Vettel Gives Same Four Stars To Very Different L2O; Sula Packs Fabio's Knives At Siena Tavern

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An earlier, mussel version of Matt Kirkley's tuna tartare Death Star. Photo: Sky Full of Bacon

Five years ago Phil Vettel gave L2O four stars; now he's done it again. You could be forgiven for thinking that that's Phil (and L2O) just cruising along as expected, but as he points out, this is a very different L2O now: "Founding chef Laurent Gras was (and presumably still is) a genius. But he is an intense, tightly wound chef, and on his watch, L2O was an intense, tightly wound dining experience. Kirkley, while in every respect a serious chef, takes some of the starch out of his toque once in a while... Kirkley can turn the humblest materials into eye-popping art. Tuna tartare excites almost nobody these days, unless you get a look at Kirkley's treatments. In December, the tuna was spiced and encased in avocado, forming a green sphere (say, the Death Star dolled up for St. Patrick's Day) topped with osetra caviar." The other half of expectations at this level is how you're served, and "Service, taking its cues from the chef, maintains its formal precision but manages a relaxed air that would not have existed three years ago. The dining room remains serenely peaceful." [Tribune]

Kevin Pang checks out Mom's Old Recipe Mexican on the northwest side, and likes it... or maybe he doesn't but he thinks you might if you want a lot of stuff on your taco that nobody in Mexico would put on it: "The acorazado is a brawny piece of work: griddled corn tortillas loaded with rice, fried steak milanesa, sometimes topped with hard-boiled eggs and pan-fried potatoes. ('Chicken-fried steak taco, y'all?') A version of this appears as the house special ($9.95) at Mom's Old Recipe Mexican in Gladstone Park, where its Morelense owners, sisters Malena Basave and Ana B. Arriaga, would eat this whenever they visited Cuernavaca as kids... Mom's augments its acorazado with a honey-chipotle mayonnaise a pastel orange sauce more apropos for a Tex-Mex restaurant at a suburban mall parking lot, but I found myself liking this Americanized add-on." He's an unabashed admirer of the salsa, but "The question, then, is: How far will you drive for great salsa?" In the end, it's hard to know why this place, out of a million Mexican places, deserved a once-a-week Tribune slot, except (and this is no small thing) that it isn't a place that you've already read about six dozen times. So kudos for the find, even if in the end, this seems more LTHForum post than Trib review. [Tribune]

Michael Nagrant proves that he wasn't recognized at his meal at Oiistar: "Once seated at the bar it takes about 10 minutes for a server to bring a menu, and theres another long wait for her to take my order. Water glasses show up sometime after course one. That course, fried garlic chicken, also cools for at least five minutes before anyone notices we do not have flatware." More than that, he proves that this ambitious ramen place isn't ready to challenge New York spots like Momofuku or Ippudo: "The noodles are flimsy, lacking a satisfying spring. The broth needs salt, more body and some funk. The loin, while tender, is fairly flavorless and could be chicken. You can order a fattier cut of pork belly for a $1.50 upcharge, and you should, but beware, on one of my visits they ran out." [Sun-Times]

The Chicago way, as someone won an Oscar for saying once, is they bring a knife, you bring a gun. In that spirit, Mike Sula reviews L.A.-based chef Fabio Viviani's instant hit Siena Tavern: "The sheer volume of table turnover results in some particularly careless executions that obviate whatever care goes into the prep... pastas in particular seem to suffer the most. The aforementioned butternut squash 'tortellaci' arrived on one occasion wallowing in a tepid cream sauce glistening with droplets of unemulsified butter, while the interior of the noodles betrayed a line of raw white dough. The same was true with a plate of short-rib-filled ravioli that was squirted with streaks of runny Taleggio sauce and balsamic vinegar. This dish, which also incorporated mushrooms and deep-fried sage leaves, is said to be an ancestral Viviani recipe, but it, like many overcomplicated American interpretations of Italian foodand like many on the menu herecontained twice as many ingredients as it needed." [Reader]

Other reviews on the blog include Sula on Andrew Brochu making bar food at The Monarch: "A few months ago the owners of the erstwhile Uberstein ditched the Germanic schtick for a kingly theme, but the real news was the installation of Brochu, who has returned to his previous MO of high-caliber bar food. That includes snacky spreadable stuff in jars (rilletes, foie gras mousse, pimento cheese) and a soft pretzel with beer cheese, and larger plates like a burger, a bowl of mussels, a tender, disintegrating square of onion-glazed short rib, and a stout garlic sausage paired with jiggly pork belly bedazzled with glistening candied mustard seeds." [Reader]