Sky Full of Bacon

Dazzling Pre-Michelin Excitement, Or Something

So I went to the instantly sold-out pre-Michelin event at the Violet Hour last night. At least, that’s what it was supposed to be. Since there was never a moment that any Michelin person came out and said anything about anything, the only real clue that that was what it was— and not any other reason why I’d be scarfing free food and drink at the Violet Hour, which does seem to happen at least once a year— was that Michelin Guides were sitting around, free for the taking.

No, not the Chicago one.

So I chatted with some LTHers, touched base with Nick at Grub Street, finally met the lovely Patty Erd of The Spice House in person (if you want one piece of advice for Thanksgiving, go to Spice House and buy their pumpkin pie spice mix, which is doubleplusgood), met a bunch of Gaper’s Block people I had never met before, talked with Ari Bendersky of Eater Chicago about the alleged Yelp list of Michelin winners (I think it’s a plausible-looking phony, we’ll know shortly), and I think I saw Jason Lardone but didn’t get a chance to talk to him. (Actually, I thought for a moment of pulling a full Tony Clifton and going as Jason Lardone, but I just got a haircut and didn’t feel like immediately wasting it by shaving it off. I also proposed climbing onto the bar and improvising a welcome speech in half-French, half-English, but would have needed at least $100 to be barred from The Violet Hour for life, and only managed to raise about $60 from my immediate companions.)

Speaking of The Violet Hour, from which I am not barred for life, I say this unequivocally, on my index of visits I’d say this one was a definite uptick, the best since my first. There’s a new chef and the food, if less distinctively bar-like, seemed the most sophisticated and accomplished to date— I really liked the bacalao fritter, and a lamb sausage on a little slice of roasted beet in particular. Although we had a set list of cocktails to make serving en masse easier, it was no trick to walk up to the bar and request something special, and one of the bartenders (who LTHer Ursiform eventually realized had been in a band that recorded at her house— weird small world moment) was more than happy to take my vaguely inebriated desires for something unusual and translate them into, first, an excellent rum-based cocktail with black walnut liqueur, and second, a vermouth cocktail with some half-heard reference to “artichoke juice” in the description. This was better once the ice melted a bit and cut the syrupiness of the vermouth.

I’ve been meaning to get back to Big Star, people like Michael Nagrant keep raving about it, and it looked oddly quiet over there so after our drinks, we went over for some tacos to wash them down (this made sense at the time). Big Star has improved the basement-slash-submarine feel of its cold gray box space with some pink Christmas lights, which work far better than they sound. The tortillas were much improved over my previous visit, when I felt like they were rubbery and bland. But I’m still just not wild about the food there, in fact, I had pretty much the same feeling about the tacos as last time: pork belly quite good and different, chicken not bad (there’s more flavor to chicken here than at most Mexican restaurants, admittedly), the pastor, just not right. Too sweet, no crispy char-ness.

The one new thing we tried was the Sonoran hot dog, a massive, and impressively charred, beef frank allegedly wrapped in bacon (I’d say more like there’s a piece at the bottom) and then wildly overdressed with crema, beans, diced jalapenos, I don’t know what all. As Sharon Bautista said of the dressing, “It seems like the right things on it, but it’s way too much when you’re actually eating it,” you wind up basically smearing a couple of tablespoons of gooey stuff onto a napkin with every bite. It’s kind of a weird one-shot for them to be offering but I think it’s the thing I’ve liked best there to date.

Still, after two visits, I have to say that Big Star is just not the bar or the Mexican restaurant for me. Somehow I think they’ll survive, even so.

In a moment, we’ll have the real list of Michelin winners, and then… Michelin mania will be over. For at least a year or two.

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