Mi Tocaya is already one of 2017’s critical darlings, and Jeffy Ruby adds to the dogpile of love by describing the Logan Square personal Mexican gem as a “terrific comeback” for chef/owner Diana Davila in Chicago magazine. Ruby writes that Davila’s menu contains “no filler,” exalting the staples and tacos, before diving into the chef’s more personal dishes that “showcase a broader worldview”: beef sweetbreads are a “creamy-crunchy indulgence”; cross-cultural mashups such as the “winning” lamb meatballs; and the queso fundido with longaniza sausage is among the “bulls-eyes.” He does point out misfires, however, including the toasted vermicelli that’s “pummeled into oblivion by a too-blunt chintextle salsa made with pasilla peppers and dried shrimp.” [Chicago]
Randolph Restaurant Row’s long-awaited new tri-level wine bar The Lunatic, The Lover & The Poet does wine right but not so much food, Mike Sula writes in the Reader. The critic believes selections from the exceptional wine list are “poured as if it were a rare treasure” by owner and longtime sommelier Tom Powers’ team. But he also believes the food fares far worse, as chef Jessica Nowicki’s menu is “familiarly broad and unfocused,” making the spot “yet another shared-plates concept without much original identity.” He advises against the “leaden” gnocchi; undersalted steak tartare; oversalted fried pickles, Meyer lemon coins, and smelts; and “the most egregious false spring” in the carnitas with ramp slaw. Even the “watery” cocktails and cookie-cutter space are disappointments for him, so maybe just stick with wine. [Reader]
Palette, the new Gold Coast restaurant and bar from the man behind Lincoln Park’s daytime favorite Batter and Berries, has a “capable” weekday lunch that’s marred by “atrocious” service that make it a “forgotten meal,” Graham Meyer writes in Crain’s. Forgotten menus, orders that have to be repeated, side dishes that arrive with appetizers, long waits to be seated and for food, and even a “near-empty” space taint the “not-too-saucy, not-too-krauty” Reuben sandwich, “melodiously translating” French onion soup, and lobster mac and cheese that “put to shame other restaurants' lobster-shreds mac.” And on the sweet side of things, the signature waffle flights feature “essentially interchangeable ultrasweet toppings” that “failed to express any competitive advantage over specimens from other restaurants.” [Crain’s]
Phil Vettel visits Humboldt Park all-day French restaurant Cafe Marie Jeanne and deems it worthy of two stars. The restaurant, owned by former Rootstock chef Mike Simmons and his wife Val Szafranski, is a “neighborhood treasure” for the Tribune critic with food that excels at all three meals, whether on its regular menu or daily chalkboard specials. Fusilli col buco pasta with octopus is “a delightful Mediterranean excursion”; duck frites is a signature, the DIY breakfast sandwich “ranges from the expected to the novel”; service is “very good”; and dessert is “not a kitchen strength” but he still finds positives in the cheeses and the cake-and-ice-cream play on an affogato. The only negatives for him were a 45-day rib-eye that left Vettel “disappointed,” a dining room “which can be impenetrably dark in the evening,” and the lack of street parking near the restaurant.
Meanwhile, Vettel also makes the trek up to Winnetka for meals at George Trois, the fancy, tiny, French restaurant-within-a-restaurant inside Restaurant Michael, and surmises that it “honors the past to a greater degree than any restaurant I can recall” and drops four stars. Longtime French chef Michael Lachowicz’s spring tasting menu is highlighted by asparagus custard with asparagus coulis with “a fence” of asparagus tips, a deviled egg, potato tuile and a sorrel leaf; lobster, loup de mer and soft-shell crab with “chimichurri-accented” cream sauce, a "‘chicharron’ of dehydrated, fried and chlorophyll-tinged tapioca pearls, which looks like a protective coral reef”; and a strawberry dessert four ways. [Tribune]
Michael Nagrant checks out the dim sum menu at Intro and comes away feeling that most dishes are “just rich, single-noted or unrefined” and don’t live up to other new gourmet Chinese restaurants. The RedEye critic wanted to love it but fried chicken stuffed bao “ate more like a boxed chicken tender than a Harold's wing fresh from the fryer,” shrimp “lollipops” had a “leaden breading that sloughed off after a couple of bites,” and the eight treasure Chinese broccoli salad only had one treasure for him. On the plus side, he enjoyed the lobster nubbins, maple soy panna cotta, duck fried rice, and most of all, the black truffle egg drop soup that he “contemplated buying a hot tub and filling it with this soup.” All those factors plus decor that was so cliche that it reminded him of “the cheesy spectacle that might ensue if a Gold Coast socialite sent her assistant down to Chinatown to pick up some things to decorate the penthouse for an impromptu Chinese New Year’s party” added up to a one-star review. [RedEye]