22. March 2010 13:44
Most computers of today can’t adjust to the environment. The simplest, like elevators are finite automatons. Receive input – execute. No stop/debug. This is why pressing all the floor buttons is so annoying. Last night, Table 52 was managed by elevators.
Dear Management: we threw you a wild curveball. The party grew from 3 to 4. You spent the evening trying to bunt. When we advise a restaurant of the party’s growth BEFORE walking through the door, the expectation is not merely to avoid sighs and eye-rolls at the host stand. The caliber of restaurant to which you aspire requires you to cope with such affronts pleasantly and expeditiously. To your credit, we were seated right away – at a table with 3 place settings. I sat at the empty setting in a thinly-veiled attempt to underline the need for another. It didn’t work. The setting was simply moved to my table coordinates. I told the host who seated, the waiters who greeted and the bus who moved the place setting that we were a party of 4. I did not do this to show an asymmetry of information. I was hoping to drive home the point that the PARTY_SIZE variable must be incremented (PARTY_SIZE++). But like a program without stop-debug, all my efforts were repulsed. Party member #4 arrived to an empty place setting and the whole evening, every single dish that sets PORTION_COUNT=PARTY_SIZE was sadly served for 3. SLOOOOOOOOOOOWLY. Like a ‘94 Pentium rendering a 3D image.
It must be mentioned that the food was still excellent. We came for Oprah’s favorite fried chicken and now see how Art Smith’s recipe can cause a major weight yo-yo. But even here, the program allowed for no modification. One member of our party requested all dark meat because a study some-where and when concluded its flavor superiority (read: fat content). I’m waiting for the study that concludes the best part of the fish to be its head for the same reason but something about eating eyeballs spooks humans more than seals. Regardless, ILLEGAL OPERATION came back the response to my friend’s request. The program was running and nothing in the universe was going to change it. We did not persist for fear of committing GENERAL ERROR and crashing the restaurant. We don’t know how to reboot a kitchen.
20. March 2010 20:53
The difference between the witchdoctor/rainmaker of eon past and the urban hipster of modern day is the former knew he was full of scat. How many otherwise intelligent people do you know that honestly believe they start trends and influence fashions? Although Ria never will, here’s to hoping that they do.
You’re common people. No one hides in bushes to document the minutia of your life. No one splashes it on the cover of supermarket tabloids. And no suburban housewife will ever ravage yours to fill the clichéd vacuum of hers. Except for a very few, no one really cares about what you say or do, or how you say or do it. Not even your 1000 Facebook friends. No matter the scope of your trendy genius, you simply lack a sufficient microphone to inflict any sort of influence upon the world. And not just you. Had Max Planck tossed aside a certain crazy manuscript, Einstein may have died a lowly patent clerk. Had a dead monk’s genetic studies remained lost, both Darwin’s and Mendel’s names would have likely been forgotten. It is not until someone influential takes up a cause, a thought or a style that the world gives a flying flock. Unfortunately, with the tiny numbers coming through Elysian’s doors, it is exceedingly likely that their skills will go unnoticed.
That’s a shame. Several things make Ria 4-star material. And several others ding it but these are hotel-related and not the restaurant’s fault. First, there is the service. “Excellent” does not do it justice. Ours this evening was above/beyond anything that we expected. Beyond anything this close to Rush Street. Attentive but not burdensome, conversational but not preachy, humorous but not clowning. Tru-caliber holding the theatrics. Why does so much 4-star dining think that waiters should project elitism? The diners of today want the mood of fun, not funeral.
The food. The consommé was one of the best soups I’ve ever had and for someone almost as passionate about the hot liquid course as the alcoholic one, this remark can carry weight. The special was the Guinea hen. Amazing that something can sound so tame yet unleash a torrent of delight that parallels your first illegal high. It was $40. For a bird. But I can’t describe how worth it. Worth its weight in Epoisses. Speaking of: due to drastic under-serving I stopped ordering cheese courses. I might start again. Comté was the cheese this evening and glorious was its portion. I’m not a fan of Comté but there was too much left over and that whole saying about pizza and sex applies. Besides, Brillat-Savarin said that a meal without cheese is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.
In closing, where on Rush Street can you still get a martini for $10? Where can you get a free round because there wasn’t enough for two glasses? Where is good wine not marked-up 5x? You’d never think it looking at the menu but Ria is affordable if you order well. Yeah, $38 for halibut and $15 for soup seems high but both would have been far more at Everest with far less fun. My great regret is that the restaurant was empty. On Saturday. Unlike genetics papers, menus don’t get prized post mortem. Instead of proper credit as the source of really good ideas, Ria may forever be the hipster who “started” skinny jeans. Or the Asian high-school kid who added to our lexicon. Or the butterfly that flapped its wings and caused the Bangladesh monsoon. Whatever, as long as it’s a monsoon of consommé.
18. March 2010 16:01
Into the breach of burger joints comes Tru with their take on gourmet ground beef patties. It was good cheap and fast. I’ll be back just so I don’t have to elbow through Portillo’s blue-collar cluster. At least if a doc or nurse starts crowding me, I’m pretty sure I can take them.
Carved into an iconic kitchen, M Burger serves a model of simplicity. 3 burger choices, single or double, a veggie and a chicken sandwich, fries shakes and fountain drinks. Inexpensive too. Amazingly, the eponymous M Burger (double) is only 4.49 – a 20 cent premium over the more pedestrian cheeseburger (sans secret sauce and bacon). Fries are 1.99 as is a fountain drink but shakes are a buck more. Not too bad considering Corner Bakery’s pricing for food that is barely edible.
We came for an early dinner around 6 PM and were the first in line. Service was extremely quick and polite and seating intimate. Fat people will find their bodily navigation as comfortable as bulkhead seating on a Southwest flight. As we looked up halfway through the meal we saw a line stretching out the door. These people had a very different experience from ours but I’m sure the food was just as good.
M Burger fills a void in the busy avenues of Hospitalville previously crowded only by Corner Bakery’s ineptitude. Same with the void left by the kitchen table of Tru after people realized that eating in the kitchen of a restaurant was really pretty stupid. But how cool is it to be able to eat for under 10 bucks while peering through the looking-glass into a world of 4-star magic? I’m not sure how many more tasting menus Tru will sell from this other side of haute cuisine, but for many of us there is an intrinsic warmth in having the spotlight’s glow reflected off a star and onto us. No matter how little of it we ourselves deserve. This is why Hollywood is full of personal assistants and hair-stylists – anything to get close. But there is something quaint about having secret sauce drip over you as you watch black-suited waiters conferring with white-suited chefs in the flurry of activity that is four-star dining. We feel like we share the spotlight without paying its dues. Or picking up dry-cleaning.
15. March 2010 17:06
Ignore the favorite snobby punch-line. Outback Steakhouse is without question the best $20 steak you’ll ever eat and the best overall value of any chain you’ll ever admit to frequenting.
In times since passed, during the author’s youth, nothing pleased him and workout buddy more than a suicidal lifting session followed by Outback’s caloric overdose. Regrettably, age has withered lifting prowess and the weekly trip became an annual. A higher frequency would morbidly enlarge everything except the muscles. Back then, Outback’s Victoria Filet was the best $14 steak you’d ever eat and even now, with inflation, it’s still the best for $20. The key is to go and eat that alone, without the blooming onions, without the cheddar cheese fries and without the dozen or so James Boag lagers. But that never happens. It’s like ordering a hot fudge sundae and holding the fudge. By the time you’re done with Outback dinner, you will have consumed several days’ and several people’s allowance of sodium, calories, fat and every other damn thing that the doctors tell you not to eat. You will have also paid for it and wondered how things could really be so cheap and why downtown is fleecing you. You’ll return with family but fear that telling others would earn you a spot along the punchline. Screw it. Proclaim with me loudly: I am an Outback fan and shall be ashamed no more!
This fine Monday evening, we made the drive to Skokie where the nearest Outback lies. It was better than ever. On the menu were a half-order of cheddar cheese fries, a French onion soup, a shrimp salad, a Victoria Filet, with blue-cheese crust of course, but luckily no bloomin’ onion. Free bread and salads, 3 drinks and a generous tip rang in at $80. Immobility followed. The steak was as good as anything at Gibson’s and they did not fear the color rare. It was big and red and soft enough to cut with the soup spoon. The quality of the meat has always been consistent but the size and temperature were not. Rare will sometimes get you medium and returning it might get you burnt. By the time you get your meat the other party will be finished. But that’s a case for training. And the English language. This day, the lottery was won. Everything was perfect. See for yourself.
The pants fit a little tighter so a quick return may not be the best idea but man, there’s still that craving for the bloomin’ onion. Should have had that while we had the chance.
6. March 2010 22:08
Like its namesake in the plantae kingdom, Perennial has receded for the winter. Let’s hope for its rebirth. Lincoln Park sustains beyond its share of dining mediocrity. No more is needed.
Hotel restaurants exist in a market segment that affords them more than a natural state of business. Travelers will often choose a hotel bar for a quick meal without giving the choice any scrutiny. Even in a city like Chicago in a neighborhood like Lincoln Park, people choose to walk downstairs over walking several blocks regardless of the increased reward of the short trip. Inevitably, as most hotels are professionally managed while most restaurants are not, the professional mentality of turning $1.00 into $1.10 infects the restaurant and quality declines. Judging by earlier reviews, Perennial is an exhibit in the argument.
Brunch was an exercise in average. Average size, taste and temperature was the way of things on Saturday afternoon with service competent but going-through-the-motions. The short rib hash was not at all what was expected. The size of a thick commemorative coin, the line between rib and hash was blurred, then obscured by egg. Sancho’s omelet with poblano peppers should have been spicier and had the peppers not been chemically castrated through excessive heat, it would have been. But there was a lot of sauce on the potatoes which is a common omission of omelet-side preparation. The grilled cheese and tomato soup was average too. How can that be? By serving the soup lukewarm and the “aged cheddar” mild instead of sharp. Bacon was thrown into the cheese for fun but as a porker purist, the company of cheese, tomatoes and Texas toast only takes away from the swine’s delightful flavor. When used on a burger, bacon serves the purpose of crispy salt. In a grilled cheese, the salty sweet-spot is well reached with bacon just a member of the star’s entourage. A waste of divine flavor. And a great shame.
Brunch does not always equate to dinner. Nor dinner to brunch. Publican’s dinner is horribly plain while its brunch is spectacular. But because of the former it took me over 2 years to do the latter at Publican. The inference of mediocrity can be a powerful detractor. Based on brunch, I would certainly not be the first “yay” vote for Perennial dinner.
1. March 2010 00:12
How many restaurants think absolutely nothing of making patrons wait well past time reserved without offering so much as a coat hanger for their comfort? Not Table 52. Tasty, cozy and relatively inexpensive is its summary with service worth 4 stars alone.
We arrived a little before dinner to take in the cozy little scene and have a drink or 10 before stretching our abdominals and doing 3 sets or maybe 3 courses or something like that. The hosts absolutely freaked. Evidently, people don’t come to Table 52 prior to time appointed and this deviation from the norm was unsettling. Immediately, we were ushered out of the narrow hallway and into the bar area 70 inches away. We barely had time to order when another host came to apologize for the delay. Delay? We were 10 minutes early. They have been crazed all day the exquisitely appointed gentleman explained and in recompense, he would offer us the champagne he cradled in his hand for props. Cool we thought. We know how much champagne flights can cost. Well worth whatever delay we had to chew before the food. We sat and enjoyed our wine. All 3 sips.
T-minus 2 minutes before reservation time, we were seated. And so began the most unapologetic fest of gluttony ever recorded on a weeknight……since February……26th. The soup was a mushroom broth with actual mushrooms plentiful throughout and several kinds – not just one. And not cream. That’s easy. Add enough cream to a stool sample and it’ll taste great. The crab cake was a little small for $16 but had virtually no filler. Maybe that’s why it’s so big at other places. Breading has some volume. The pork chop and salmon entrée were good but not spectacular. The pork was overcooked despite a request for medium-rare. Hey, they asked. There is no reason to overcook pork these days as all meat is irradiated. But in kitchens ‘round the world, there still live chefs afraid of seeing a little raw in cuts of swine. A shame. But unlike cow, the snorting ungulate is more forgiving of a little extra heat. The salmon, however, is only forgiving on its edges. Inside, it had better be moist. And it was. But cooked salmon must usually depend on its accompanying sauces and here the dish was plain. But no matter.
It has become common for a fancy kitchen to spin on trashy dishes like mac and cheese or meatloaf. They almost always are the best things on the menu because, let’s be honest: how much improvement do they need? But with their M/C, Table 52 really struck some oil and didn’t even kill the penguins. It wasn’t too greasy or too heavy or too light. You definitely know you’ve been chowing after half a plate of it but the truffle-flavored cheeses seep into your taste buds where they evaporate into your bloodstream and make you high. One type of cheese is caramelized on the outside of the dish a la French Onion Soup. It peels off in strips that dissolve on your tongue like a gooey sacrament. Hellz, if communion tasted this good, I would have converted to Islam or Jehovah’s Judges or whatever the cannibalistic faith they wanted so long as I got to munch some Jesus every night.
And on this note our evening ended. Never mind that we had 12 layer cake. Never mind that we never got the round of champers we were promised. Nothing could take the taste of mac and cheese communion from our palates.