Are you ready for some arancini? Because damn, they're happening. The Italian Power Bar. Like Scooby Snacks for foodies. These appetizers ball so hard motherfuckers wanna find 'em. Little fried spheres of, often, leftover risotto, remembrances of great meals past. You can't blame chefs for throwing them onto the menu, as they're practical, potent, and popular. But now, practically ubiquitous at both Italian and modern small-plate American joints. Really, truly, I don't blame restaurants for wanting to serve something popular, but it goes to show that, like convergent evolution, inspiration holds little loyalty toward those it touches. Don't let it get you down, it's Flyover Friday.
"Eataly: the restaurant review," by Mike Sula for the Chicago Reader
My RSS feed is organized alphabetically by state, and Illinois comes first, if you're wondering why the Reader review is so often at the top here. But this is a big one, and deserves prominent mention. Sula scales Mount Batali for a breakdown of the hits and -- more often, surprisingly -- misses of Eataly Chicago. I'm still going for the Nutella bar.
"Authentic ribs across from the track," by Neil Charles for NUVO
Indianapolis' alt-weekly makes its first Flyover Friday appearance. Since it's an Indy paper, you should assume -- as we're all clearly expected to -- that "the track" is the Indianapolis 500 racetrack. A trim, straightforward barbecue review from a Midwestern city that, like Madison, has no endemic BBQ identity.
"Enjoy every last crumb at City Bakery," by Carlos Acevedo for the Des Moines Register
I think, from the picture, Acevedo is underselling just how sparse that dining room is, but decor isn't everything. I'm also not sure how to feel about someone badmouthing cracker crust on pizzas. No accounting for taste, I guess.
"Pointed menu leads to precision at new, gently priced Craft Work," by Molly Abraham for the Detroit News
We've seen this story before here in Wisconsin, a well-meaning restaurant using a name that will very likely draw a gently worded cease and desist letter from the Craft restaurant empire of Tom Colicchio. Anyway, cauliflower, beets, trout, toasts. Check and check. Sounds like a fine spot in the tradition of a billion places before it.
"Hammer & Sickle is red hot," by Emily Weiss for Citypages
Just as timely as the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi, and as anticipated for me, is the return of The Americans to FX in February. So bottoms up to remembering the Cold War at Minneapolis' Hammer & Sickle, which looks pretty fun. I'm always game for a Russian dumpling and all those briny, salty, hot flavors. The Miracle on Ice cocktail has, at least, a brilliant name. That photo, though, is weapons-grade awful.
"Vito's in the Valley brings midtown Italian to Chesterfield," by Ian Froeb for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Always like to see a business survive unforeseen trauma, like a burst pipe, and Vito's is apparently doing just that. But another shot, if less harsh, against thin crust pizza! In St. Louis, no less! What's happening here??
"Bud's Smokehouse & Grill serves great barbecue, but can it break the curse?," by Cheryl Baehr for the St. Louis Riverfront Times
Not crazy about such an open-ended question in the headline, so I'll editorialize and say that I think the answer is yes. This restaurateur sounds like a character, with a string of (I'll say it) failures at this same address. Here's hoping he's inspired by the best bits of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, because that brisket burger sounds incredible.
"Cucina della Ragazza squeezes a lot of flavor into a tiny Westport storefront," by Charles Ferruzza for the Pitch
I like the bit about the bartender the best; it carries the vibe of the space, the crew, and the clientele. Nothing about the food screams "must-have," exactly, but this spot seems like a nice little neighborhood hangout. A pleasant review.
"The Sycamore: New place in old space offers fresh take on American food," by Jon Christensen for the Columbus Dispatch
Jon, listen to me. You cannot -- cannot -- start the first five paragraphs of a review with "the." Indeed, 11 of 17 grafs begin thusly. It reads like a book report, and one about a boring book at that. Tell a story, man! This menu looks weird, but I'm intrigued by the vaguely pork bun+banh mi+miso ramen-esque ahi tuna sandwich.
"Piccolo Italian Restaurant brings big flavor, style to East Side dining scene," by Laura DeMarco for the Cleveland Plain Dealer
"Hello, Piccolo Italian Restaurant!" "Hi, this is Doug Flicker, chef of Piccolo in Minneapolis. The one that everyone knows that name for?" ".....Um. Hello, Soon-to-be-renamed Italian Restaurant!" This joint sounds great -- those gnocchi, the scallops -- but I can't imagine the name overlap was unknown to the owner. No fault to DeMarco for not mentioning it; the review's solid.
"Not your standard bistro: The Standard brings hip neighborhood dining to Collinwood," by Douglas Trattner for the Cleveland Scene
Food writers like "fat" as an adjective to describe shrimp. (There have been two instances just this week.) Maybe it's the new shrimp size joke, where 15 years ago, "jumbo shrimp" was more amusing than it should have been. But whatevs, everything from the Standard sounds tasty, even the stuff that Trattner didn't like, frankly. I appreciate the mention of the tap list.
"Grace exemplifies the modern bistro," by Polly Campbell for the Cincinnati Enquirer
We're chugging through a lot of modern American bistros this week, so let me comment on a couple things. 1) I can never, ever type Cincinnati correctly the first time. 2) The "Kentucky" tab way at the end of all the other categories on cincinnati.com cracks me up for some reason. And for the review, it's pretty good, hits all the food writer targets for a place like this. Poutine, banh mi, beet salad, and no, I cannot in good conscience refer to a hanger steak as an unconventional cut anymore.
"More Lang Thang: New Vietnamese eatery offers an affordable lunch habit in OTR," by Brenna Smith for Cincinnati CityBeat
Totally want to eat the crab and asparagus soup. Absolutely drawn in by the cauliflower banh mi. Definitely wondering if it's a style thing to refer to a restaurant as "it" rather than "they," or if the "they" in this review just got missed. It took me a long time writing for Isthmus to stop using human pronouns in referring to restaurants; I see and hear it all the time now. It's like the errant apostrophe-S at the end of a restaurant's name.
"Minerva specializes in Hyderabadi and other southern dishes," by Andre Darlington for Isthmus
Gonna assume that we're not talking hushpuppies and gumbo here. I was just having a conversation about the merits of Minerva with a friend maybe a couple days at most before Madison was hit with a Minerva front. Andre's review, a review-esque feature from Stephanie Bedford for the Capital Times, and a State Journal review from Samara Kalk Derby that'll show up next week. For Andre's part, he's gotten a couple geography lesson reviews lately, and handles them well, covering both the theory of an unusual cuisine as well as the practical plate-side details. In a week full of Minerva, Mr. Darlington is distinguished.