Daisies is a “pastatorium” that’s full of gusto, writes Mike Sula. Chicagoans can stop lamenting the loss of the late Analogue because its replacement is a winner. An “extraordinarily satisfying” dish of tajarin with crumbled fried chicken skin “evokes the kind of contentedness you feel when you eat perfectly cooked scrambled eggs,” while “toothy” pappardelle in a chunky mushroom ragu is what ”you wish for when you’re cold, alone, and running out of hope.” Pierogies are likewise a standout—“pillowy, browned pockets” that “sparkle” with a lemon saison sauce. Among the non-pastas, tempura-battered mushrooms and cheese curds with green goddess dressing make everyone Sula dines with “turn into slack-jawed zombies,” and burrata served with pea shoot salad is a “veritable garden party for your guts.” Enjoy it on the back patio with a bottle of wine and you’ve got all the makings of a fine restaurant. [Reader]
Zoe Schor is transforming the “mundane to the memorable” at Split-Rail. Phil Vettel says “familiar dishes are turned upside down,” such as loaded backed potato gnocchi that’s “part deconstruction, part elevation.” Nuggets of gnocchi mix with bacon, sour cream, onions, cheddar, and fried potato skins for a killer combination. Reimagined fajitas get a similar treatment as “thick slices of well-charred, bright-red sirloin are a definite upgrade” over regular fajita meat. It’s served with creamy masa and dots of onion puree, avocado crème, and red pepper gelee.
House-made potato chips will “spoil you for any other kind” and are accompanied by a “brilliant” sour cream and onion dip that’s “bolstered” by trout roe. For carnivores, the cowgirl steak is “well-aged and full of flavor” while a duck composition is Vettel’s favorite main course. Desserts aren’t groundbreaking—the “most successful sweet” is a simple angel-food cake with Chantilly cream and raspberry sauce. Finally, the beverage program also offers “well-made” cocktails and a “nice assortment” of low-proof drinks. [Tribune]
Michael Nagrant thinks Clever Rabbit is a rotten dud. The RedEye critic slams the vegetable-forward restaurant for “indulging in indifference” and serving substandard products. A $38 crudite platter offers “unseasoned insipid early-season tomatoes and rock-hard plums,” as well as an accompanying eggplant agrodolce that’s “unsalted and [has] the texture of moist cat food.” Similarly, homemade pici pasta is “crumbly like semi-dry Play-Doh” while scallop schnitzel is “wafting ammonia.” For dessert, carrot cake is “as tough as a Parmigiano-Reggiano rind.” Overall, it’s “one of the worst meals [Nagrant] can remember” and he would “hesitate to send even the hungriest vegan to Clever Rabbit.” [RedEye]
Jeff Ruby goes on a quest to find the best sushi in Chicago. Instead of “ridiculous rolls with 28 ingredients,” the “new vanguard of chefs are employing subtle shades of flavor to enhance the fish itself.” At Juno, B.K. Park’s team “crafts elegant dishes, but the kitchen also pushes boundaries.” The signature smoked Hamachi, infused with smoldering cherrywood, is a delight, as is the Juno King nigiri that unleashes a “pleasurable crab-salad implosion in [Ruby’s] mouth.” Quieter plates, though, “really prove the chefs’ mastery” and include hand rolls such as “briny” uni shiso and “tingly” tako.
Elsewhere, Kai Zan excels in “creative ways” and the “compositions that emerge from behind the counter are sparkling.” Pearls of escolar are seared “just long enough to tame the fish’s oily flavor and crisp the top while leaving the rippled flesh below silky,” and the Orange Rush—salmon-wrapped scallops—“explode with a tart-salty punch.” By taking “greater chances than Juno,” Kai Zan “flies higher,” as evidenced on the Green Monster that enwraps shrimp tempura, unagi, and crab in sliced avocado.
Lastly, the folks at Arami do their best work with raw fish. Hamachi carpaccio is “tender enough to pierce with a chopstick” while the Zuke Sake Hotate is infused with smoky flavor. The “wealthy of vegetarian options” such as charred eggplant nigiri, are also a welcome surprise but “small demerits like gummy rice” keep Arami from “attaining glory.” In the end, there has to be a number one so the “gold goes to Kai Zan, whose exciting unpredictability trumps Juno’s steady reliability.” [Chicago]