Mike Sula reviews Tavernita
, the sprawling River North restaurant from chef Ryan Poli (Butter, Perennial) in collaboration with Patricio and Alfredo Sandoval, the brothers behind Mercadito
. Sula's a fan of Poli, whom he deems "an important chef in his own right." But in this "loud, frenetic, sceney" context, his food fights "to be noticed amid the din." There are crudos prepared at an open raw bar, flatbreads and toasts, and larger plates (Barcito, a pinxtos bar, has a separate menu of snacks). Sula's favorites are the more minimalist ones: octopus and tapenade with fennel and orange, grilled half chicken with mushroom-vinegar sauce and green beans, a sunny-side up egg with fried potatoes and paprika sauce. Much has been made of the beverage program by the Tippling Brothers, Tad Carducci and Paul Tanguay, who have introduced an elaborate keg system to dispense cocktails to the mobs fast. He's not sold, though: "I'm certain that even if the technology allowed, Poli would not squirt ham croquetas out of a tap."
In our Cocktail Challenge Steve Carrow of Naha, challenged by Justin Anderson with the cheese powder from a box of Kraft mac 'n' cheese, made the Wilbur and a Cackleberry Dragged Through Wisconsin, a bacon-and-egg cocktail topped with a dollop of cheese powder foam ("wilbur" is diner slang for bacon, "cackleberry" for egg). He's challenged Derek Alexander of Longman & Eagle with baby formula (Alexander's a new father).
In the listings are restaurants that have made River North Mexican central, among them relative newcomers Cantina Laredo and Dos Diablos, as well of course as Rick Bayless's Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and Xoco. In other Bayless news, this week a Tortas Frontera opened in the Loop at 10 S. Dearborn.