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Tuesday, August 9

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Review Sat Jul 10 2010

Ruxbin: Global Fare Unfused

ruxbinhanger.jpgWalking into new West Town BYOB Ruxbin feels like joining an intimate carnival. Designed by Alter Ego Form, the space is a menagerie of warm hues and salvaged materials. Everything seems turned upside down in the name of whimsy, from the ceiling papered with cookbook pages to upholstered Eames-style chairs on wooden legs and benches backed with recycled seat belts. This is a grown-up playground--where influences of Korean, Mexican and French cuisines meet and mingle--to a soundtrack of Radiohead and Band of Horses, no less. But don't call this food fusion, Chef Edward Kim has said.

To start, K -Town Empanadas arrived at our table piping hot and were each the size of my hand. Ruxbin's name for these savory pastries suggested to me attitude worthy of the hippest street food that Chicago's food truck proponents could imagine. But dressed with a chimichurri crème fraiche flecked with dried red chili flakes, the empanadas more closely resembled the white, red and green Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cakes of my youth.

Redemptively, the surface of the masa gave way to a thrilling crackle. The rest of the shell, unfortunately, proved too thick and stick-to-the-roof-of-my-mouth gummy. The melted Oaxacan cheese inside provided a much more toothsome pull, unadulterated by the kimchi, which I could barely detect.

Next, fried eggplant with roasted squash, cucumber and greens rendered a delightful array of shapes and textures. But the honey-cardamom yogurt dressing seemed to mute rather than enhance flavors. This dish left me searching for sweetness and salt much like I hoped for smoke and spice in the empanadas.

What I do not doubt is that Chef Kim can expertly bread and fry--an invaluable culinary skill. He displayed his magic with hot oil first with the aforementioned eggplant and then with formidable cutlets of miso-marinated tofu. I forgave, here, the demure sides of peanut-kale salad and scarlet quinoa because this was bean curd at its finest.

For carnivores, the hanger steak with chimichurri, kale, cauliflower purée and fennel seed gastrique was the most coherent and satisfying dish of our meal. The plate at moments verged on soppy; the beefy juices made the other elements of the entrée, save for the crunchy (if just undercooked) kale, run together. But perfectly salted and cooked very close to rare, the steak was pretty in pink with a handsome sear and delicious.

To end, panna cotta with lychee topped with toasted coconut and lime zest is the best dessert I've had in recent memory. The cool pudding had a soothing, medium density, and the coconut was floral and ethereal with none of the stale woodiness that often turns me off to this tropical garnish.

Ruxbin has been open nary a month, but I glimpsed real finesse in our meal. I hope as Chef Kim, his business partners Jenny and Vicki Kim and their friendly staff settle in that they bring more of the energy and boldness of their initial vision for the restaurant and the festive space to the flavors of the plated food.

Ruxbin does not take reservations. It is located at 851 N. Ashland Ave., 312-624-8509.

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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