Anthony Todd had his “worst meal” of the year thus far at Queenie’s. The supper club located inside the United Center, a joint venture between Heisler Hospitality and Levy, “both destroys the integrity of that concept and charges a fortune for it.” The space “somehow straddles the line between ‘charming’ and ‘airport lounge’ and plays host to a cover band “blasting out 80s hits at eardrum-rupturing volume.”
The “tableside” Caesar is anything but, prepared on a stationary cart by a “supremely bored chef.” It’s also “unnecessarily massive – a literal beach ball of lettuce.” Beef tartare is “flavorless pink mush, looking like some kind of meaty playdoh when spread on bread that wasn’t so much toasted as dried.” Fried chicken is “dry as sand” and has “clearly been sitting under a heatlamp for a while,” while a bratwurst has “less flavor than the French fries that [come] with it.” As it currently stands, Queenie’s is wasted potential and a “sad cafeteria for rich sports fans.” [Anthony Todd]
Kumiko, one of the year’s biggest openings, “raises the bar on fine dining,” writes Maggie Hennessy. The intimate eight-seat bar from Julia Momose, Noah and Cara Sandoval, and Mariya Russell is “one of measured pace and care.” The evening starts with a progression of nigiri that includes a “luscious” slab of king salmon topped with salmon skin and roe, and “buttery-rich” uni in a glaze of smoked soy and tart yuzu kosho. Chawanmushi, a savory egg custard imbued with dashi and mushrooms, has a “flan-like silkiness and satisfying umami depth uplifted by pickled radishes and grassy coriander blossoms.” Hennessy’s favorite dish, though, is charred madai with nasturtium leaves atop a kelp-scented sabayon. To finish, caramelized milk toast crowned with fermented honey ice cream and white truffle shavings brings Hennessy to tears, tasting like the “sepia-toned Sunday breakfast of [her] aspirational self’s childhood.”
The omakase menu is paired with Momose’s “superb” drink lineup. Sakes – from the “supple and delicately floral junmai to crisp, dry and nutty futsu shu” – are “all beautiful counterparts to pristine oceanic bites.” But it’s cocktails that shine brightest: An “elegant” blend of junmai sake, shiro, and apricot eau de vie tastes like “boozy blossoming fruit trees and melted snow” while a “Hot Chocolate” concoction, made with cocoa-scented bierschnaps, barley shochu, and crème de cacao, is the “perfect distillation of roasty-sweet hot chocolate.” As a whole, the “beautifully fleeting” experience at Kumiko is worth the high price of admission and earns five stars from the Time Out critic. [Time Out]
Bar Sotano pairs interesting cocktails from Lanie Bayless with a strong food menu. The basement bar offers 16 specialty cocktails, such as the tequila-driven Mango, Chamoy, which is served street food style in a plastic bag and Phil Vettel’s pick for “Chicago’s most-photographed drink this year.” Guacamole is a mezcal-based cocktail containing avocado and a tomatillo-serrano syrup, while Tacos al Pastor is made with chorizo-infused mezcal, roasted pineapple, and cilantro.
“Irresistible” small plates include Yucatan fried chicken and charred gem lettuce salad with spiced yogurt dressing. Among the larger entrees, chile-laced mussels in lobster stock is “solid,” but the “must-have” is the Mexican paella, a “killer rice dish” filled with chicken thighs, shrimp, and chicken chicharron. For a sweet ending, “don’t overlook” the chocolate-pecan pie bar.
“The early returns are highly encouraging” on Joe’s Imports. The new West Loop wine bar won’t break the bank: “Most full bottles are $50 or less; most 5-ounce-glass pours are less than $15.” Start with the “feather-light” fried Parmesan puffs served with a three-cheese fondue. Broccoli rabe “packs a considerably spicy punch” and the “bitter, spicy and sweet notes mingle harmoniously.” Keep an eye on the pastas; tagliatelle with beef check Bolognese is “one of the best dishes” Vettel tries. It’s bookended by an “eye-catching” Chocolate Royal, a dessert combining chocolate mousse, peanut butter flakes, and bittersweet chocolate ganache.
Siam Marina serves “solid” Thai and Asian fusion cuisine out in Tinley Park. Vettel visits the four-year-old restaurant and finds a “massive” amount of choices. Sticking to the “signature” dishes yields options like the To Die For pork shank in a coconut broth, as well as a riff on crab cakes made with minced fish and panko. Curries are “rich and fragrant” while Siam Beef Lover features “very good” marinated tenderloin and stir-fried vegetables in a complex sauce of soy, oyster sauce, chile and a touch of brandy.” Desserts star a “total indulgence” two-layer chocolate cake that’s covered in Godiva white-chocolate sauce. [Tribune]
Michael Nagrant calls Bayan Ko a “tiny revolution, a fusion of Cuban and Filipino culture that reflects the heritage of its owners.” The Cubano — packed with “silky” pork shoulder, salty ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles – “takes [him] to church” while tiny skewers of “luscious” pork in cola glaze are “finger-lickin’.” Adobo chicken wings “add to our city’s pollo plunder” but Lug Lug noodles, loaded with uni, scallop, coddled egg yolk, and chicharron, “turn into a giant sogfest” as the “pork skin loses its integrity quickly and is no match for the chewy noodles.” An “unreal” halo-halo caps off the meal with ube that’s “creamier than a freshly rolled cow’s udder” and flan cubes that “weep caramel like a miraculous Virgin Mary statue.” [Michael Nagrant]
Grand Trunk Road is a modern Indian restaurant “bursting with intriguing flavor profiles.” Ariel Cheung says “don’t miss” the shahi kachori starter; its citrus notes mingle “perfectly with the bold spices” and pairs “wonderfully with the deep flavors of the Grassy Knoll cocktail” made with egg white, lemon, burnt orange, cardamom shrub, and vodka. “Tender, herbaceous” lamb chops are bathed in a mint marinade that “perfectly matches the rich, tangy meat” while Malai Murgh features mozzarella-marinated chicken tossed in green cardamom and Garam masala. Meethi puri is the “most interesting” of the desserts – profiterole-like pastries filled with lemon curd. Overall, “each dish prove[s] irresistible, executed to the most minute detail.” [Modern Luxury]
Parlor Pizza Bar’s new River North outpost delivers solid pies in a spacious and casual setting. Joanne Trestrail prefers the “simpler pizzas to the ones with long lists of ingredients.” The classic Margherita and pepperoni-topped Sgt. Pepper are winners that sit on “sturdy” crusts, and salads are also “surprisingly deft.” An antipasto chopped salad is a “substantial meal all by itself, generously outfitted with prosciutto, pepperoni, artichoke hearts, provolone and firm little potatoes.” Desserts include a “tacolato” of banana fudge gelato and an assortment of toppings in a double chocolate shell. [Crain’s]