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A Critic Sees Awards on the Horizon for French-Mexican Hotspot Tzuco

Plus the Whale fills another critic with “dread”

The dining room is heavy on wood accents, leather chairs, and glass cases filled with vines and Mexican artifacts.
Chef Carlos Gaytan makes a triumphant return with Tzuco.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

Phil Vettel thinks chef Carlos Gaytan’s efforts at Tzuco is Chicago’s comeback story of the year. Fans of Gaytan’s previous restaurant, Mexique, will recognize a “star appetizer” of steak tartare topped with a poached egg and “enlivened” with pickled cauliflower and chipotle aioli. “Fine” ceviches include hamachi with cactus sorbet and a cactus aguachile broth, but the “must-have starter” is the octopus served with potatoes, carrots, and peas in tuna aioli.

“Rich and tender” braised short ribs are another winner. Vettel’s favorite entree, though, is the pork pibil — a shank topped with habanero pickled onions and a spread of black beans. Trout, baked in a smoked corn husk with veggies and tomato-almond pesto, is also a “superstar” while dry-aged rib eye with goat-cheese and chipotle fondue is “very good.” Dessert boasts guanabana sorbet over avocado foam surrounded by citrus-infused tapioca pearls, an “uncommon mix of tastes and textures” that Vettel recommends trying. On the beverage side, the wine list is “refreshingly affordable” and cocktails star an “excellent” signature margarita. All in all, Vettel foresees big accolades for Tzuco in the future, including a Michelin star.

Logan Square’s new posh palace the Whale is a “cubic zirconia peddled as a diamond,” writes Nick Kindelsperger. Named after the term for wealthy gamblers, the restaurant “looks like some swanky downtown hot spot” but he thinks the food is an absolute disaster. The beef in the steak frites arrives “mushy and cooked past [Kindelsperger’s] requested medium-rare,” and pan-seared mahi mahi is “also overcooked, not to mention swamped in a distracting orange-habanero butter.” Even the fried chicken sandwich is a miss, featuring meat “that is so overly brined, each bite tastes watery with a squeaky texture.” Desserts don’t fare much better as pineapple upside down cake is “dry.” In the end, while it’s “certainly not the worst restaurant in Chicago, [Kindelsperger] can’t think of one that fills [him] with such dread.” [Tribune]

Wherewithall’s unpredictable tasting menu is “inventive, breathlessly seasonal and decidedly affordable” according to Maggie Hennessy. Chefs Johnny Clark and Beverly Kim’s second restaurant changes its dishes up every night but diners shouldn’t fret as they’re in good hands. “Each bite delight[s]” on Hennessy’s visit, such as roasted monkfish that’s draped in lemon slices and plated in a pool of dried kalamata olives alongside a dollop of whipped eggplant — “a synthesis of pure Mediterranean umami.” Slow-roasted lamb is given a “fragrant, savory backbone” by vadouvan, a South Indian curry, while strawberry ice cream and berries dusted with black lime powder “taste[s] of childhood—only supercharged.” [Time Out]

The neighborhood around McCormick Place has a new “dependable default” in Il Culaccino. The Italian joint mostly hits the mark on red sauce classics. A chicken parm sandwich is packed with tomato sauce, baked cheese, and a slab of breaded chicken “sprawling off a sturdy roll,” while a bowl of shrimp linguine can “feed a family of four.” Chicken Vesuvio, however, doesn’t “measure up to most versions” as the potatoes flop on texture, “desiccating instead of firm outside, soft inside.” That issue aside, diners will be satisfied with the offerings and “certainly no one leaves hungry.” [Crain’s]

The Whale Chicago

2427 N. Milwaukee Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60647 (773)-825-2900 Visit Website

Il Culaccino

2134 S. Indiana Avenue, Chicago, IL (312) 794-5300 Visit Website

Tzuco

720 North State Street, , IL 60654 (312) 374-8995 Visit Website

Wherewithall

3472 North Elston Avenue, , IL 60618 (773) 692-2192 Visit Website

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