We disagree with Phil Vettel's opening premise that Mexican in the western suburbs is too often tame and lame— okay, we're sure those mediocre family restaurant places exist, but there's plenty of authentic street-food-Mexican out toward Elgin and Aurora. That said, the two attempts at more upscale Mexican he mentions are certainly worth a look, and he gives each two stars. A Toda Madre, a spinoff of the hugely successful Bien Trucha in Geneva, was conceived as "a place to practice the sort of seasonal, locally sourced and scratch-cooking food that the family couldn't manage in high-volume Bien Trucha." For example: "try the baked oysters, which arrive only lightly cooked, dressed with bacon, chipotle and lime. Cheese-stuffed albondigas (meatballs) swim in a chipotle-tomato sauce so good we greedily asked for more toasted bread to sop up the extras. Steak, tomatillo, avocado and cheese atop a large huarache is like a flatbread pizza, if you could make a flatbread pizza from corn masa."
CiNe, in the former Hinsdale Theater, is owned by local Hinsdale restaurateur Peter Burdi and has former Sabor Saveur chef Yanitzin Sanchez in charge: "Her red-onion soup is a playful nod to French onion soup, though the onion and leek broth is accented with prickly-pear puree, and it's served in a wide-rimmed bowl spanned by a crispy crostini topped with melted Chihuahua cheese. Chicken breast in mole negro is nothing new, but Sanchez's presentation — the breast topped with a panko-crusted chicharron croquette and garnished with a skewered guajillo pepper — belongs on a magazine cover." One sign of the challenge suburban Mexican spots face, though, comes when you look at the keywords that some SEO guru at TribCo stuck into the URL for Vettel's piece, so that it would be more likely to pop up in a search for Mexican food: they include "Chipotle," "Burrito" and "La Palapa." [Tribune]
The Reader doesn't have a lead review this week because it's The Bar Issue, but Mike Sula looks at Chinatown's new Korean spot Ahjoomah's Apron at the blog: "It operates under the assumption that most people will have no idea what they're doing when they walk in. So the walls of the bright, modern rehauling of the old Emerald City feature blow-up English texts on the basics of Korean food if, say, you need a history lesson on kimchi or bulgogi or pajeon... It's starter-kit Korean, but still a welcome addition to Chinatown's ever-diversifying options." [Reader]
Michael Nagrant is off at the Sun-Times this week (but no, his dining section wasn't axed!), but in CS he reports on The Boarding House, admiring that at last, here's a restaurant that isn't going to skimp on wine service. But "while the decor is unimpeachable, the food has its challenges. Chef Christian Gosselin (Bistronomic) was trained in the traditional French brigade system and knows his way around classic, rich, wine-friendly foods. His 'Chicken Three Ways for Two' is one of the best poultry platters in town... Gosselin has a tougher time with lobster poutine (a medium-sized plate; dishes are divided on the menu as “small,” “medium” and “large”). It seems appealing, but the golden fried spuds are cut a bit too thickly and are a bit too soggy (even the ones not doused in gravy and cheese)." [CS]
Siena Tavern is still a couple of weeks from being reviewed, but Roger Kamholz's noodles column at Serious Eats decides to evaluate how seriously we should take Fabio Viviani's claims of pasta primacy. "The care taken constructing the pastas is evident in the gnocchi ($16) with truffle cream, flakes of fried sage, and crispy pancetta... Siena's spaghetti reminded me of Nellcôte's: thick, springy, structured, and surprisingly toothsome... In all cases, the noodles (and gnocchi) rightly felt like the highlights of each dish." [SE Chicago]
Last week we mentioned that Ken Zuckerberg was baffled by the alleged "Brooklyn" nature of the pizza at Flour & Stone, and David Tamarkin follows in his footsteps: "I lived in Brooklyn for a while, and I know the pizza there is the same floppy stuff served in Queens and Manhattan. So I chalk Brooklyn pizza up to a myth, just like Chicago cheesecake... but without this claim, Flour & Stone leaves me very little to mention." It sounds like this is a place that may need a while to get its pizza groove down: "The fire of the oven crisps the bottom nicely—that’s good. But the top of these pizzas are light on the sauce, which renders the slices a little dry, a little brittle (which is unusual for both Brooklyn and Chicago)." [TOC]
After explaining the spa and the bar sides of Red Square, Julia Kramer turns to the food: "The fish was buttery and cloaked in dill and came with a little caper-egg salad and toasted brown bread. We followed it up with a terrific borscht, a dollop of sour cream swirling around cubes of sweet beets in a well-seasoned broth... we were dining in a bathhouse that dates to 1906, in a dining room designed to look like a train car, in the heart of Wicker Park: What could have been better?" [TOC]