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Rustic House 2012-07-26

by foodbitch 26. July 2012 18:05

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.

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Au Cheval 2012-07-21

by foodbitch 21. July 2012 17:51

When Phil Vettel reviewed RPM he coined the term “Nitropub” to describe the recent trend of selling high-priced appetizers at bars. “Nitro” instead of the conventional “gastro” because he thought it more appropriate for the energy they ooze. Perhaps. They can overload my ears, underload my eyes, and have a Bloody Mary sommelier. They are almost always mediocre. But Au Cheval is slightly better.

I blame Paul Kahan for many sins that I first observed at his establishments. Blackbird for dinner plate microscopy. Avec and later Publican for communal seating. Publican and Big Star for the now endemic: “we bring it out as it’s ready” = inability/unwillingness to manage flow and have one diner either awkwardly sitting with a plate for 10 minutes having it get cold or sitting for 10 minutes at the end of the meal while the other party finishes. Either way, dear management, someone will be sitting awkwardly at one of these two points in the meal so why not just spare us said awkwardness and let the dish that was flamed first sit under the heat lamps? We honestly won’t mind. This policy has infected everyone so thoroughly that Au Cheval (or RPM, and a great number of recent places) doesn’t even bother telling you that stuff will be lobbed onto the table in whatever order they goddam please. I have to stress loudly, past the point of politeness, that WE (not I) will be STARTING with the soup. Bring two spoons. I shouldn’t have to say this. But almost without fail, the plate will arrive with a single spoon leaving me to eat with the glorified coffee stirrer. To their credit, Au Cheval had spoons in their utensil wrap saving me this particular sound-off. And they heard me on the “starting with” which is a rare treat in the ranks of Nitropubs. Hearing anything is a treat I suppose but anyway, I don’t care what Anthony Bourdain says. I love my serving of hot liquid almost as much as my alcoholic one. I want it and I want it first.

Au Cheval is pretty good. It suffers the typical missteps of youth even though Brendan Sodikoff is neither a kid nor inexperienced. He has Gilt, Maude’s and the Doughnut Vault on his resume. With such a thickening portfolio, it would be wise to learn from the mistakes of others as well as their successes. Dinner was good. Not great. The best part of the experience was the Matzah ball soup. Think more e.Leaven’s delicate broth than Manny’s ocean of salted dough. I ordered the 2 pound pork porterhouse on a thick and lovely bone. Why? Because, what did you expect? Restraint? Please. Anyway, when such options do exist, cost 2x more than anything else on the menu ($39), and especially when they are beef or pork or something else not seasonal or perishable, the person ordering damn well expects it to be of excellent quantity, quality and avail itself of the finest preparation. The person who cooked this “porkterhouse” was definitely new to task having perhaps cooked only steaks before. Now, I will be the first to tell you that I prefer pork undercooked. Ditka’s. Hugo’s. Even D. Kelly do (or did) this smashingly. Mind you, the waitress didn’t even ask about the temperature. I presume, because they know better. I also guarantee you that most normal people would have sent this back so fast that a Higgs could have been observed en route. It was absolutely raw in many places, not just by the bone. This despite having been “butterflied” as is common practice when one orders a rock of overcooked carbon for a filet. Again, I love my pork medium-rare. It’s a little creepy but still good when rare but let’s agree to file the black-and-blue preps back in the beef column. Yeah, I ate it anyway. But you probably won’t and what you send back will come back inedible as is always the case when heat is removed and added twice. And, pork of this heft can use a few more seconds at 1200 degrees to help break down the tough gristle and fat that is otherwise uncuttable, unchewable and thus inedible. My two pounds of flesh was nothing of the sort so don’t be very impressed. But there was a sprinkling of Foie Gras bits about the plate so we called it even. They were excellent.

The female had the salmon which was good and well-priced. $18 for a reasonable cut with ample areas of both crispy/burnt and thick, raw. I prefer my salmon with this duality of extremes without having most of the fish fall into the middle class of slightly overdone. This requires a special cut (looks like the graph of a logarithm with a connecting line to x) and a superhot heat source. The fries with egg were very good but fell short of the overwhelming quality and quantity common to most other places charging $9 for the plate. The Bloody Maries that we drank as our Amuse course were truly excellent. I like my mix a little thicker than Branch 27 but thinner than Spoke. But the rim-job here was sensational: thick, cracked black pepper and sea salt. Yum. Well worth the 10 bucks. The martinis however? Unless you give a Gibson’s sized glass, $12 does not belong in Chicago, unless it’s Accounting 101. And $14 for a glass of a $26 bottle of River’s Edge??? That’s retail BTW; restaurants get it cheaper. This is abuse of a high order and you can rest assured that somewhere someone did a breakeven analysis and decided to pad this, not that. I suggest you order the signature drinks. They are worth it.

By the time we got to the gelato I was pretty full and I guess there can indeed be no room left for ice cream if one just got done struggling with a monster porketerhouse, fries, soup, 4 drinks and all the other crap I had that day. The scoops were big and very good. At $6/3 scoops, I’m not overwhelmingly sorry that I didn’t save room for them.

Anyway, if you’re loving the “nitropub” concept you will probably think all of the above to be some bitchy musings. But if you still go out to DINNER and order entrees, you like your food to arrive at the same time as your date’s and you could use a few more lumens in the dining room to properly read the menu then you might be closer to that label than you think.

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About the author

FB is the CTO of an entertainment company and, these days, writes much more in prose than he ever wrote in code. Which is a good thing. Because people expect quality from code. Meal me:

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