unforgettable flavors—some discombobulating, others harmonious," writes Jeff Ruby. Dishes "spark genuine exhilaration," like on a Seawater course featuring a mussels and sea lettuce broth made from a 24-hour process to "extract their deep essence." A beef-fat brioche doughnut paired with braised cabbage atop caviar, caramelized onions and sauerkraut is "beautiful, brawny and definitely un-upscale," while a composition of Dungeness crab with foie gras and scrambled kani miso is "miraculous." The foie, which is wet-cured, poached, chilled and marinated in sea salt brine, has "such an astoundingly concentrated flavor it’s almost unrecognizable." Dessert provides "extraordinary surges of flavor"—a frozen yogurt meringue is served atop farro and black raspberry jam and pillows an egg yolk cured in star anise, salt, sugar and molasses.
But downstairs at The Loyalist, "the food fails to set itself apart from the crowd." The aged 15 oz. rib eye’s "chalky texture and a side of freaky-spongy Tater Tots spoil the party," and broiled seatrout "languishes in a flavorless kasu sauce alongside lukewarm, soggy" cucumbers. Other dishes like a "decent but predicable" chicken liver mousse on sourdough toast are "unimaginative retreads." There are some highlights: "moist crispy" chicken thighs with Carolina Gold rice grits, green beans and pickled tripe "gets it right;" and the popular cheeseburger is "sweet, absurdly rich, and 100 percent deserving of the hype." Overall though, Ruby wishes the "creative juices had flowed equally into both operations." [Chicago]