Phil Vettel eats through most of the menu at Leña Brava and discovers an abundance of complex and impressive flavors. On the "ice" side of the menu, the aguachiles are all "superb" but the pineapple dish is a "revelation" of fire-blacked fruit in an orange lime broth with goat cheese and spicy hazelnut salsa macha. Other cold standouts include the ceviche maki roll with "harmonious" flavors and a Bloody Maria tuna cocktail. Scallops over sweet plantain ash are a "must-try" on the "fire" section while an "excellent" chicken a la Leña is served with jalapeno-garlic salsa that’s the "stuff of dreams." For dessert, the banana split is "so massive that you probably should win a T-shirt if you finish it." [Tribune]
The Budlong delivers pleasurable Nashville hot chicken that packs just the right amount of heat, according to Michael Nagrant. All of the meat is "juicy to the bone" but a few pieces fall victim to greasiness and sogginess. However, the X-Hot chicken proves to be a winner, boasting a "creeping fire that’s kissed with citrus from the habanero." The crispy skin also holds up and the burn is "slow, smoldering and compelling." Sides are "universally well-executed" and include elotes, potato salad and "some of the best" collard greens Nagrant has had. To cool off, a gelato-based bourbon vanilla wafer milkshake does the trick. [RedEye]
At Cruz Blanca, Bayless "accurately re-creates" the food of Oaxaca City. Nick Kindelsperger calls the brewpub "something intentionally messy and daringly confrontational." The brief menu offers traditional tacos like "brash and extra salty" tasajo—salted and cured flank steak—as well as chorizo with an "almost creamy texture." Garlic and agave-marinated portebllo mushrooms also "rise above the default vegetarian option by picking up the smokiness of the grill, while remaining juicy."
Sides include a "cooling salad" of nopales and "vibrant" pico de gallo that add a "fresh pop and acidic kick to each bite." Kindelsperger washes it down with some brews such as a "balanced and crisp" Smoke Alley ale and the "deceptively smooth and refreshing" La Guardia Morena. His lone complaint is reserved for the restaurant’s confusing set-up, which requires ordering food and drinks at two separate stations. Once it’s sorted out, though, it should be "another knockout project for Bayless." [Tribune]
Grace receives a fourth star in Jeff Ruby’s updated review. Ruby had previously praised Curtis Duffy’s tasting menus for "overflow[ing] with jaw-dropping ideas and flavors" but thought service was not quite up to the food’s level. Three years later and the "edges have softened enough to let the spot’s true identity emerge." Every guest is treated warmly, staffers "seamlessly choreograph the meal" and the "impressively complex dishes will turn even jaded diners into true believers." [Chicago]
The lunch menu at Shanghai Terrace makes it a "glamorous spot worth seeking out." The dim sum prix fixe meal offers an assortment of items such as "succulent" roasted duck and chow mein with a "generous helping of perfectly cooked" seafood, mushrooms and vegetables. Signature a la carte options like shredded beef tenderloin "still shine" while Peking duck "stars" in a salad with orange, toasted almonds and truffle peanut dressing. On the whole, the food doesn’t "really push the envelope" but is "superbly prepared." [Crain’s]