An easy way for a server to inflict shrinkage upon an otherwise robust gratuity is to make the table wait for the first drink and/or the check. Even those good about the former can have an uncanny tendency to vanish just before the last bite until well after the table has been cleared. Despite these infractions, Rustic House was a highly memorable meal.
We seldom venture north of North or west of Western. There is rarely any need. Upon the first sighting of a backward ballcap my natural human flight or fight response sometimes kicks into both gears. But this evening, at Rustic House, there were no ball caps, front or back. No pre-theater peacocking. Just some honestly outstanding food for a bargain of a price.
We have a semi-monthly dinner with some true fans of the fermented grape. Such fans they are that drinking acceptable quality in the required quantity would quickly push any dinner bill past a private-school tuition. Thus, they roll their own. At RH, the $20 (per BOTTLE!) corkage fee is a little steep. I recall that even Spiaggia charged only a flat fee. I recall this because the waitress there told me that folks eating rich but drinking poor sometimes order the “Coor-kawjé.” I don’t disagree that a fee should be charged. But there is just something scalding about it costing you a Jackson per bottle considering they don’t even pour the wine most of the time (or change glasses unless you change colors). This, along with the delay before the first drink and after the last bite are already on the list of tiny little knit-picking. And just a couple others before I can go on about the wonder of the food. The dining room was PACKED. I am delighted that people are eating out again since the last few years has been a wasteland for new restaurants. But in the back dining room of RH, the tables are packed so tightly that the most two-dimensional of people would not fit comfortably and any encroachment upon the aisle will guarantee a bump (or 20) from speedy bussers. I am not the most jumbo of Chicagoans but I still spent dinner seated with the back of my chair sideways – perpendicular to the table – because there was no way to breathe or move without chair-grinding the nice older lady behind me. She noticed and tried to move her table over without causing the same issue for her party. If she noticed, I wonder why our server didn’t. But our server was thoroughly overwhelmed. I guess they don’t pack it in like this consistently. Finally in the column of infraction: parking. Our dinner reservation was at 7:30. We arrived at 7:15 and left shortly before 10PM. Check is time-stamped 9:49PM. RH has a policy, supposedly printed on the valet sign, that parking costs $12 for 3 hours and 16 thereafter. We were charged the $16. First of all: this is abusive. Gibson’s doesn’t charge so much for so little and we park there all day. Secondly: the valet sign was long gone by the time we left the restaurant. And finally: we did NOT spend 25 minutes gathering our things after the bill. It shines bad light upon a business when a supporting service engages in wholesale theft on top of already overcharging. You expect this at a strip club as they try to soak you for $10 in the “mandatory coat check” but not after 3-star dining. I called Brianne Carden (GM) and informed her of my displeasure. This was done via the vanishing vocal cord – not via email. She said she’d look into it and follow up. Please don’t be shocked when I tell you that she has NOT followed up and if she is looking into anything she’s doing so clandestinely. But, managerial delinquency aside, on to the food!
I have dined at most of Jason Paskewitz’s restaurants since his bold emergence on our scene. His prior efforts have been consistent. They all had decent management, fair service and great food. From this, Rustic house is only a slight improvement if one averages and reduces the scores down to standardized. But we shouldn’t do that. This is why you’re reading the second page of lengthy rant instead of looking briefly for a star rating. Having made it this far, you have the interest and attention span to want to know what’s good, what’s not and what was absolutely worth the trip. The food is always good or great at a Paskewitz location. It’s always his business partners (with emphasis on the business component) who need polish. This was no exception. The food at Rustic House was better than any other place Mr. Paskewitz has cooked.
Rustic House is basically rotisserie house +. Every day (except for Monday since they’re closed) Rustic House features a roto-special. We’re talking pork chops, veal, lamb, duck and prime rib. The chicken is on daily. Having gone on Thursday, the day’s rotisserie was baby suckling pig. There is something about pork prepared this way that never ceases to amaze me. It’s like when Goldman Sachs is ready to release earnings and disclose bonuses and you know they’re going to be big numbers and you think you’re not going to be shocked but you always are. That is always, always how I feel about pork done right. Every bite is better than the last and even though I agreed to share with my friends I just can’t bear to part equitably with my porcine treasure in exchange for a helping of pasta. Pasta? Please. How much pasta can you give me to make up for a mere morsel of that crispy skin and tender flesh?
The pork was the best feature of the evening and, amazingly, the cheapest. For $22 I expected a finger but got a big old fist. People expect to pay more for this kind of treat and it’s refreshing when we don’t. The lamb T-bone was also shockingly well-priced at $28, the salmon filet at $26, and the only item scratching up the thirties was the swordfish at $32. Now I neither wish to foment religious war, nor insult anyone’s palate. I’m glad swordfish exists, appears on menus regularly and is as substantial as a steak for all the pescatarians. But I will only order swordfish if there is nothing else to eat. Like Dyson Vacuums, male jewelry and BMWs – I have nothing against any of these things, nor the people buying them. But they are not for me. Neither is swordfish. But, in its defense, the male half of our double date said the swordfish was the best he’s ever had. Although I cannot tune my palate to this frequency and receive these signals, this guy is an authority on gluttony and you should listen to what he says. If you like swordfish that is. And wear a pinky ring. In your M3 convertible.
In the last 5 years, entrée prices have seen very large deflation. Like the airlines and the 10,000 computer parts merchants on the early Web. People are drawn to entrée prices (the fare, the hard drive) and not until they get to checkout would they see the scam. Airline fees and taxes and other shameless crap that would double the price as advertised. It was the same with online shopping before Amazon became a giant with little tiny stores selling 20 dollar microphones and charging $85 dollars for shipping and HANDLING. I don’t know what kind of “handling” would warrant such terrific gouging but don’t think it can happen through underwear, to say nothing of a monitor. Rustic House and others have a slightly different approach to the same scam. Sure your baby suckling piggy is $22 but a tablespoon of almonds is $5 and 2 jumbo garlic shrimp (although excellent and enough to repel the Kosher vampires) cost $10 and a pot pie (also excellent; we ordered for the table) was a gouge-inducing $19. Don’t forget the $20 corkage (per BOTTLE!) and the $13 martini and before you know it Mr. Businesschef, you’ve made up the money you’ve lost on meats. We also ordered the grilled octopus for $13 which was actually really good and comparatively inexpensive. It was almost par with Parthenon. Those Greeks…I just don’t know how they do it. Their Octopi are stellar.
For dessert we ordered Crème Brulee but I would have rather ordered another Martini. As you know, I prefer my sugars fermented and distilled. So – in conclusion, we had a lovely meal for about $90/pp (remember that we brought our wine). Despite the neutron star density of people, the overwhelmed service, the price gouging of the appetizers, corkage and the little “bonus” the valet decided to give himself, we had a great time and think that you will too. Go on Thursday. Get the baby pig. You’ll thank me.