In this week's Food & Drink, Mike Sula reviews Ada St., a barstaurant from the team of Michael Kornick and David Morton (DMK Burger Bar, Fish Bar). Much of the initial hype centered on "spiritual adviser" Tim Lacey, former right-hand man of Charles Joly at the Drawing Room and originator of Ripasso's short, pleasing cocktail list featuring Italian liqueurs. Lacey's already moved on, but that just casts a brighter light on the work of new kid in town Zoe Schor, a bicoastal veteran who's worked for the likes of Thomas Keller, Tom Colicchio, and Todd English.
To call Schor's menu "small plates bar food" gives it short shrift, says Sula: these are "tasty and thoughtful dishes that ought to be appreciated on their own terms" rather than lumped in with the de rigueur shareable plates so ubiquitous these days. Southern-fried quail is lipsmackingly juicy, charred octopus meltingly tender. Salmon tartare is mixed with bacon, chips of salmon skin, and bursting bubbles of roe, giving it novelty and texture. Even standards such as duck confit (here served tossed with Parmesan and poached-egg-drenched cavatelli) and a Caesar (made with partially wilted escarole) are prepared with a degree of care that fights the good fight against "not that again." The lighting in this candlelit space may be Stygian, but Schor's work shines.
Girls rule in this week's Key Ingredient, which features Terzo Piano's Meg Colleran Sahs, challenged by Sarah Grueneberg of Spiaggia with colatura, the liquid that seeps out of anchovies salt-packed in a wooden barrel and pressed with a weighted lid. The anchovy juice, says Sahs, can easily "overpower," so for balance she made a simple tomato sauce with garlic, the colatura, Spanish olives, arugula, and toasted almonds with smoked paprika, served over square strands of spaghetti alla chitarra ("guitar spaghetti") and dosed with another dash of the anchovy sauce for extra umami. Next up is Amanda Rockman, pastry chef at Balena and the Bristol, working with pu-erh, a Yunnanese tea that's dried, then fermented. It's "unlike anything anything I've ever tasted before," Sahs says.
In the listings are tried-and-true spots for small plates, among them Bodega N. 5, the affordable tavern below Mercat a la Planxa; Humboldt Park's Rootstock Wine & Beer Bar; and La Taberna Tapas on Halsted, where in addition to classics such as a Spanish omelet and grilled octopus the chefs serve a house paella that's among the most estimable in town.