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Roys Chicago 2011-08-27

by foodbitch 27. August 2011 13:47

Dear Roy’s Management: in a world where kitchens think their job is to turn a dollar into two by contracting rather than exceeding, where customers are mere commodities – to be consumed and thrown away, you stand in the starkest contrast as a beacon of true excellence.

Few businesses can benefit from economies of scale more than restaurants. The marginal increase in cost for every extra steak you sizzle or tuna you sear is negligible compared to the cost of cooking up the first one. Lots of restaurants shop for scale but in their quest to squeeze the penny, they end up using far more scrapple than they should. Filet Mignon with gristle. Tuna with tendons. This is unacceptable past the price point of an Applebee’s but how many times have we all been seared this way ourselves? At Roy’s, they ONLY use the good stuff and throw the rest away. They can afford it. They train and retain the best staff and buy/build the best software. They even have a CRM component!!! (Customer Relationship Management for you non-nerds; more on that later.) I consider the fact shameful that in the near-decade it’s been open, I have only eaten at Roy’s Chicago 19 times. Barely twice a year and that includes the 4 times that I ate there in 2002 when it was brand new. Looking back, this bothers me.

How much can I praise Roy’s service? Let me count the ways. In late 2002, the server overheard the female proclaiming that her favorite food was French Fries. In her misguided youth, she didn’t even eat fish. So there wasn’t much for her to have at a Hawaiian Fusion restaurant. Or was there? The server interrupted and offered her the following: “We don’t really have fries on the menu Miss,” he apologetically said. “But we do have potatoes and a deep fryer and we could probably swing some fries for you pretty quickly.” We were absolutely stunned. This in the first week of their opening! Compare that to the places that won’t even separate the white from yolk. She had the fries and they were really, really good.

Flash forward 3,169 days, to Saturday, August 27th, 2011. The last time we had tried to have dinner was in mid-June. They made us wait too long and we left. Yeah, yeah, it was only like 20 minutes – I know I have an unreasonably short fuse in this regard and have no patience for 20 minutes of “they’re paying their bill.” It’s called management! Of employees and more importantly: of customers! Buy them a round of drinks – AT THE BAR. See how quickly they will scurry. Anyway, we’re never rude about this – we just give them a 5-minute warning and leave exactly 5 minutes later. In most cases, the cheerleader (hostess) will force a smile and maybe even an “I’m sorry.” And the host at Roy’s did actually seem sorry. But he also made a note of the incident. A note that would come back to greet us 2 months hence.

Dinner was predictable. In its excellence. The canoe for two appetizer is good enough for two but I can easily eat the thing myself. The butterfish was everything I remember at the Sunset Tower and the tuna…oh the tuna. For fear of fomenting more religious war: Roy’s has, without question, the BEST tuna filet I have ever had. I’ve been there 19 times. Someone in the party has always had one. I’ve always tried a piece. It is the BEST! And it’s consistent. Red Light had a tuna appetizer that came close mainly due to sauce and seasoning but nothing close to the quality of the underlying fish-flesh. Even Naniwa occasionally serves us cuts that have been too close to the tail. I do not know how Roy’s does it or how much they throw away to make it work. I don’t even care if they have their own breeding farm in Port Lincoln, Australia. If someone ever asks me where to have the best tuna steak I will always tell them Roy’s.

As we were wrapping up and NOT ordering dessert because we had (as usual) overeaten, the manager stops by to ask how things had been. We think it boilerplate; same as the retail store employees telling you they have more sizes in the back. So we give our boilerplate response: “it was great.” But oh, no…the manager was armed with CRM! And we were not expecting it. He says to us: “I’m glad, because it seems like the last time you were here, it was not so great.” Huh? One doesn’t expect to be made to think on a Saturday night after a dinner. We honestly forgot about June. But Roy’s’ software didn’t. They had a note to tell them exactly what transpired and even though the host was likely history, the database remembered all. We had a bottle of wine subtracted from the bill and a personal note from a manager. Technology had enabled a big chain to behave like a small-town restaurant by keeping data, mining it effectively and putting it to use. I shop at Nordstrom instead of the boutique because they have a no-questions-asked, make-me-happy policy. So why do I turn up my nose at a restaurant for the crime of having more than one location? Roy’s is simply one of Chicago’s brightest stars and has been since pretty much day 1. And on this point, we need to draw a thicker underline and vote with our dollars for restaurants deserving it.






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Book Bindery 2011-08-16

by foodbitch 16. August 2011 18:49

Having written a dim prospectus on Seattle in the past, I find myself increasingly humbled by its progress. At least in dining terms. The Book Bindery excels in both service and in food. If you can’t make it to Toulouse Petite, go here.

How does one spot a Chicagoan walking through an airport? He’s the guy with jean shorts and a Bears jersey busting under an expansive belly. How does one spot the LA wannabe? He/she is the one wearing canvas shoes and sunglasses indoors. A Seattleite? The woman who shaves her head rather than her armpits. What’s my point? That all cities have a stereotype and crappy service in Seattle is a very honest one. Walk into a coffee shop with 2 baristas engaged in conversation and they will very likely finish the conversation until anyone asks to help you. Could be 5 minutes. Could be longer. And the people are so laid back that they accept it. Imagine the same behavior in a Chicago Loop coffee house. If the staff were not standing at attention the patron might get on the phone to the district manager. In New York there would be 10 types of screaming. But Seattle? The attitude that life’s too short to work in service still prevails. Which is why it’s a delicious pleasure to find another restaurant where staff doesn’t treat their customers as interruptions.

The Book Bindery was exceptional in every way and with every dish. And by the evening’s end we were treated yet again by a relative pittance of a bill. If not for the booze of which we partake freely, the bill would have come to $60 per person. The portions were decent but not obnoxious. The appetizers were actually appetizing in the sense that they didn’t overfill you but they could see a little price reduction. When one charges $12 for gazpacho, even though it’s REALLY good gazpacho, people will instead opt for the steak tartar ($14) which was a very generous portion for the price. However, while the gazpacho is probably pure profit, the steak is a thin-margin commodity. Dear Restaurateurs, make it easy for your diners to choose the bulk-rate and they will. It may not seem rational that you’d lose money by overpricing soup, of all things, but you can and probably will.

The entrees were just as lovely. The Halibut was sweet and buttery and the scallops might have tasted like the sea but they were escorted by some delicious sauce that whispered flavor rather than proclaim it. And the pork? Well, what can I say? It was excellent. It seems like everywhere we go these days, someone has an even more delicious pork dish. The truth is that it’s really hard to screw up pork. But you surely can by overcooking it. BB cooks their medium-RARE!!! Which is how it should be. For the love of all that’s kosher, when will the world follow suit? Everything is irradiated anyway people. And even if it weren’t, when did you last hear of a single case of trigonometry? Or is it trachea? I know it starts with a “T.”

 

 






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Daily Catch 2011-06-24

by foodbitch 24. June 2011 12:25

The Daily Catch in Boston’s North End is a case study in word-of-mouth. Absent the ravings of 2 respected fellow gluttons, a glimpse upon the menu, another upon the “dining room” and a final upon the “chef” would have kicked the flight response into full gear. And we would have missed Boston’s finest meal. You shouldn’t.

The “chef” wore a beat-to-hades Chicago Cubs hat – the hat a mere decade or so his junior, a disgusting grill-man outfit and a frown to end all emoticons (for the ASCII challenged: >:( ). The only item missing was an unfiltered, unashed Marlboro hanging from his lips. Oh, did I mention that he was Japanese? Not any one of the seven sons that the current owners spawned. Not Italian. Barely, it seems, even sentient life. And yet, this was the best pasta we have had in quite some time. Some of the best mussels. Great clams. Amazing calamari made better with the batter. And remarkable exhibits of macho Italian men strutting in their matching jumpsuits. Tell me, in the seed of Big Italy that spawned countless Little Italys – was there a peacock that mated with a housewife and produced a viable and fertile offspring satisfying the prerequisite for a whole new species? Did it then send it on a boat over to the new world? Because the old Italians strutting the streets of Rome, and even the ones selling suits in Burberry and Saks are not the same Italians masquerading as caricatures (of themselves) in countless Little Italys.

Although all of the pasta dishes had a Buca-level quantity of garlic, the quality of the pasta was like nothing else we’d had. We’re talking a pasta dish for $12 that would rival Chicago’s Pane Caldo and Spiaggia. Chicagoans do theirs with less of the asexual cloves. But for a lot more of your sexy dollahs. Indeed, you can eat your fill (perhaps even my fill) at Daily Catch and still have enough for some very special room service. Sexy indeed.

Daily Catch is known for calamari. This knowledge they deserve. I’m not sure what kind of oil they use to cook it but even Avocado oil, which smokes north of 500 degrees Fahrenheit, couldn’t produce a crisp so crispy while retaining a chew so chewy. Maybe they flash-freeze their stuff before they fry it – I don’t know – it tasted too fresh; whatever. Mine is not to guess how but rather say what. And this, The Daily Catch, is for sure one of Boston’s tastiest. Go there now. Or you see dis gauy? See dis gaauy? Heesa gonna come-a ovah dere and shove his jumpsuit up your outbox.






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A Tavola 2011-06-04

by foodbitch 4. June 2011 19:33

Humans have been wasting time with flap-flight for millennia. But there is nothing flappy that would ever fly a human to say nothing of a jumbo-jet. And, for about the same millennia, we’ve been trying to scale great Italian food outside of the household cooking it. We can’t. And we shouldn’t. Exhibit A: A Tavola.

I like the fact that none of you have ever heard about this place. Luckily, no one reads past the Facebook “preview” paragraph. A Tavola, which means “to the table” in Urdu (I think) has survived in an unassuming neighborhood since 1995. That’s like a whole person who can drive. Compare that to the countless fizzles of Hubbard Street that can’t even clear the language phase of adolescence. Eat there and you’ll know why. And then go eat at A Tavola.

It’s so rare to find inspiring Italian. Rarer still to find it in Chicago. Yes: inspiring. Lots of chefs are inspired. But so few send you marching home wondering “How’d they do that?” Chicagoans have big shoulders, big appetites and huge and growing waistlines. We want PAAAAAAsta. TONS of it. Lasagna squares bigger than a Mac Mini and raviolis stuffed thicker than the alderman’s “bonus” envelope. If that is indeed what you want then go to Maggiano’s or Buca’s. If your expense account permits, go to Gene & Georgetti’s and eat all the gristle-flavored cow you can. Or better yet: get bent. I too believe in eating until exhaustion but in doing so at proper venues. Like Portillo’s.

At A Tavola we ordered all of the specials and absolutely loved them all. The sliced mushrooms were outstanding. Most places deal with the fungus’ default dirt flavor through salt or sauce castration. Not here. Their shrooms were significantly smaller than the dinner plates passed off elsewhere as portabella. They needed no disguise to know how flavorful they were even though the sauce was a lovely complement.  The gnocchi about which others rave was good. But not THAT good. Instead, try the Pasta Bolognese. Truly excellent.  The meaty Bolognese stood out. It reminded me of Tocco’s in that uncanny way. I wonder if the Prime Minister stole the recipe from A Tavola. But as with other statesmen, Bruno is impervious to questions of his past. The world will never know.

The road not taken for the evening was the sliced leg of lamb which was a special. I hope it is again. But being a polite diner (this evening) not long I stood and looked down the menu as long as I could until they were ready to toss me in the undergrowth. I ordered Short Rib and having perhaps the better claim for it was probably grass-fed and wanted wear. ‘Twas a house specialty. I am telling this with a sigh, almost exactly one week hence. That two meals screamed to me and I, took the one more eaten by. Specialty= all the time; special=never before. And two letters make all the difference.

Food, wine, service – all excellent. Even the pre-wine martini was made my way. “We have Kettle One; is that OK?” Is that OK??? Huh. Chef Bocik, Madame Server: your restaurant is a treasure and you just said Shibboleth.






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Takashi 2011-05-28

by foodbitch 28. May 2011 12:42

Beware of restaurants who “are” the chef. Nobu. Vong. Takashi. No apostrophe “s.” It’s not their restaurant but rather their embodiment.  Rarely do these places live up to the grandeur of the self-opinion. This was no exception but at least it filled our bellies – with a healthy laugh-track.

Takashi haunts a small, 2-story home on the fringe of Whicker Spark, or Whucktown, or whatever the damn neighborhood is called. It’s all hipsterville to me. Into the narrow walls, the management has crammed a fair number of tables and still left room for jumbo-sized Chicagoans. Pretty cool. However, this cluster has created an echo chamber that seems unfit for the type of dining to which Takashi aspires. Think Hub 51’s noise condensed into 1000 square feet.

First the food. For my favorite price of US$69, a diner can enjoy a five-course meal and 1 dessert. Tonight it was: Carpaccio of Big Eye Tuna – EXCELLENT; Ceviche of Shrimp, Squid, Scallops and Octopus – OK; Skate Wing – OK; Pork Belly – Great; Duck over Foie Gras – Good. Wine pairings were an additional $36 and were very healthy pours. Borrowing a play from the book of Tru, the server noticed that the opening glass of champagne was drunk too quickly and brought another “while we wait.” That is service that pays dividends. Overall, the wine pairings average $6/glass. That’s a deal! The food – eh. I really really expected something more. Only a single “excellent” and a “great” seems low for a meal that cost $105 per head. Compare that to iNG – true excellence in every course for a relative pittance. And when I asked for a transcript of the courses, the menu came back autographed. Nice touch Chefs. Thanks for not sending out a headshot as well because then I would have cracked completely up. But it’s not that the evening was without amusement.

Remember the echo chamber? There was a table in the northeast corner of the restaurant which through accident of placement would have made the conversational volume deafening for a normal-sounding person. And the woman who was seated there this evening was anything but. The accident of placement, the hard surfaces, the pitched roof and whatever planetary mumbo-jumbo you believe in all conspired that evening. And when adding to the formula a woman who, common to persons of her size, adopts the philosophy of “life’s a stage,” you quickly get a critical mass in both amplitude and frequency. She was so loud it was funny – but not too funny. She would make what she believed to be a particularly amusing point, begin a low rumble of a cackle which would develop into a high-pitched roar and be punctuated with a triple-foot-stomp. It went: BEAT…BEAT…“JOKE”…Cackle->ROAR…STOMP…STOMP……STOMP. Over and over again. I’m sorry but nothing can be that funny that often. Jay Leno doesn’t have as many laughs in as little time and he’s the master of BEAT…BEAT…JOKE. There was not a single other table that wasn’t following her conversation. They had to. None other was possible. When the party left the other patrons broke out into an ovation to the great embarrassment of the wait staff. Especially considering that the party was a regular. Ouch. This means lot of other people get the treatment. Maybe next time it’ll be you.






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iNG 2011-05-14

by Foodbitch 14. May 2011 19:38

I rank communal restaurant seating very high on the scale of annoyance. Higher than men who wear jewelry but lower than Bethenny Frankel. And yet iNG so overwhelmed me with its excellence that I would have sat cheek-to-massive-jowl with Ms. Frankel – while on a date with Mr. T..

iNG’s prices are unbelievably low. The most expensive item on the menu is the delicious shortrib at a no-brainer $24 and it’s HUGE! Think American steakhouse versus Euro-Bistro. For sure 5x the size any other item ever found on a “tasting” menu. I just don’t know how a normal eater can put down this along with 3-4 other dishes so consider yourself warned. Luckily, the gulf between “normal” and the portions I consume is fairly vast. Anyway, most other items hover around $10 but for $45, the party can sample a selection with the quite-gimmicky “tasting by the hour.” Why not just call it a four-course dinner and be done with it? Services are denominated in units of time. Goods are denominated in integers. Massage and lapdance – time. Bag of chips – integer. Dear Management: quit mucking with commonly accepted economic principles. Read other reviews. You’re only hurting yourself.

Now that the complaining is over, let us march onward to the food. The menu itself is folded into origami with a dropper full of miso broth impaled through its center the dropper tip plunged through a square of tofu. Delish. But we expected nothing less from the Chef of Moto and his magnetic flatware. Once the menu is unfolded, the diners can order one of 12 items grouped into four sections of matter's temperature transitions. But we decided on the tasting menu when the server enthusiastically offered to substitute all land-based flesh with the swimming kind on the woman’s portion. Not hard but you’d be surprised how much friction one can get.

First came a tomagoyaki omelet which is basically rolled egg over seaweed but for some reason the red-pepper infused fish eggs made the dish. Not as brutal as the wasabi-infused roe but still spicy enough to make an otherwise bland egg pop. Pun intended. I so do enjoy the popping of all the little fishy embryos with my tongue against my teeth. It makes me feel powerful – in an Idi Amin sort of way. After all, part of His Excellency’s lengthy title was “Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea” and each time I eat roe I can’t help but think of the genocide I am committing against the unborn swimmers. And isn’t mixing eggs across animal classes bestiality? Wow, Asian dinners can sure be sinful. Which brings us to the most interesting taste of the evening: konbu which was kale and shrooms in a kimchi broth with a poached egg that you’re supposed to “integrate” into the liquid. “Integrate” is the fancy way of saying: mix it in the broth but “Café Latte” means coffee with milk so get off it. I wonder how much trial versus error goes into dishes such as these? Whodathunk that mixing a poached egg into kimchi and broth would taste this good? Clearly Thomas Bowman did. There was an episode of House a few years back when the character began cooking and turned out to be astoundingly good – mainly due to scientific knowledge of human taste and molecular interactions with the tastebuds. Clearly Mr. Bowman is of the school along with Grant Achatz and a few others. Does anyone remember Eric Aubriot of his namesake in Lincoln Park circa 1998? He was the first I’ve tasted of “deconstructions” even though they weren't called that. Weren’t called anything back then –like a coffee with milk until someone wanted to charge more for it. Mr. Aubriot apprenticed with some heavyweights so I’m sure this goes WAY back but to where? And where is he these days?

In any case, back to iNG. The “Japanese barbeque” was the before-mentioned shortribs served with delicious purple yam mash and some very superfluous corn muffins. I know why they were there but cornbread needs to be much sweeter if being served with something this salty. But whadoiknow. I’m no molecular gastro-gnome. I don’t even believe in gnomes or elves or molecules. I do, however, have a cargo-ship’s worth of faith in dessert. And this one didn’t disappoint. We had the waffle which was actually a Boston crème doughnut shaped to look like a waffle and a drizzle of chocolate and banana puree. We wondered why they gave us both the same dessert since usually they let a party sample. Until we tasted it. They gave us two to prevent a certain fight over not sharing. We thank them.

I saw that previous reviews seem to rank iNG lower. I don’t know why. This was, without question, my favorite meal in a long time. Right up there with L2O and before that – the best in ages. It was as though all the flavor and complexity of Moto was made super-duper cheap. After eating as much as we did and as delicious as it was, getting a bill for about 80$/pp felt like stealing it. Remember that the bill included alcohol and we sure do enjoy our liquid course. So – communal tables and delayed seating be damned. This is the best meal for its price you will ever eat.






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GT Fish and Oyster 2011-05-07

by foodbitch 7. May 2011 19:13

I find it hard to associate with people who don’t eat oysters. And not the pan-fried, grill-seared, sauce-raped variety served in your Lincoln Park college bar. Gimme raw…unadulterated, seawater-dripping living mollusk that would kick me in the throat had it any feet. Alas, today was GT Fish and none of oysters.

We were not tardy to the party but our reservations (9:30 PM on Sat) still took north of 20 minutes beyond time appointed. It’s new, they’re packed – we expected worse. But then, to our major disappointment, we were seated at the very sort of communal table that we all despise. That would have made for displeasure of a high order as the table was several inches taller and about a foot wider than comfortable. Who does this? What possible reason is there to design a table to be not only communal but also uncomfortable? Dear restaurant management: communism of any stripe succeeds only in theory. We hate those damn tables! Stop buying them! And certainly stop using them to seat parties larger than a couple! No one looks forward to screaming over the restaurant’s highly elevated ambient for an hour+. I remarked as much. And get this! To the great surprise of all of us, the hostess offered to reseat us! No open-palm donation to the Colombia College School of Body Piercing necessary. She heard we were upset and took corrective action. All right! The night was looking better. There it would remain for the dinner’s balance but never past the line to greatness. Not even sure the oysters could have saved it.

There was nothing on the menu that fell short of good. Nor did anything fall near excellent. But the prices should reflect good and instead they definitely reflect excellent. The crab cake, the soft-shell crab, mahi tacos and shrimp bruschetta were scratching around close but still just couldn’t make it. Nor is there consensus about which was the best. I really enjoyed the soft-shell crab and mahi taco but I’ve had these elsewhere – better and for less.  The black gnocchi was a bitter disappointment since this is an area a chef can shine for free. We are used to being spoiled by the gnocchi of Prosecco and Pane Caldo but this wasn’t even the same orbit. Nor was the Mac and Cheese, that eternal fancy-menu standby made popular by – well, I don’t actually know. We know tots came after Napoleon Dynamite. M/C was probably the result of a rock-star chef getting stoned and searching for munchies in empty cupboards.

I’ll be back to try the oysters with folk who understand this greatest gift of oceans’ giving. But even looking at these prices, I can’t see the fleshy, moist delicious creatures being too far an improvement upon Hugo’s’.






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2011-04-17 – House of Blues Gospel Brunch

by foodbitch 17. April 2011 04:47

Each one of his books has killed him a little more, said Norman Mailer quotably. And each one of these experiences has killed me a little too. Not because I poured into them a limited life’s essence but because I eat and drink to immobility, sampling everything so you don’t have to.

They cooked up some truly truly great fried chicken. Some excellent red rice and beans. Waffles and omelets that left none to be desired and deserts – well, I wish I could have given them a thorough tasting. Perhaps if I had four chambers in my stomach I could have. But then again, the stomach chambers of my cow-gods don’t really accept the salivated product of esophagus in parallel so I’m not sure how this would be advantageous unless one simply assumes that they have bigger serial ports due to their overall bigger size. That kinda makes sense. Anyway, this is irrelevant. I was astounded with just how good buffet brunch was. So good that the most unimaginative and bland thing served was bacon. Wow. That was actually typed and not deleted. That fact carries more weight than the statement itself. My only advice would be to not fill up with the early plates of lunch.

Everyone does it. HOB is no exception. Every single AYCE buffet in the history of dining wants you to fill on cheap and not expensive. Pasta Salad = cheap. Omelets = expensive. Lox = cheap. Carving Station = Expensive. Why else do you think things appear in the order that they do? Do NOT fill up on pasta salad or the heap of bacon or any other damn thing in the communal pots. EXCEPT the fired chicken. This was not given the reverence it deserved. Every piece should have been served in a numbered case. Have you been to Table 52 on Monday night? Art has nothing on this fried chicken. Thick, crispy, delicious batter. Flesh: tender and not even dreamt of overcooked. It peels off the bone as though it were osso buco. And rides down your throat like, well, it depends, or this simile is stillborn. You owe it to yourself to try it. Just not if you’re in line ahead of me.

Of course, now we knew we were coming to an area of discomfort. It was, after all a Gospel Brunch. And Gospel, either way it is defined, is absolutely useless to me. You want to spread the good word of your savior? I’d rather see you spread your legs. You want to sing in my ear while I’m trying to hear the crunch of batter? I’m going to stick my index finger up your nostril until about the second knuckle. If you deprive me of audio I actually wish to hear, I will deprive you of some other inputs and overload them with offense. But knowing that, as social creatures, we often tend to settings with a soundtrack, I cannot knock this one. It’s the HOB and it’s a Gospel Brunch and it reminded me of a set from Glee and you know, I’m one of 2 people I know who feel about music as I do. Clearly it has some merit or you humans would not keep making it. Just as long as you keep making the fried chicken, I don’t really give a veal shank.






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L2O - 2011-02-25

by foodbitch 8. April 2011 03:15

 

As you walk onto the Belden-Stratford, you notice there is something…not…quite…right. There’s a little too much noise over there…somewhere in the corner. Not anything that would have ever been permitted in the days of Ambria. Indeed, the ghosts of Lincoln Park West Past should haunt this place forever. Because it’s the best meal they’ll ever have.

And why wouldn’t it be? Have you some insider information? Well shut the front door. Riverdance survived the swan song (and dance) of Michael Flatley. James Bond spies onward with the rise and setting of 5 stars. And L2O is still, after its chef’s departure, the finest meal most of us will ever have. Ghosts included.

Rarely do the founders make the best businesspeople. It wasn’t the teacher-trio who started Starbucks that built a few stores into a global brand. It wasn’t the McDonald brothers, operational geniuses that they were, that created the foremost icon of America. Nor is a single firm that laid the final mile of DSL copper still in business. The best entrepreneurs very rarely make even adequate managers. The Gateses, Dells and Waltons are few and ever scarcer. And growth in the restaurant business is an exercise in the battle between the artists and accountants. The problem arises when the founder can’t scale up the creativity to accommodate the increase in demand. It is fine to insist that every item leaving kitchens is perfection on a plate but not when this makes for miserable chefs/staff/owners because the misery’s contagious – the customers can tell. We can tell. Trust us.

I would like to talk more about this dining evening the review of which is 2 months in the making. I simply haven’t the vocabulary. Those who know me know that this admission means something. I have vocabulary for most things but not this experience. And I can’t in good faith, hold up any more deserved reviews. All I can tell you is that this was, and still remains, the best meal of my 35 years. Rock-star chef’s departure non-withstanding. For those that must: we had the seasonal tasting menu. This consisted of 3 creatures of the sea, 1 overfed duck liver, a Korean something, a fungus and 2 desserts. And regarding those who may wish to inflict ridicule upon the creatures overfed, know this: all of earth’s biomass survives at our pleasure or consumption. Korea sucks but their food rocks. So do their movies. Anyway, did you just take a breath? 2/3 of the cells you aspirated were fungal and since you’re likely in America, you’re a fat mofo and could use 50% of the two desserts we had. Which were caramelized apple and a grand mariner soufflé. See? Even the Lincoln Parkies know how to feed their drunks to death. After this, despite our good intentions, we went home. Which takes some doing. We really didn’t need that 4th bottle of Sake with our meal but my date said we did and I’ve known her for a little while and would like to keep my head…

In that vein, my woman has never know the pleasure of an oyster. RAW. Until this day. Had there been no more b-day presents (like her paying the tab), I would have assumed this mine. Except, she hated it. She made seem like it was kicking and screaming its way down her gullet. Until I told her that they haven’t the skill of motion. I think I made out fairly well. Don’t you?

Then it was all my fault.

 






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Pho Thit Cho 2010-12-19

by foodbitch 19. December 2010 20:34

delicious dog meat brunchOur friction with Vietnam wasn’t born of commies or Koreas but the fact that we consider our best friends they consider lunch. And for the first time, into this taboo breach, comes a place where the palefaces can sample the tastiest of doggies right here on Argyle street. So good, the eponymous bag won’t be needed.

One of the funniest phobias in western travel is going out for some pho and getting dog in place of cow. All silliness aside, canine meat is a rare delicacy in Vietnamese cuisine and carries a steep premium in price. The chances of ordering beef (bo) pho and “accidentally” getting fluffy is about as likely as ordering a Whopper and accidentally getting prime rib. Thit Cho (dog) is clearly marked and mightily expensive. So go occupy your neuroses with equally unlikely things like getting in shape next year. However, if you do wish to push the envelope of taste into this forbidden delicacy, you no longer need to go to north Vietnam.

Other than its name, Pho Thit Cho reveals no clues about the tasty tenderness within the traditional-looking storefront. And as a paleface, you would be hard-pressed to see any mention of your furry friends on the menu. Unless, of course, you ask. In Vietnamese. And then, like choosing the red pill, you are plunged headfirst into a rabbit-hole of pure delight. Today’s special was the Afghan Sheepdog which, due to its mix of Afghan Hound and Belgian Sheepdog, does not carry the same price premium as the purebreds. Even so, if the American Bull Mastiff is Cristal, the Afghan Sheepdog is Veuve which was fine for my novice self. Prices are strangely not displayed for specials so don’t be afraid to ask unless you want to be surprised with a 4-figure bill. Tough economic times have caught many former dog-lovers without sufficient funds to care for larger pets so Pho Thit Cho happily pays the market price for poorly-tended animals, fattens them up and processes them with all respect and ritual due them. The kitchen table offers full view of the preparation but the actual kill is performed elsewhere. I guess America is still too squeamish for that little link in the food chain especially since dogs put up quite a fight – nothing like the bovine passivity we see in all the PETA videos.

Pho Thit Cho means literally: dog soup. When ordering the entire animal (suggested for groups of 4 or more) one can choose to have the paws and jawbone cooked in the broth or wok-seared and served alongside. We opted for the latter and nibbled tasty foot-pad meat with generous pours of rice wine. It’s definitely not for the faint of palate but after 6 shots of 50 proof rice wine, you’ll cherish every morsel you can pick from in between the toes. The jaw meat was not as tender as say, hamachi jaw and if you like your pork ribs falling from the meat you definitely won’t like it. I, however, like to gnaw and work for mine and therefore found myself at home.

If sufficient notice is given, the kitchen can create some lovely dog-blood sausage. This is done by stuffing the blood-brain mixture (something so carefully avoided in a vertebrate’s life) back into the dog’s intestinal lining to create a flavor unlike any other you will ever taste. Pork blood sausage is nothing in comparison. Indeed, when tied off with simmered tendons, the snap of the intestinal casing can release a flavor so intense that whatever praise the dog had lacked in life can easily be given in its final moments in the state of matter. A unique take on “hot dog” to be sure.

In conclusion, dog meat is indeed very good. In either pho-style soup, in sausage or wok-seared. It compares to very rare venison and the torched skin reminded me of lean bacon. Don’t let squeamishness stop you from sampling this delicacy. Remember that all earthly creatures are here for our entertainment or consumption. In Vietnam they live in dog farms. Here, rather than be turned loose to starve on the street, they create human jobs and fill human bellies. And I promise you that after enough rice wine, you won’t give two flocks about it. Instead, the next time your friends ask what you did on Friday night, you’ll tell them you took Fluffy for a Wok.






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Tocco 2010-12-06

by foodbitch 6. December 2010 14:40

An interval of 14 months separated our first Tocco dinner from the second. A shameful length of time. Tocco is as good today, well into its twilight, as it was when it was full of youth and life. Go there now, before the kitchen rests in peace.

Comebacks in the biz of restaurants are few and insufficient. Their demise can be quick and sudden or slow and painful. But no matter how slow the end, once the creep of death takes root, almost nothing can steer the ship away from iceberg. Tocco will not be with us very long but instead of singing it a lullaby, you should celebrate by going to have one of the tastiest Italian meals you’ll ever have. It’s not just pasta. For $16 you will enjoy a mound of Antipasta Rustico with piles of prosciutto, walnuts, greens and cheeses. The Margherita pizza is bit below Pane Caldo but only just a bit. And that’s like saying someone is almost as good as Michael Jordan. Not a bad league from which to draw comparison. The fish of the day was sea bass that was so perfect that Tower Bar in West Hollywood could take a lesson in preparation. And the pasta – one of the city’s finest. Homemade delight safely in league with Pane Caldo and Spiaggia. Get the Pappard Bisamzio. You’ll thank me.

Every earthly thing has a beginning and an end. Endings make us feel uncomfortable so we rarely look for signs of them. With humans, we may not notice the hangover that takes two days to fade. Forgive the forehead’s encroachment on a healthy hairline. Not notice the slowing speed of motion, thought and speech. What else but self-delusion can justify driving cars into senility? And so with restaurants, non-essential services are the first cuts. Valet parking and dedicated coat-checks have already seen extinction. Next came acceptance of American Express because the volume simply didn’t justify the extra 1% in service fees. Next on the chopping block will come bar-backs and bus service until finally, the experience becomes as unpleasant for the owners as it is for diners and, the doors close for the last time. Like a star emitting its last photon. But Tocco deserves an encore. Go help make its death a supernova rather implosion. You won’t have to wait for reservations.






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Sunda 2010-11-24

by foodbitch 24. November 2010 14:09

The service industry occupies a wide spectrum. Past ineptitude, falls “attitude” where the bartender knows she is inept and shoves it in the face of customers. At Sunda, management is highly skilled at hiring buffoons that can ruin the best of meals.

On this fine eve of Blackout Wednesday, the female wanted to hit Sunda for a few. All seemed quiet on the drinking front and we looked forward to a friendly bar scene at a place where the default is that of crush and never comfort. Friendly. Riiiight.

Someone forgot to tell that evening’s bar-tend duo that the bar was empty. In normal circumstances (and for normal workers) the laws of supply and demand dictate that the smaller number of customers should be treated better in order to maximize tip-profits. Instead, these two put on a symphony of stupid never before seen at such distance from LA. I guess the crispy rice and tuna was not the only thing they imported from the land of lazy. But just a note: the actor attitude, although never forgivable when working, you know, AS A BARTENDER, isn’t even plausible when you’re not all that hot and don’t have the loud obnoxious Margaret Cho personality fat chicks develop to compensate for boys not kissing them in high school.

As we were packing up to leave, I explained to my companion why our presence was cut short. At that moment, a voice from right beside us introduced himself as the Assistant GM. He was not on duty and much like we, just stopped in for a drink. He had overheard the peak of the frustration and offered us some drinks and a profuse apology. We accepted both. And even though he was a nice, disarming guy who at a young age already mastered the art of customer politics, a bar that permits its staff to be rude deliberately and then make sure the customer is fully aware of the intent is no place that will ever see my voluntary pennies. Unless they’re fired from a slingshot.






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Pane Caldo 2010-11-21

by foodbitch 21. November 2010 00:51

Your presence is irrelevant. If a tree falls in the forest, air is forced away from impact no matter if your eardrums vibrate. And so Pane Caldo remains one of the city’s finest restaurants despite the fact that you have never eaten there and probably never will.

Economics is a dismal science. Ask people with that misspent education (author included) and they’ll probably spew off some happy horse-poopy about supply and demand and equilibrium and production and distribution and Zeus knows what else. It’ll surely be enough syllables to beat the vindaloo out of India. But bet you anything they’ll forget “consumption” which happens to be our special expertise. What do you think “consumer” is for Allah’s sake? Unfortunately, due to low demand for Pane’s tables, (we were, and frequently are, the only party in the restaurant) prices cannot find equilibrium until they reach the level of 4-star dining. Even more unfortunately, the service rarely scrapes beyond 2.5. If you are the only table at the place, you might get 3 but not always. A shame, because if ever there was a case where food outshines the service by 2 standard deviations, it is Pane Caldo.

The margherita pizza tasted like the tomatoes were just plucked down from the vine. If you have ever visited Seattle’s Pike Place Market in the summer and had the guy cut you a slice of freshly-ripe tomato you would know what I mean. Where in Odin’s name did they get them at this time of year? And why is everyone else in Chicago using the same pasty crap they toss on my Subway club? Pane Caldo must have their own greenhouse because the sauce seemed one with the tomatoes but thicker – like a tomato smoothie – hey it’s a fruit after all! The cheese was freshly shorn and baked a few degrees shy of crispy like on a fine bowl of French Onion soup. We devoured it with no regard for the damage boiling tomatoes do to roofs of mouths. It was that good.

Pane’s pasta is divine. There is nothing like it anywhere. Yeah, I’m talking to you La Scarola and Carmine’s fans. Not even at Spiaggia. Pane’s is cooked with the light of Horus and the same tomatoes sliced on ZZa go into the sauce. But don’t feel obligated to stick to red-based sauces. A friend, with insider information, always orders the asparagus tortellini. They make it for her despite its rare appearance on the dinner menu. She ordered it today and sweeter was its taste than all the rivers of milk and honey in the Kingdom of Jehovah.

With a sushi restaurant, a good barometer of quality is the spicy tuna roll. Long the trash receptacle of tuna unfit for consumption, chefs would mix these dregs with spicy mayo and VIOLIN! You have another way to charge 10 dollars! No longer would they throw away the sinews by the tail or the brown stuff sitting out a night. In with the mayo and good as sold! But a good place uses good tuna even though no one can tell through the mayo-spicy goop. Sure, it’s like ordering a Bloody Mary with fine vodka but if we pay for it why should the chef care that we can’t taste for what we’re paying?

And so, at Pane Caldo, the barometer is not the Maggiano mound but the finished plate. They all go back clean. And the inadequacy of all the tables’ bread to mop up the last possible drop of amazing, delectable, orgasmic sauce makes many leave their table manners up on Rush Street. I don’t care. Tomato sauce looks good on my tie. Tastes even better.






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Girl and the Goat 2010-10-28

by foodbitch 28. October 2010 17:57

Eating here is a lot like going to the doctor. Wait 3 weeks for a time slot, phone-sign 2 affidavit confirmations, arrive early or the space is going standby and you still won’t eat before waiting 40 minutes. I’m too old and cranky to play this game but since play this night I must, I took my zen-pills and so should you.

Summed up in a single phrase: it was worth it. When you go in expecting to wait on-site for your 3-week-old 7:15 PM Thursday night reservation, you don’t really start getting irritated until the hour-mark so unless they completely bungle something you’ll be seated in about 45 minutes. Just don’t go with people with whom you don’t have 45 minutes worth of bar-conversation otherwise you might run out of stuff before dinner. One purgatory couple seemed particularly devoid of topics and was not enjoying the wait at all. Maybe they were saving it for dinner.

Anyway, one more comment before the food: when your demand so greatly exceeds your supply and you don’t want to raise prices, you need to manage expectations. A table “paying” for an hour is not acceptable and a sign of gross mismanagement. When there are 5 parties booked on a given table for the night, you take the sum of reserved minutes, divide by the number of parties and the quotient is the available minutes per party. You inform everyone of their limit BEFORE they sit and this way, no surprise will overtake anyone as they’re being rushed out. If you screw up and make an overlapping reservation you get the party you need vacated a bottle of champagne – AT THE BAR. They’ll high-tail it out real quick. If you have ever eaten at Katana in West Hollywood you would know that this style of management can be institutionalized. You have the table until 8 you’d hear before you’re seated and it didn’t matter who you were in town. You would get a 20-minute warning, then a 10 and then your check and a cleared table. Most got the “hint” but there was no shortage of big boys in black suits around just in case.

On to the meal. What do you expect? It was excellent. The portions were good for sharing amongst 4. The prices were mostly good with 1 or 2 exceptions. The Goat pizza was amazing as were the mussels and the scallops. I LOVED the fat bread even though it cost $4. It didn’t last long. My favorite dish that evening was the Hiramasa Crudo which is a crispy pork belly with yellowtail. Who woulda thunk? But you would be errant in not trying it yourself. I was a little disappointed in the pig face not actually being a pig face with which to gross out our party’s squeamish. Sadly, there were no eyes into which we could stare deeply but just 2 pieces of pig’s jowls. I guess if you wanted make a point of French-kissing your dinner you need to order tongue. Oh well. It was still delicious.

Our service was good and attentive. We were “comped” a beet dish but a stickler member of our party asked if a comp is really a comp if you never ordered it in the first place. Mostly out of anger that I wasn’t the clever devil to make this precious insight, I grumbled that the group’s macro increase in happiness after X than before it made microeconomic terminology irrelevant. Luckily for us, no amount of macro happiness could take away from the micro prices of most dishes. Even charging $15 for a glass of Pinot came out in the value wash. Go here with some other people with whom you don’t mind waiting around a while. If I can take the wait, you can too.






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DBGB 2010-10-09

by foodbitch 9. October 2010 12:36

Wal-Mart had it wrong. Instead of greeters, they should have done farewell-bidders. Dessert comes after the meal to leave a sweet taste in one’s mouth. So why do waiters have the uncanny tendency to vanish in the interval 30 seconds pre-first-bite and not rematerialize until 20 minutes after my last?

DBGB served a great meal. The matzoh ball soup was one of the best on record for this humble dining party. Just portioned really poorly. Would it have killed them to give us 3 more ounces of the delectable broth? If you have the stones for it, finish every last drop of yours, touch your finger in the salty rim and run tear-marks down your cheeks. Then come up to the server holding the miniature bowl in both hands and say in your finest British: “Caa’aan I ha’aave sm’moah’ suh?” Just don’t wear rags to dinner as they’ll clash with the $15 martini.

The crab flatbread was a dead heat meaning half the party liked it and half would have rather had another bowl of soup. Thank goodness that juries don’t only have 2 people. But in the vein of honesty: if you are a crab purist, the cooked rarely matches morsels from the shell. So if you’re going to serve it hot, serve it with a strong, non-mayonnaise sauce.

The scallops were excellent and so was the lamb. As were the prices. Or so it seemed on menu-paper. $26 for a lamb loin is indeed cheap until you realize how little of it is served. About 3 bite’s worth. Suddenly the value of a sub-30 dollar entrée in NY evaporates into dreamland. Maybe I never had the dream though. Could be that someone incepted it inside my brain. Something was in the hotel room that morning but it might have been just drunken neuronal misfires. Or bedbugs. Anyway, we know that we Americans are a bunch of piglets and expect our French dinners supersized but there can be found a golden median between Americana and Amouse. Especially when it costs you 9 bucks a bite.






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Colicchio and Sons 2010-10-08

by foodbitch 7. October 2010 23:13

What began as simply mediocre pulled together very well. Mostly due to service but also to the cheese course.

When dining at this level, patrons expect (and pay for) service. It alone can be the difference between star ratings. What would Tru be without their synchronized pours and friendly waiters? Just a really expensive place to eat good grub. There’s a limit to how good can be a dish but really no ceiling to the overall experience. And Colicchio and Sons pulled it through.

The food was great. Exactly as expected. The $12 mixed greens reminded us of how inferior is the selection available to mere mortals at the grocery store. The salmon was delectable and so fatty that even with the outside crisp, the center was nearly raw. Delicious. As was the lamb loin. Except when I order rare, please give me rare – not medium-rare. I want that center cool. I’m not afraid and neither should be the kitchen. I didn’t send it back because it was still great despite the slightly warmish center.

The service suffered initially but pulled out a grand victory. Our server took her time to get us rolling but once she did, she was perfect. Her demeanor was excellent in the way Tru’s staff’s is excellent. They can sense if you’re in the mood to chat or joke or wish simply to be left alone. Indeed, throughout a meal diners will want each of these things in varying degrees and times. It is uncanny how often servers get it exactly wrong by vanishing when needed and hovering when not. By offering pushy advice AFTER the order has been placed. By acting snobby as if they’re doing you a favor. Indeed, our server not only did none of these but also apologized for the initial delay in her own way. She cut our cheese course so generously that we couldn’t possibly finish it. For people that spend more on cheese per year than gasoline (for an 8MPG vehicle), this is remarkable. And with desert, have the Moscato Asti desert sparkling. So, so good it’ll make you want the bottle.






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Jam 2010-09-26

by foodbitch 25. September 2010 23:13

For someone who routinely tips 20+% of the after-tax subtotal, leaving south of 10 indicates abuse of a high order. And despite its decent breakfast, Jam fell so far in execution that even the food became unmemorable.

Before evisceration, it is polite to mention good. And so we’ll discuss Jam in descending order of performance. The best part about it, without question or hesitation, is the bus staff. Never did the water get within 2 sips of empty. Never was the coffee not refilled. The plates were cleared away quite quickly but not in the manner common to robotic bus persons who rip them out from under you before the fork completely leaves the surface.

The food was pretty good. The eggs we done the way we wanted and the pork was better than expected at a breakfast setting. Some prior diners complained that it was too rare and seem to have lost sleep worrying about trichinosis. These diners would be doing themselves and us a favor by 1.) learning how to spell the parasite and 2.) realizing that all meat these days tends to be irradiated and thus the 3 or 4 US cases last year were caused not by eating little piggies but by hunting and gathering one’s own game. I LOVE rare pork. It’s a sin that most places don’t do it right even if you plead. Ditka’s, dear departed D.Kelly’s and Gibson’s (not always) are the only places I’ve ever had my pork the way it should be cooked and judging by the commentary, this is likely why. You people need to grow up. Sinclair’s Chicago is no longer. In any case, the pork was done just right but it wasn’t done to perfect. Why? It started out a sub-standard cut. Not the juicy chops you see at Ditka’s but something available to mere mortals at Costco. Note to management: you’re charging us $16 for the dish. Use restaurant-grade meat.

The wait-service. Wow. It has been a long time since things have been this bad. Even LA, where the servers can barely bother to look up from their line rehearsals to take your order, did not often fall this short of satisfactory. Giving details is irrelevant. There was no rudeness, no outright attitude, just a comic theater of going through the motions with as little speed as possible. And attention. And caring. The restaurant was busy and the waitress seemed to be covering tables in the front. But during every lengthy stretch of neck-craning in vain attempts to get attention, she didn’t seem to be doing anything other than looking down at notes and talking to co-workers. Waiters and bartenders are skilled at many things but with some, the highest level of rehearsal seems to go to customer-avoidance. They feel you looking at them, they know you want something that it’s their job to get and they still drop their gaze and walk away. Few things piss us off more. We don’t go back to places like that and owners would be doing themselves the highest favor by screening such deft work-dodgers and showing them the door. Ignore the fact we won’t be back. The meal took 1.5 times longer than it should have. In a busy restaurant, time is more than just money.






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2010-09-25 Elysian

by foodbitch 25. September 2010 19:52

What kind of business adds tips automatically? 1, Resorts where guests don’t know local customs, 2, Indian restaurants where actual Indians go and 3, places like Elysian where lounge service is so abhorrent that they’d be lucky to see a non-compulsive dime.

The extent to which the experience of 9/25/2010 differed with the past was shocking. Before, Balsan was as busy as Exit on hipster night but still handled our bigish party with the highest level of efficiency without making us feel like we were riding an assembly line. Dinner at Ria, although lonely, was one of the best Rush Street dinners in a long, long time. Service was amazing. Read. But today, the service in the lounge between the restaurant and bar was something out of Candid Camera but no one came jumping out and offering free drinks to make up for the cruel joke.

Many restaurants have silly-seeming rules that have thin operational merits but cause very fat annoyances to customers. “Close out your bar tab before you go. Sorry, we can’t transfer.” No, I’m sorry that your software can’t segregate tips from one section and another. It’s arithmetic, not nuclear physics. “We don’t serve the bar menu in the restaurant.” Then serve it in the bar and I’ll bring it to the table. It’s one business, one database of inventory and one credit-card processing account. It again is not that hard. “We’re done serving breakfast at 11 and it’s 11:15.” I’m very sorry your pots and pans are filled with lunchtime things but I really really think you might have a spare hanging around there somewhere capable of frying eggs. Why not just make me happy? I’m not asking for your kidney. In any case, the lounge was guilty of 1 and a derivative of 2.

We wanted a few drinks in the lounge and maybe one of Balsan’s delicious pizzas. Nope. See excuse #2 above. “But that table has a pizza” we complained. “That table knows the chef” was the response. Indeed, the chef was buzzing around there quite a bit. Would they make an exception for the less-connected hungry? Perhaps. She needed to check with the chef to see if he would grant her permission to carry the dish an extra 25 feet. Wrong answer. Especially when the drinks were not forthcoming.

There are lots of places that believe in what I call “cheerleader management.” This discipline hires model-types to work as hosts while completely and utterly disregarding the actual service component of the business. Walking into the lounge and seeing 4 beautiful hostesses fluttering about without a single order-taking soul in sight is exhibit A in this management philosophy. I expect this from nightclubs and virtually every business in LA but Elysian? Come on. Cheerleader management has a lot in common with communism. Both are products of minds inexperienced in worldly ways. Both cause ridiculous misallocations of resources and eventually bankrupt their believers. I see parallels between the beautiful pristine highways of East Germany (even though they had no cars with which to drive them) and an army of staff none of whom bother helping customers. Why not allocate resources into places they might actually help? Or at least help not piss people off? After the second time a party member asked to place an order we should have just gotten up and went to Luxbar or something. We eventually did BTW, just not before we learned that the wait staff gets 18% despite the depths of their ineptitude. It’s fine I guess. It’s not their fault. Scheduling is the charge of management but when staff makes their tips no matter how pissed people are, the management won’t ever change anything. Great gig while you got it. Your wall won’t crumble till you’re bankrupt.






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Vlados 2010-09-16

by foodbitch 16. September 2010 19:21

In this distant enclave of Chicago, where no yuppie feet have ever trodden, stands this testament to fun, drink and all the music you can cram into your earholes.

It might seem a great cruelty to have to pay the Skyway toll but after your first few rounds of $2.75 beers and $3 shots, the toll’s brutality will slowly fade away. The crowd is well-mixed in gender, age and skin complexion but all are here for just two reasons: to drink and absolutely have a blast. It’s contagious.

I hate live music. There, I’ve said it. I have little use for music in general beyond short circuiting my brain during cardio but “live” is an escalation I don’t need. There is absolutely nothing about the experience that is not revolting – from the crowds of sweaty, filthy hipsters to the gut-wrenching volume of mediocrity in both voice and talent. I flee at the first whisper of a sound test. But, being a social animal and prone to functions in settings with a soundtrack, so it goes. At least I get compensated. Nothing makes me feel better than looking down upon those shallow enough to idolize musicians and consider rappers genius. Go for the show, not the music in a manner of speaking. But at Vlado’s things are different.

The show is always in the audience, not on the stage. But here, the crowd is SOOOOOO into dancing and singing and drinking into black-out that there could be an amplified transistor radio on stage and they would still go wild. They’re not elitist jazz-fans “getting” the music and scouring the room for those who aren’t. Nor are they spoiled-rich-kid yuppies bobbing their heads in the corner. This crowd is here to sing and dance and the fever spreads like a yawn in night class. No one here is too cool to move. Nor are the bartenders too busy to serve you even when they are absolutely too busy to serve you. They work faster better harder against the discipline of monopoly of bar. I reward such effort well. But then I got rewarded back! I’m not a regular and still the crazy-busy bartender noticed that her tips were healthy and so my closing round was free. When was the last time they comped your drink at Y-Bar? Toto, we’re not in Chicago anymore – no matter what the GPS says.






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Fat Smittys 2010-08-24

by foodbitch 24. August 2010 18:19

The dudes juicing at the health club rarely remember that the roids will only make them look big. To get strong they actually have to lift big and suffer like the rest of us. Fat Smitty’s burger is the roid-head who does 12 sets of forearm curls.

No other time in dining memory has there been so great a chasm between the way a burger looks and the satisfaction it bestows. Or takes away. The Fat Smitty builds us up so high with something looking so delicious and then drowns the tasting center of our brains with large portions of horrendous mediocrity.

The restaurant itself is a novelty – that wore off after one visit. The 5-foot burger in the driveway, the menacing “keep off” signs, the thousands of dollar bills stapled to every surface everywhere all scream: “Look at ME! I’m the most uniquest (sp?) dive-bar ever!” And in that, they have a point. Never before has a burger looked so good and tasted so average. It did not help that the patties were grotesquely overcooked and drowned in not-so-secret ranch dressing. The “Freedom Fries” (yes, there are still people who think this play is cute) are ok but honestly, when they’re cut as large they just don’t cook through as well without making the outside overcooked. The service is downright rude and the fizzy sugar sodas don’t come with refills.

How many strikes is that? Cuz here’s another: you know all those dollar bills stapled to the walls and ceilings and every other damn place? Well, they’ve been there for a while. This means that whereas the average restaurant that has, oh, I don’t know, 4 walls to clean, Fatty’s has 10,000 times the surface area all sitting there catching dust. And releasing it into your food every time someone opens the door or walks quickly to the bathroom. 5-minute rule does not apply to that collection of filth. Is there a 5-year rule?  I don’t imagine the rude relics working there bust out the feather-duster all that often.

Anyway, if you really want to come here, have the clam chowder and watch your friends be disappointed by themselves. Sneak a bite of their patty and you’ll thank me for saving you the blow.

 






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Toulouse Petit 2010-08-22

by foodbitch 21. August 2010 21:04

To those who said Seattle can’t do a perfect meal (like the author) Toulouse Petit gives a big four-fingered shocker. And those who still quote the tired grandpa-ism: “do one thing and do it well” TP knocks into the future by excelling in so many places. One could, and should, eat here for a week.

Who is anyone to say that a restaurant must have a narrow specialty just because most do? It’s rarely a lack of imagination or ability but constraints of the real world. Money, space, time and staff are all limiting factors in a restaurant’s ability to redline the chef’s creative engine. So most run at cruising RPMs. Chefs are artists to the core and will, given time and capital, throw 10 thousand things out on the tables and let their customers decide what soars or sinks. Indeed the biggest source of friction in food service is the push outward from the kitchen against the push inward from accounting. Guess who always wins? But Brian Hutmacher, Toulouse Petit’s owner seems to not shed a single tear for accounting’s sake. Enter an owner who has decided that the quest for quality is a higher cause than turning a dollar into 2. Luck is the story of his chef: Eric Donnelly. Tragic that of his accountant.

Who serves Duck Confit for $14? Huge bowls of soup and salads for less than 10? Who remains in the known universe that offers a quality NY Strip for $25? Even Outback charges more inflicting mortal fright upon the Big Mac crowd on “downtown night.” And so, the evening began with apprehension – apprehension that died a first-bite death. The fried-chicken gumbo and French Onion soup could have been, for their pittance of a price, much worse and still scored well on the value scale. Some claim that French Onion Soup should only be served in little fired crock-pots with overflowing cheese. Some also claim that gumbo should be a thick-as-honey stew. These were neither and yet still delicious. Donnelly has an opinion and it isn’t cliché programming. It’s nice to get a unique perspective.

Main-course consisted of Big Easy Jambalaya and Jumbo Barbied Shrimp. The former promised “unapologetic spice” and but needed no apology. Then again, the author orders 5-stars from Mae Phim and pours Habanero Tabasco on eggs. Point is: it’s easy to hide behind heat and TP has no need. The flavor was as terrific as the portion. The shrimp was similarly tasty but not quite on the level of the Ivy. The grits however, were absolutely divine. Just remember that the Ivy will charge you double for a very small improvement and again we’re back to the whole value thing. No matter what you think of the meal, remember that 2 people will waddle out of the restaurant spending less than a C-note.

TP isn’t perfect. Their online menu’s prices don’t always concur with the receipt. Can you say nit-picking? Its bar is slow-to-notice you but nothing compared to most of Seattle. Also, such an affordable meal should not dunk you headfirst into a $12 price for a martini (at least they overfill it). But with prices and options like these, we can afford a little trial-and-error.

All should hope for Toulouse Petit’s success. I am tired of talent being pigeon-holed. Wouldn’t it be great to see Bayless’ roll on sushi or Trotter’s toss on pizza and still have enough to pay your underwater mortgage? Well, they should all send a spy to get a job with Hutmacher and learn how he keeps the prices low, the menu vast and the CPAs out of the damn kitchen.






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Big Star 2010-08-13

by foodbitch 13. August 2010 17:46

In the universe of margarita, the difference between decency and excellence is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Big Star serves up lightning in a pitcher.

It all starts with good intentions. “Let’s go out for a margarita” someone will propose. Calling the proposed “a margarita” is supposed to imply unary but is actually a bunch of optimistic bull-poopy. No afternoon starting with “A Margarita” ends there. Like those who watch a “little football” the notation is false before the activity begins. And as good as Big Star’s drinks have been no one is going home with one.

And thus, all participants who that afternoon went out for a margarita, wound up with a pitcher down their collective and expanding belt. The few memories that remain are of sweet taste but grainy texture. It did not matter that people had BBQs to hit or birthdays to celebrate. Some had the wherewithal to take the train only to awake well beyond their stop. Others may as well have driven sideways. Still others felt like reversing digestion’s course but could not remember if that had already been accomplished. For reasons obvious only in-the-moment, two porcelain prayers would have simply felt unclean.

The food at Big Star is not predictable. Neither is service – but not because the staff is anything other than hard-working. They just need 2x-3x during summertime because the crowd they squeeze into the outdoor area is simply too big a numerator for such a paltry denominator. But no matter. The margaritas join Matchbox/Silver Palm and The Ivy in Beverly Hills as some of the best this crew has ever had and they put it in a pitcher costing $30. At the Ivy, that’ll buy you 1.79 drinks. With those prices, you won’t be day-drinking and missing any birthday parties. Big Star, however, well…you’ve been warned.

 






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Meli Cafe 2010-07-24

by foodbitch 24. July 2010 13:21

 

Meli’s food was pretty good, its prices pretty cheap and service pretty fast. Grand slam by Greektown standards.

How do you spot a Greek-owned restaurant? Let us count the ways.

  1. The Host – Unlike the pretty, young female things hosting everywhere else, the Greeks have something ancient, something fat or something speaking little English or all of the preceding. Such hires are only made through stupidity or nepotism and I’d never presume the business guys are stupid.
  2. The Design – Nearly every bored suburban house-mommy once walked into Crate and Barrel and heard the call of Decorating. The only person she convinces of her “talent” is her husband. Husband invests in restaurant and forces wife upon his partners. This is why most suburban restaurants (Greektown doesn’t know it’s not a suburb) has mismatched light-fixtures, random tiles on walls, strange art, mismatched chairs, non-standard table heights and no ADA compliance.
  3. The Money – Family handles it. This rule has since relaxed as credit has well outpaced the coin but some places still like the payment bottleneck to be relations. (See the pay-line at Yolk)

Meli is guilty of 1 and 2 but thankfully lets the servers handle 3. And they don’t fall apart at bringing you the check which happens so bizarrely often that one might think it a conspiracy. The food is good. They stuff so many fresh ingredients into their omelets and frittatas that the egg glue holding things together is hopelessly inadequate. Indeed, this creates a vegetable overdose but you can pick things apart and make your own proportions to suit taste and texture preferences. Playing with your food is one of the few fun things still legal in Chicago.

Meli makes a big deal of making their own jams and butters. They’re really good but barely enough to cover 2 pieces of toast much less the 4 that 2 people would be fighting over. It’s not caviar people. Making a big vat of fermented fruit costs only slightly more than making a small one. Give us a jar of your stuff and let us really go to town.

Overall, Meli is good. We wish there comes a day though when Greektown can be measured by Chicago’s standards and not Naperville’s.






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Duchamp 2010-06-26

by foodbitch 26. June 2010 19:47

Duchamp was a mid-level disappointment. If not for the Yelp Prix Fixe pricing, it would have been a bitter one. The Duchamps of the world should take note that we are all sick of predatorily-priced mediocrity. That’s why its dining room was half-empty on a Saturday.

Great deals are to be had with the Yelp Prix Fixe menu. Like the genius of Miami Spice where one could sample a 4-star kitchen for $35 even though normal pricing would run 5x, Yelp went one step further and mandated $25 for a three-course meal. At Duchamp, said pricing bought you a small-plate (normally priced from 7.95 to 12.95), large plate (13.95-23.95) and a sampling of 3 deserts normally priced $8. Pretty decent. Price, that is. The quality of the meal was anything but. The only good that evening came in the form of white flatbread pizza which was different enough to be good, not great. The “deconstructed” tuna nicoise was unacceptably bland and used the cheapest cuts of the cheapest tuna (tail/ahi). 12 bucks for 4 razor-slices of that with whatever other reconstruction they dribbled on the plate was a giant miss.

The often-photographed Havarti cheeseburger looks pretty, thick and juicy. It very well might be. IF, that is, they didn’t fry it straight to the ninth circle of hell. I specifically ordered rare (rather than medium-rare) knowing that such thickness tends to overcook quite often. The waiter assured me that they know how to do medium-rare perfectly. I should have ordered raw because I was punished with a well-done patty. When something 2.5 inches thick is cooked through, it really really sucks. You and I know this. Why doesn’t the kitchen? Why not send it back? I was hungry and the waiter vanished. Not cool. But the cheese was good. Havarti always is. Is there a less healthy cheese that isn’t triple-cream? I hope not.

On to the final charge in what could be a multi-count indictment: alcohol. Done are the days of charging limbs for martinis. It is absolutely inexcusable. $12.25 is resort-pricing – not that of a mid-range restaurant. And the sly little trick you pulled in pricing was worthy of mention and warning to the unsuspecting. Kettle One costs $1 less than Belvedere on the Duchamp pricing scale. I ordered Kettle One. You were out of Kettle. You offered me Belvedere. I accepted. My first martini cost $11.25 as Kettle does. The next two cost 12.25 as Belvedere does. Not cool again. When a restaurant is out-of-stock the substitute needs to reflect the lowest price, not the highest. Especially when the price is already ridiculous.

Based on Saturday’s experience, Duchamp would be doing Bucktown a favor if, like the eponymous artist, it retired and did something scholarly instead. I hear “endgame” was a fun pursuit for dear Marcel. Duchamp Restaurant should start thinking of one.







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Angels and Mariachis 2010-06-20

by foodbitch 19. June 2010 23:10

“No, we don’t have any ketchup” said the waitress and with it kicked off one of the most bizarre dining experiences ever recorded in the cumulative 130 years that any of her 4 patrons have been eating solid food.

Before the bad, we discuss the wonderful: The Bloody Maries. They are excellent. Spicy, not too thick (Twisted Spoke), not too watered (Wishbone) but just right. Perfect if you like seizure-inducing spice but supposedly available with a more palatable quantity of capsaicin. The salsa with the complementary chips is similarly grand (and hot) and the guacamole is pretty decent although doesn’t hold a scent-free candle to the likes of Adobo’s. But today, no quantity of good could diffuse the strange. It was as though somewhere in the kitchen-to-the-customer supply chain was a drug-induced short circuit that sparked and burned and fused some information bits together.

In David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly, a scientist’s teleportation vessel can’t figure out what to do with two separate organisms in the chamber and decides to splice the two of them together. Something similar happened today at Angels and Mariachis when someone on the staff fused orders for a veggie omelet and a breakfast burrito without meat and decided to make a veggie omelet and put it inside a tortilla. However, whereas the former was exhibit A in logical efficiency, the latter was exhibit A through Z against a day of food-serving while wasted off one’s buttocks. Luckily for the guilty party, the diners were equally hung-over and made no great effort to underline the gaffe.

Table after table sat in receipt of food and drink while we sat with glazing eyes and watering mouths waiting for correction. In a rare display of chivalry, your author ate not a single mouthful during the entire process. Then, without warning, all staff vanished. Into their breach came the famous cute blonde girl with crack-smoke mom in tow selling Aldi candy packs at 8,000,000% mark-up. One party member who has more cash than comprehension of extinction on behavior immediately offered to buy 2 packs for a total mark-up too large for alcoholic brains. Where was the staff? Were they in on it? Seems so. If their cut is a few million percentage points of mark-up it might be worth it but I doubt it. A restaurant should take care not to let their temporary monopoly on their patron’s wallets open up to street competition no matter how cute the sales agent or how high her mom.

In any case, in the half-hour following order-fusion, one of the diners changed her order to a cheese quesadilla. Thought it might be easier. It was. After it and the corrected veggie omelet arrived and all sat happily working down the hangover, another quesadilla was delivered to the table! Perhaps the kitchen decided to rectify the earlier case of fusion with one of fission! Shoot a neutron into a veggie omelet tortilla and you get TWO cheese quesadillas people! Surely there is science to prove it. Maybe the Large Hadron Collider is being tested out right here in the kitchen of meek and mild-mannered Angels & Mariachis! Go there and find out for yourselves.

P.S.: The waitress did say she would discount the food. She did to the tune of a whopping $4.80. Considering that the fused then fissile meal cost $67.20 (before tax and tip), the discount was a very gracious 7.14%. Gotta love a place that loses whole bytes of information but can still do floating-point multiplication. Drink up!







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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: mealschpeal@gmail.com.

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