When it opened early last spring I thought of Tallulah—Troy Graves's comeback from Meritage—as a relative bright spot on Lincoln Square's increasingly mediocre restaurant row. Now with Eve, emerging from the crypt of the late Flapjaws Cafe, it seems he's bringing the same relief to the Viagra Triangle. Touted as a more refined version of Tallulah, Eve is accordingly pricier and similarly congested—a condition slightly ameliorated by decorative smoke and mirrors, or rather sky blue paneling and mirrors. The food reflects the chef's predilections for serious meat (short ribs and oxtails, sweetbreads, suckling pig, foie gras) as well as his generosity in portioning.
In some cases that's overgenerous, particularly in the appetizers and early courses such as a rich and heavy yet sweetly acidic roasted turnip puree that's more than enough by half. A grilled lobster sausage sprawls across the plate atop cold chanterelles and hot bacon dice, garnished with a large branch of thyme someone forgot to string with Christmas lights. Crispy sweetbreads get top billing on one dish but flank the actual star—terrific curried cauliflower slumming it next to cold, gritty quenelles of pureed lentil.
And that's the trouble with Graves. For all his intriguing combinations—pomegranate-glazed prawns with toasted chestnut panna cotta, mussels in ice wine—he has a tendency to sabotage himself: Some attractive-sounding sheep's milk ricotta dumplings turned out to be dense, dry concussion grenades mining an otherwise enjoyable lamb ragout with Swiss chard, and a wonderfully sweet apple butter cheesecake drizzled with peppered caramel rendered undrinkable the shot of tart, brisk spiced cider it was served with. The duds aren't all conceptual, either—we bit into bits of exoskeleton in both the lobster sausage and a prettily composed peekytoe crab salad. Still, there's enough to like here to consider Eve a relatively progressive provocation to the neighborhood's Axis of Mediocrity. —Mike Sula
I've never visited the original incarnation of the New York-deli mockup Steve's Deli, so I have no idea how veritable it feels in suburban Detroit. At first glance, the new outpost here doesn't look bad at all. The menu is overwhelming—an epic list of Ashkenazi classics and low-carb and low-fat concessions to the West Bank Club crowd across the street. The selection of sweets alone—everything from black-and-white cookies to rugelach to titanic slices of Carnegie Deli cheesecake—could lure homesick Manhattan expats from all over the state.
But with the relative rarity of this sort of inherently soulful nosherei around town, it's a shame that so many of the items I tried tasted soulless. The indifference in the kitchen seems to have infected the front of the house too—on two different trips I drew servers who had to be prodded to recount the specials (maybe it was their way of warning me to avoid that greasy buttermilk fried chicken; I wish I'd heeded them). On my maiden visit I ordered an oddly coupled cinnamon raisin bagel thin and cup of chicken soup and a hot corned beef and pastrami sandwich that arrived lukewarm, sans pastrami. A knish went missing on my second trip, but when it was located, dry and sandy, I regretted sending out the search party.
I did like the brisket (tasty, if not exactly fork-tender), and a big, fluffy matzoh ball gave me some brief hope. But together they were no match for the treacly sweet cabbage soup, the pasty mac 'n' cheese, the cold, pinguid latkes, the starchy gravies, and a chocolate chip cookie that couldn't possibly have known butter—a collection of big, expensive, flavorless portions that amounted to a regrettable use of dollars and stomach space. Or as it might be described in Yiddish, chazerai. —Mike Sula
How do you tell mom her cooking isn't very good? The answer is: You don't. So when Amni Suqi, the mother of Jerry Suqi (Narcisse, Sugar, La Pomme Rouge), made the rounds at Chickpea to ask how we liked the food, we didn't bring up the fasoolya, a braised lamb chop that was mostly bone, gristle, and fat atop a bowl of rice with heavily cooked green beans and tomato pulp. Or Thursday's "mama's special," bathinjan mihshee, three baby eggplants stuffed with rice and a little minced lamb swimming in tomato broth so salty we wanted to wipe it off. Or the icy-cold fattoosh, which had more limp chopped lettuce than tomato, cucumber, and scallion—and little pieces of crunchy salted pita we could count on one hand. Never mind that Jerry called each item "awesome" as he slowly wrote down and rang up our order at the counter. Only the kibbe came close: a crisp cracked-wheat torpedo stuffed with flavorful lamb, onions, and pine nuts and complemented by yogurt with cucumbers and mint. We also enjoyed a trio of dips—plates of smoky baba ghannoush, rich koosa ma laban (yogurt with zucchini and mint), and prettily decorated hummus. The sandwiches are mostly smaller portions of kebabs and other entrees stuffed into pita; the falafel we tried was fine.
Saturday's special, mussakhkhan, sounded so intriguing we returned to try the Palestinian national dish and weren't disappointed by a trio of moist, crispy-skinned pieces of chicken thigh with caramelized onions and pine nuts atop chewy flatbread. But this time we, like about half the customers we saw, got takeout, because blasts of frigid winter air whenever the door opened made the small storefront uncomfortable. The perks: free play on the pinball machine and minted tea while we waited. The drawback: when we tried to call in an order, the machine always picked up. —Anne Spiselman
I'm all for the pandemic of serious pizza we've been blessed by in recent years. Every block deserves a wood burner, every neighborhood rates an experienced pizzaiolo. But Andersonville is already home to one significant pie shop, Great Lake, and there's another promising newcomer, Monticchio, farther south on Clark. Here's hoping that in the future people like Antica chef-owner Mario Rapisarda (a Spiaggia vet) will target areas that desperately need earnestly pie-focused professionals in their midst.
At Antica the pies are of the Neapolitan species, thin, charred, blistered crusts that get a bit swampy toward the center. They're as pricey as the ones at Roscoe Village's Spacca Napoli, but topped less lovingly: I was happy with the quality of the olives on the quattro stagioni, but the prosciutto could have been better. The balance of the menu is composed of a few antipasti—including calamari, tender but overbattered—and salads, including a particularly well-composed arugula-radicchio-frisee trio with diced black olive and some crumbles of goat cheese. There are also a handful of pastas and a few fish and poultry entrees, all delivered with supreme haste. The sole house-made dessert is a wonderfully creamy panna cotta in a martini glass. —Mike Sula
Care to comment? Find these reviews at chicagoreader.com. And for more on food and drink, see our blog the Food Chain.