The Other Critics: Kramer Relishes Trenchermen, while Dragon Ranch Leaves Bad Taste in Sula's Mouth
Julia Kramer at Time Out Chicago is notorious for disliking many elements, namely the food, of the restaurants she visits; so it gives us pure pleasure to read something that she actually enjoys, not to mention, a place that she has awarded four stars.
Enter the Trenchermen, Julia Kramer's golden child of a restaurant. She showered the Trenchermen, the Sheerin brothers' new restaurant, with glowing, fawning praise on practically every aspect, from decor, to cocktails, to food. "These are plates that are beautiful to look at, but they are even more marvelous to eat, not so much experiments, but proven theories of flavor." She goes on to say that "...they've [Mike and Pat Sheerin and partners] opened a restaurant that's extraordinary by nearly every measure." She loves "...the seriousness of the food that makes this a game-changing restaurant, the type that comes along every few years and nudges fine dining in a new direction." But Kramer does see room for improvement in one area -- the dessert: "...the kitchen loses its grip on flavor when it comes to sweets, all four of which (corn doughnuts with peaches and tomatoes, almond cake with gently pickled cherries, coffee cake with smoked meringue, a grainy pannacotta) feel overcomplicated, vaguely derivative and lackluster." There's that old JK voice that we all know and love. [TOC]
On the completely opposite end of the spectrum is Mike Sula's utter disdain for Dragon Ranch, Rockit Ranch Production's latest restaurant iteration. Before he even sets foot in the place, he references the menu's chosen parlance, and is annoyed by the word "sandos" for sandwiches, and "fix'ns" to mean sides. Sula notes that "...Dragon Ranch is a latecomer to the midscale barbecue wave...with a regrettable concentration on unaged whiskey." He also seems to be upset that the restaurant doesn't live up to its subtitle, Moonshine & BBQ: "Surprisingly, items featuring actual smoked meat (aka barbecue) make up only a little more than a quarter of the menu..." and that "smoking meat consistently well takes serious committment-- it's wise to be wary of dilettantes." Any redeeming qualities, you may ask? Well Sula thinks that the best items are those that aren't barbecue at all: "Dragon Ranch's strongest assets are those dishes that never see the inside of a smoker...Mac and cheese served in a cast-iron skillet, a crust of chewy charred Parmesan sheltering long, fat rigatoni coated in a sharp and saucy blend of jack, Gouda and two cheddars." He goes on to say that "the same formula is applied to a pimiento cheese spiked with pickled chiles and sriracha, to equally good effect." Sula credits these dishes to Shaun Connolly formerly of Moto and Nightwood, and Red Hauge, a new chef to Chicago's culinary scene. [Chicago Reader]