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Folklore 2009-12-05

by foodbitch 10. December 2009 16:59

Whenever a successful restaurant opens location 2, always cringe. For all you know, like Argentinean politicians, Tango Sur could be Nestor tagging-in Cristina’s Folklore. But they came through well enough.

We arrived at 7:15 for an 8PM reservation. Usually we only do a half hour advance but since this evening we picked up an additional couple and did not change the reserved total we figured 45 minutes would be courtesy enough. It was. The host, upon being told of our party’s growth, did not whine, roll his eyes, or gesture as though we had stuck him with a used syringe. All reactions typical of “too-cool-for-thou” restaurants. Instead he pleasantly said that we shall be seated promptly.

So off to the bar we went and ordered a bottle of wine thinking we’d be there a while. We weren’t. 10 minutes before our 8PM reservation time, the host informed us that it was time to close out. Now getting the bartender’s attention became difficult. Then it became comedy. The manager (or someone acting like one) approached me twice suggesting I close out. Time 2nd I told him that I was trying my best after which he closed me out himself and probably kept the tip.

Folklore’s menu is fairly authentic. Surprisingly so. Dishes like tongue and brain were not expected this far west on Division Street and for this reason had to be tried. The sweetbreads were amazing. On par with any I’ve had at MK. The tongue however, although pretty good, fell victim to Bucca syndrome by having so much garlic that breathing on others that evening would have been cruel. It was also served cold. With every bite I could not help but wonder how it would have tasted warm. I even tried to warm it in my mouth but got creeped-out by thoughts of French-kissing.

Had the main courses held up as well this review would have been perfect. But they didn’t. Does Argentina really like their steaks burnt? A great shame indeed. The waiter told me honestly that the only thing they could do rare would be the lamb chops. When you hear advice like this, do yourself a favor: take it and don’t argue. Rare or even medium-rare requires a top-notch cut of meat. Perhaps Argentina orders such cuts but then defaults on the invoices. You want to avoid any question of quality that can be blamed on tradition so be nice to the waiters and they will usually spare you the trouble. All told, the lamb-chops were still overcooked (very slightly) but still good. However, the steak shared by the party-joining couple was unacceptably well-done. To me.

It’s hard to take seriously people who claim to like sushi and then order California Rolls. I’m not sure if I should blame Folklore or Argentina entirely for claiming to like steak – and then burning it to death.






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Pho Viet 2009-11-28

by foodbitch 1. December 2009 14:25

Our biggest problem with North Vietnam probably wasn’t communism as much as what we consider our best friends they consider lunch. So before you take my advice, know that if Pho Viet served Chihuahua noodle soup, I’d definitely have a bowl.

Luckily, Argyle Street doesn’t serve the “mutton of the earth” as the Mandarins have called it since 500BCE. At least to white people. This spares the beast-lovers from having to travel north of Lincoln Park to protest on broken sidewalks and me from boasting loudly and grossing people out more than I already do. The pho they do serve merely exploits America’s favorite ruminant. And exploit it they do.

If Le Colonial is your only point of reference, the contents of pho around Argyle Street may surprise and/or disgust you. Personally, I have enjoyed too many hot dogs over my lifetime to care much about what I’m eating so long as it tastes good. And the reticulum chamber of the stomach with some hot sauce bites back at me like the snappiest of sausage casings. Submucosa is predictable that way. The tendons are usually so tender from extended cooking that the only muscle fibers they can hold together are made of noodles. I will warn you that they still have enough resistance to stretch down your throat if you eat a gob of them so either practice your gag suppression or pull them apart with chopsticks first. The brisket, flank and “rare” steak (that is never anything but well-done) are all good enough for a soup dish but definitely better in the company of Hoisin and hot sauce. You’re not at Gibson’s. Garnish accordingly. My favorite way to eat pho is to take some broth, chopstick some noodles into it, then take some meat, dip it into a swirl of Hoisin and hot sauce and slurp it all down loudly enough to embarrass your date. If you spoon some mint leaf bonus! If, however, you spoon a raw pepper, good luck with that. But please, even if you like it hot, do not pour hot sauce into your broth before you try it. It’s too delicious on its own.

Pho Viet is well on par with Tank, Pho 777, Pho 888, Pho 666, Pho 911 and whatever else those people own pretending they’re different restaurants. In the back of Viet is a dance floor and karaoke machine begging the question: if sounds of slurping noodles add depth to sing-along incompetence. Yet no amount of noise could deafen me to the quality of the food. Maybe if they had a velvet rope…

 






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DMK Burger Bar 2009-11-27

by foodbitch 28. November 2009 13:19

DMK is a case of 3-star service helping out a 1-star kitchen. It takes a lot to make me drive north of North. And for DMK I floored it the whole way. The greater the excitement the louder the disappointment and DMK’s rang in with an air-horn.

Hoping to avoid the wait, we hit lunch at 2PM. Since I usually eat lunch at 11, such delays are a form of medieval torture which I inflict upon myself with the utmost infrequency. But when going to eat a burger by the man who gave us MK River North I would have waited until even 2:30. I am a simple diner and all I wanted for Christmas was the best burger in the whole universe but got instead 2 lumps of coal for that’s what my two thin, horrifically overcooked patties tasted like.

 Now there is a time and a place for thin, well-done burgers. Portillo’s is exhibit A. White Castle exhibit B and so on. And they do a good job. Indeed, if I ordered a Double Cheese at Portillo’s and had someone ask me how I wanted it I’d high-tail it right out the door. It’s just not what one expects. But that is precisely what I expected at DMK for I expected gourmet. What I got instead was a couple of thin, extremely well-done lumps of beef that may as well have been cat food since no flavor (to say nothing of juices) can survive such burning. Do they even bother with Grade-A beef? Why? Save some cash and use grade-C-edible instead. If they’re going to assume we all want our burgers cooked at white phosphorous temperatures who cares what's on the plate? It’ll all taste the same. When someone orders a double a huge improvement would be as simple as making it one patty and cooking it a little less.

The service was much better. The waiters were very nice. All 4 of them, one of whom was none other than Michael Kornick himself.  They all took turns asking us how things were 30 minutes after being seated but not yet having received our food. We would have loved to tell them had it not been premature to render opinion pre-first-bite. After it, everyone vanished as if we had requested more water which (BTW) took 20 minutes, 2 requests and 1 heartfelt plea to be delivered. When it was, it had no ice but was clearly unfiltered. However, I must say that the cheese fries were the most pleasurable things to pass my lips for several weeks. Real cheddar, seasoning and the best potatoes made it so. The Mac and Cheese, however, was OK at best. OK because it’s easy to hide behind bacon bits. Strike number last. I don’t know much about football but am pretty sure that strikes are a bad thing.

 






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Whiskey 2009-11-26

by foodbitch 27. November 2009 12:40

The restaurant at the Whiskey is like a beautiful woman who refuses to pluck her unibrow. One irritating little thing, not immediately apparent, is the missing link between the heavenly 70 restaurant virgins and purgatory. And Whiskey has been coping much like women do. She might dye her hair, don some fancy jewelry, even change her name et cetera, et cetera all of which completely miss the problem.

Dear Rande Gerber: your management (or lack thereof) is the only thing holding your restaurant down. You’ve changed everything else, why not change leadership? Change has become so endemic that one day I expect to walk into one type of restaurant at the Sutton Place Hotel and walk out of something completely different. You have great food, the best location and relatively competent and pleasant service. What you clearly lack is someone giving rules and direction to the bewildered herd that is your staff.

No matter how nice a waiter is, it takes a manager to push knowledge from the kitchen to the customer via the waiter. The communication channel should not break down and have to run back to the kitchen for answers. The reason your wait staff never knows what is the day’s soup is because no manager called a meeting where such things are discussed. Why not? We expect this kind of thing from family-run greasy spoons but not from Rush Street and certainly not from you.

This Thanksgiving day, we knew that Whiskey would be open for lunch along with Tavern and perhaps Subway. The choice was simple. Tavern’s food is an abomination. A spat in the face of Rush Street real estate. Subway is, well, Subway. So Whiskey it was and will likely continue to be despite never knowing if our meal will take an hour or a half. We’ve had both and it appears to have no pattern beyond the luck of a dice-roll. The only consistency is the inconsistency. I wish we could punish the Whiskey by not going. But no one would notice. Like Paris Hilton, there is enough money in the background that even if everybody stopped caring, she’d still wake up in 5 years and be rich. And Whiskey will still open for lunch on Thanksgiving Day and be a Gerber bar no matter how few tables are taken. A great shame indeed.







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Silver Palm 2009-11-25

by foodbitch 26. November 2009 15:41

In Atlas Shrugged, the men of the mind go on strike against the world, relinquishing their positions of power and taking up unassuming tasks like cooking. I am convinced that John Galt cooks for Silver Palm.

Considering the proximity, (well within stumbling distance) many an evening has ended at either Silver Palm or its famous sister: the Matchbox. Unfortunately, by these hours, food is no longer being served and no evening starting at these places ever ends well. But a great shame it is to have a meal at Silver Palm and not dedicate every sober neuron to its memory. So today, I put myself on a 5-martini limit and focused on the food.

The City of Chicago, like most metropolitan babysitters, dealt the Matchbox and the Silver Palm a blow by banning indoor smoking. Not being a ciggy-sucker, I do value coming home and not smelling like an ashtray. But there are some places where the thick cloud of airborne tar is an improvement upon decades of booze and smoke oozing from the crevices. So a newcomer might even be forgiven for inhaling the setting and not indulging his appetite. I hope to change that.

What sort of bar menu proudly boasts a duck club sandwich? Jumbo shrimp? A Triple-pig sandwich with pickled green tomatoes? Or even a deep-fried avocado salad? Most bars would never dream of such items simply because their customers would have nightmares about ordering them. But here, the doubters get a giant middle finger. Success is the best comeback and oh how delicious success is. In the 6 years of its existence, never once have I had anything but perfection grace my plate and never once has dinner for 2 cost more than the price of a Gibson’s entrée. The love of food and attention to detail shine through every meal as though I was sitting in Dagny Taggart’s private rail car with John Galt himself in the kitchen cooking in pots of Rearden metal. My only regret is not remembering every one of them.

 






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Havana 2009-11-19

by foodbitch 20. November 2009 14:38

There are two types of restaurant management philosophies: wanting to say yes and wanting to say no. Havana Grill wants to scream “yes” at the top of its spacious lungs.

The former Mambo Grill space has come along nicely. Much more muted and stylish, Havana was nearly empty on Thursday evening with 3 or 4 people at the bar and no more than 3 tables in the dining room. A poor turn-out even by recession standards. But the true measure of management is whether the restaurant treats the few patrons it has with the utmost attention rather than pretend its poor attendance is a mark of exclusivity.

Anyone who has tried to order egg whites at Twisted Spoke or make a substitution at Orange understands the “no” philosophy of management. This discipline teaches that we have more than enough business and if you don’t like our menu please make room for those who do. Spoke, Orange, the Soup Nazi and virtually every restaurant in the UK make for exhibits in the first camp. In the second is the Gibson’s family of restaurants, Red Light and now Havana.

The selected appetizer for the evening was chips and guac with the probability of ordering more since we were a party of 3. No more was needed. For $6.95, Havana gives a mountain of chips, 2 different salsas and a healthy heap of guacamole. Great start. Until we ran out of guac while still looking at a slightly smaller chip mountain. The server happily refilled it and didn’t charge us anything. THIS is what service is all about. Do wait staff not realize that nickel-and-diming customers will always reflect poorly on their tip? Whereas this kind of thing could easily double the jar. And this wasn’t all. My two companions, in no mood for giant entrees wished to order from the lunch menu where all the goodies like enchiladas and quesadillas hide. No problem. Happy to accommodate. And we were happy to be accommodated and tip accordingly.

The food itself was a winner for two out of three dishes and even the third was probably a winner save for my personal prejudice against sweet sauces with cheesy dishes. I had the Chiles en Nogadas which were – get this –really spicy! 9 out of 10 chilies will be so oven-neutered that virtually no hints of capsaicin could survive so this was a refreshing little nip. However, that sweet sauce bathing them – I just could not find the complement. But the other two diners loved them and accused me of not being open to variety. Perhaps but much better did I like the portabella quesadillas which were filled with thick, meaty chunks of the venerable fungus, not like most places where they presume that just because the mushroom will be covered in cheese, its own quality does not matter. And the best dish of the evening was the enchiladas. Perfectly seasoned and huge, their great taste made one want to ignore sharing-etiquette and grab larger portions before anyone saw.

Also worthy of praise is the peach daiquiri which was absolutely delicious. It could have been just a little stronger though but then it probably wouldn’t have tasted as good and I would not have had 5 of them. (Yes I would have.) The Mojito, however, was so sweet that drinking it quickly could very well have caused a sugar high which makes for a contradictory effect with booze. And the key lime pie – although not spectacular – was worth every penny of the $4.95 it cost. All told, Havana is a great deal with excellent service. We be come again soon.







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Xoco 2009-11-17

by Foodbitch 17. November 2009 00:54

Like with nightclubs, amusement parks and Pink’s Hot Dogs, I’m just too old and cranky to stand in line with fellow hungry humans. But after eating at Xoco, I would wait patiently behind the herd.

So badly did I want to rip Xoco apart. Seeing those lines out the door all but wrote the intro for me. IN ALL CAPS. Such a line is a non-starter. So I woke up at an ungodly 10:45 AM and hit lunch by 11:00. I ordered a Cubana sandwich (which I was hoping was the more digestively-affectionate version of a Cubano if you catch my drift) and my partner-in-dine ordered the Jamon but without the Prosciutto. Used to such bizarre order contradictions I said nothing when suddenly the server offered to put the Prosciutto on the side. “Not many Prosciuttos are made in America” she helpfully explained and since I was clearly into eating pig she would be remiss to let me pay for a Jamon and not get the key ingredient. I didn’t want to get into specifics of what was meant by “Made in America” since American Prosciutto is akin to American Champagne so we patiently took our seats and waited for our meals.

And waited. And waited. Could it be that this was the reason behind the line? Most likely. My companion, who was, by this time, a Xoco veteran insisted we order chips and salsa which we completely devoured by the time the sandwiches arrived. But arrive they did and splendid was their sight. And smell. And taste. Both sandwiches had a delicious coating of black bean paste, avocados and cheese. The Cubana had pork loin and bacon while the Jamon was supposed to have the venerable Prosciutto which came instead on a plate. A big plate. With a lot of cuts which made me wonder if the Jamon was typically 5 inches thick. No matter. It was absolutely divine. The payoff was worth the wait. And the $30 tab.

So as much as I regret not being able to shove Xoco down Balyess’ apron like I did with Trotter in his high of price and devoid of taste To Go venture, I stand convinced once more that when Bayless puts his name on something, right down to the mass-produced salsa at the grocery store, we should expect nothing short of excellence. Sir, if I had your autograph, I’d eat that too.







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Eivissa 2009-11-14

by foodbitch 15. November 2009 00:20

Well-priced, well-located and pretty, Eivissa could have been a contendah but then chemically castrated itself by serving up dish after dish of utter mediocrity. So with heavy hearts and in proper attire, we continue our search for a restaurant to plunge into the breach of upscale in Old Town’s rising sea of sports bars. Caring not how good the food, if we drive up and see a backward ball-cap we’re busting a U back downtown.

Per the usual discipline, we arrived at 8:15 for our 8:30 rezzie and were seated immediately. I know this was the luck of the entrance as the place was full but at Iberico, they would have made us wait 20 minutes even if a table were ready because they can.

Before the bad we must mention the good. Or the great. The Sangria Amnesia is perhaps the best Sangria ever to have passed the author’s unshaven lips and evaporated directly into his brainstem. When they say on the menu that it has a secret kick, they aren’t exaggerating. It’s pricier than the other pitchers but you aren’t going to be having more than one no matter how much you and your date drink or they’ll be putting up chairs around your drooling passed-out faces at closing time. The Amnesia may be fruity and murky and red but surely the “secret kick” is clear as day. Huh huh. Everclear.

Even though the Amnesia was the way to go, we started by ordering the Xampany with bubbliez. Except OOOps! It can’t be ordered in a pitcher. This makes logical sense as a pitcher of sparkle would quickly become dull but say so on the menu! We came here to use our digestive systems, not our cognitive centers and don’t appreciate being made to think logically about cocktail selection.

Had the food struck Tapa gold, (or even bronze) the author being the petty prickly piece of poopy that he is would have still complained about the pitcher but sadly, Eivissa set out to compete for a nugget of gold and came back with a beach full of quartz.  

The best tapa of the evening was Canelon Relleno, which, BTW, is misspelled on the menu! (There is no “ñ” in Relleno, just a regular-old “n” without the tilde.) And even this was just OK. It was strong, which we expect, but the salsa did not complement the seafood. Salsa rarely does. Indeed, it seemed to us that none of the sauces did much for their respective tapas. They even served some spicy mayonnaise with pork loin skewers (pincho moruno). This was such an odd combo that it almost took away from the flavor of the potatos which were the best part of the dish. Luckily you could just remove the mayo gob. The duck breast confit was actually a duck-leg confit despite the menu’s promise. This was supposed to be a substitute for the grilled pork loin (Secreto de Cerdo) which was apparently so secreto that it ran out and forgot to tell anyone to restock. Sorry wait staff, duck does not pig substitute make. The salmon wasn’t bad but overcooked and far too small even for a tapa. It’s meant to be shared so make it big enough to share without microscopic surgery. The asparagus was actually really good but given its salt content, it could have not been anything else. So salty, that I couldn’t even pee to see if it smelled. (Though, the Sangria may have played a dehydrating part.) We didn’t bother with desert but just kept drinking. We wanted out last memory of the place to be a good one.







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Hong Kong Delight 2009-11-13

by foodbitch 13. November 2009 22:45

As the world’s Chinese restaurants descend into health-consciousness, it is a rare treat indeed to be served up grease, salt and MSG by the handful at a lovely little place called Hong Kong Delight. If this place served salads, you’d sooner get dressing in your face than on the side.

Sure, you can ask to hold all the above-mentioned goodies like the downtown places already assume by default, but why in the world would you? The entire point of this place is to enjoy Chinese food the way they did in the 00s and you did in the 80s. Before you gave a flying rodent bottom about living a long time. Gallons of grease. Woks of cheap meat. Oceans of soy sauce. Yum Yum.

You know how you can you tell that a bag contains a real Philly Cheese Steak sandwich just by looking at the grease-ooze? Well, that’s how you tell a real egg roll as well. And these are huge. More burrito than roll, these deep-fried monsters arrive at your door hot enough to melt your cheap CB2 flatware so watch it. The curry-seasoned Singapore Noodles are briefly fried as well giving them a rare crunchy quality but only on the outside. This is how they’re supposed to be done but so few places bother with the last step probably because they don’t want to clean curry off of their frying pans. Hong Kong Delight doesn’t give a damn. Your meal contains remnants of the last 50 they prepared. I say bonus. The egg-drop soup seems to have more eggs dropped than MSG which is also a rare treat. The reason so few places offer egg-drop soup is because it tastes like absolute chicken-manure without a healthy (or not) handful of the additive but this one is perfect. The only complaint of the evening was the Mongolian Beef which had much more sauce than beef. And those it did were the size of bloated Cheerios. Genghis Kahn would not be pleased.

If you know what to expect, Hong Kong Delight will not disappoint. However, if you are one of these pretentious pee-bags who think themselves allergic to the feeling of Umami, gluten, salt, grease, air, etc., then by all means get your take-out somewhere else. Plenty of places that actually pretend to clean the pots between tofu and pork dishes will be happy to charge you more and give you less. Take that and snort it up both nostrils. Only – I wonder if then it would be Stereosodium Glutamate.

Love,

Mealschpeal







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Naniwa 2009-11-11

by foodbitch 12. November 2009 19:37

For the last 12 years, Naniwa in River North has had some of the city’s best sashimi and its worst rolls. We always thought this was Bobby-San’s punishment for stupid Americans who thought they liked sushi but were afraid to order it without mayo. Well sir, whatever changed your mind, after more than a decade, we appreciate it.

In their 12 years of existence, Naniwa has come a long way. It has always been common knowledge that a spicy tuna roll was the restaurant’s way of getting rid of fish that didn’t make the cut, so to speak, for an order of sashimi. Belly meat is easy to turn into a delightful order. Often it’s billed as toro and sold for multiples more than regular old maguro. It melts in your mouth and is mostly worth the price. But the closer one gets to the tail of the venerable fish, the more ugly white tendons and sinews one has to cut around to keep the customer from chewing gristle. These precise navigations around unappetizing connective tissue usually makes for pieces far too small to present as stand-alone. So what to do? Being the shrewd economists that the Japanese have always been, they rolled these scraps into the now-famous tuna maki. I have no idea who was the genius that also made it spicy but I tip my hat to him.

In any case, Naniwa used to present spicy tuna rolls with not only the scraps but also, the tendons themselves. They filled it with gobs of spicy mayonnaise hoping we wouldn’t notice. We always did. Nearly all of their rolls used to follow the same discipline. Or lack thereof. It was the greatest disparity in Chicago sushi. How could a restaurant serve A+ sashimi and complement it with rolls that would make for better pet food? Thus, not wishing to be gagged by long fibers of sinew stretching down our throats but unwilling to give up the sashimi, we would routinely order sashimi delivered from Naniwa and rolls from somewhere else. Naturally, this became tedious as it involved 2 disparate arrival times, 2 delivery fees, 2 tips, etc., but the sashimi was worth it. However, in 2009, things began to change.

We first noticed the new spicy tuna roll at a table next to us when we were doing a rare eat-in at Naniwa. It looked great. Unlike the thick orange paste that looked like tuna sausage without casing and was the roll’s typical texture, this one had thick chunks of real tuna with thin layers of spicy mayo between them. Could this be true we wondered? We had to see for ourselves. You can imagine our surprise when that first morsel slid past our tongues and did not bleed out on contact. The pieces we big, fresh and gristle-free. Could it be that, after 12 years of having the city’s worst tuna rolls, the head chef actually noticed? A sushi restaurant that gives the take-home crowd sashimi just as good as that served in the dining room is a rare find. And once found, seldom abandoned. For this reason, 63.98% of my 2009 sushi budget has gone to Naniwa. I only wish it could have happened sooner.







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Chicago Curry House 2009-11-09

by foodbitch 10. November 2009 11:00

One may image that we felt pangs of guilt eating more food at dinner than some Indian villages do in a week but the only pangs felt this evening were those of some seriously spicy samosas rioting in our mouths.

For less than the price of a single Gibson’s cow slice, 2 people can eat their absolute fill at Chicago Curry House. It is remarkably reasonable and absolutely delicious.

The age-old formula for most Americanized Indian restaurants (read: not on Devon Street) is to bring out the lukewarm and mediocre buffets for lunch and then slightly turn up the quality at dinner while WAY turning up the price. Said formula all but assured the restaurant a healthy lunch crowd and a dinner wasteland. So imagine the refreshment of walking in for dinner and being able to order a large 3-meat combination platter, nan bread, rice and 2 sauce dishes for $18.95, a tandoori platter with chicken and lamb prepared 2 different ways each for $14.95, or a plate of around 8 vegetable dumplings for $7.95.

A big win for Chicago Curry House and an even bigger one for those of us who don’t want to drive 10 miles north for some reasonably-priced Indian.

 






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Maxwells At the Club 2009-11-05

by foodbitch 6. November 2009 20:58

East Bank Club has had a restaurant for 30 years. But only for the last 2 have they given a gosh-darn. They have a web site, they buy advertising, they hire professional wait staff. They actually seem like they care which is strange for a group that banks 70M/yr no matter how bad they are.

When one is as old and rich as Dan Levin and partners, one cares very little indeed about petty things like incline benches or food-service. Why should they when they have morons like the author paying them 2Gs/yr for no reason other than the 5 or 6 days/yr he can use the sun-deck? That’s roughly $400/visit. And with drinks, it’s more like $1000. Not a bad price tag. Hell, if I charged idiots those sums, I wouldn’t give a flying rodent bottom about sillines like exercise equipment or friendly service. I wouldn’t fear the XSport Fitness clubs that manage, for $40/mo to have the best equipment, the largest spaces, the hugest dudes, the best smoothies and free parking. Nah – I’d be old and rich and white and would tell all the haters like me to go elsewhere. And get bent. So one can imagine my surprise when, after a 4 year hiatus, I went to the re-designed restaurant on prime-rib night, ordered one rare, and actually got it that way.

In ages and ages past, the restaurant (which never had a proper name) would routinely run out of its special dinner entrée around 7 PM. This must have been economical because dinner started at 5:30 PM, the geriatric crowd was fed by 6, changing into their yellow pants to go cruising for Russian hookers at Tavern or Jilly’s. The only problem was, for those of us that actually work out, the fact that we’d be roped in for a special and be obligated to swill the regular. This was unacceptable. But with the passing of Hubbard Street Grill there were few options.

As any diner worth his/her sea salt knows: the difference between a 2-star meal and 4 is service. Everyone in Chicago gets their meat from Randolph Street and everything else from Sysco. The difference is made by what is thrown away before being put in front of the hungry, by how a plate is presented, and by how friendly and attentive is the person presenting it. Thus, last night was a home run. Or, by the aforementioned count a triple. But that doesn’t sound as good. Which is why it helps the author of sport metaphor to know what the sam-hill he/she is talking about.

Anyway, we came for prime-rib special and prime-rib special we got. Rare. Like our pre-fire ancestors used to eat. That’s more nostalgic than accurate since fire came before the cow but you get my drift. It was excellent! It was as good as I remember the few times I actually managed to score some before the male-enhancement crowd. It was so good that I didn’t actually have room for desert. For me, this is remarkable.

So – East Bank Club – congratulations. You can add my $120/month to your 70M annual profit margin. Now all you need is a leg sled and we’ll be friends again.

 






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Mercadito 2009-11-04

by foodbitch 5. November 2009 13:46

Many things have delusions of grandeur. People may develop a fake accent like Madonna. Swim towels become Sham-wows, computers become Macs, backwards bathrobes become snuggies, and Mexican restaurants become Mercadito.

For who else but the delusionally-grand would charge 2.50 for a table spoon of salsa? $10.50 for a “tasting” of guacamole? Or $19.50 for a chile relleno? Not even Topolobampo. But before the ridicule, let us cover the compliments of which there are several.

The Chile Relleno was less chile and more tortilla attempting with all its might to hold back a torrent of shrimp, scallops, octopus and other swimming delicacies impatiently bursting from under a layer of melted cheese. I was amazed that $19.50 was all it cost. And the green rice casserole, (¡Dios Mio!) redefined comfort food. (Consider the value of such a statement when uttered by someone for whom all Mexican is comfortable.) But it seems that recently, all good meals have an ugly underbelly. And not necessarily the one that comes printed on the bill. We sneaked a peek at ours with drinks.

My Margarita Tradicional was excellent. Absolutely delicious. Why? Beacuse instead of using 2 parts tequila per 1 part Cointreau, they reversed the formula. Sweeeeeet. But not traditional. And not enough. If you’re going to make weak-tasting drinks, the least you can do is over-serve them. My margarita had enough for 3 sips. No joke. How they got non-crushed ice to look so filling I have no idea. Same problem with the wine. The glass could not have had more than 3  ounces worth. For $10 that’s abusive. The one thing I absolutely loved (enough to plagiarize the idea) is the manner of salting the glass. They dip one side of it low into the salt so that if you want some, you have plenty. If not, drink from the other side. I’m amazed I have not seen this done more often.

The guacamole “tasting” consisted of a traditional and a mole covered. For the latter, someone took a traditional and poured some very average sweet, brown liquid over it that had the remarkable consistency of canned black bean emulsion. However, the habenero salsa (which costs $2.50 per tablespoon) was the highlight of the appetizers. Beware. It’ll make even the grossest entrée swim eagerly down your gullet just to put the flames out.

Finally, even though the restaurant stresses that it is a tapas-style menu, they do indeed have entrées. Thus, when a member of a party orders one, bring it WITH the tapa that’s serving as the other entrée and not 10 minutes later. Overall, the meal was a disappointment not in taste but in value. With places like Province and Tocco recently opened, spending over $100 for some good but mostly overpriced Mexican food is not competitive. There was no part of the meal that should not have cost less.






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E Leaven Food Company 2009-11-03

by foodbitch 3. November 2009 20:28

Want to be treated like scat while your mouth is stuffed with rubber cuts of lukewarm meat? Go to Katz’s Deli, NY. Want mounds beef to chew on while your wallet is purged of hard-earned monies? Manny’s, Chicago. But if delicious, cheap and fast is more your speed, head straight for E. Leaven Food Company, 54 E. Ontario St., Chicago.

For the price of a single Manny’s Monster, you can get a delicious sandwich or burger, side of chips, bowl of soup and pastry and not risk a coma on your return to work.

Now there will be those who think the comparison unfair and the term “deli” too broad to distinguish both styles of dining. To them I say it’s true. One should not use the umbrella of “burgers and fries” to compare McDonald’s to any such thing they get at Gibson’s. But what if the Gibson’s burger cost LESS than a Big Mac? Would there ever be a reason to drive-through again? Because E. Leaven is gourmet delicious for LESS!

There is nothing on the lunch menu costing more than $10 and only the Nova Lox Platter (breakfast) rang in at a whopping $10.95. So what possible reason would justify paying $16 for a sandwich and another 5 for a grotesque matza-ball bathed in a broth of liquid-sodium? Hangover? $/lb.? Cafeteria-style dining?

For $13 I enjoyed a delicious, gourmet matza-ball soup made of soft, chewy dough that didn’t fall apart when the spoon tapped it AND a baked ham and brie sandwich that had the perfect ratio of both. The breads were freshly-baked, not perpetually stale and the dining room clean and well appointed with a squeeze-bottle of Gulden’s spicy mustard on each table. All that’s missing is folded linen napkins but if the laundry bill pushes the entrée cost another 50c, forget it. Who needs napkins anyway when things taste this good?

It seems that all these years, the world of delis had things wrong. Quantity (rather overdoses) of can-tasting meat were mistaken for quality. Can E. Leaven do for it what Topolobampo did for Mexican? I certainly hope so. It is, by far, the best value of any restaurant so close to Michigan Avenue. I’m loading up before they get lines out the door.







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Petterinos 2009-10-30

by foodbitch 2. November 2009 19:16

A place that bills itself as THE place to eat before the theater and does not provide parking is committing a gross misrepresentation. Had the meal not otherwise been splendid, this would have been a complaint letter.

So perhaps our 4PM dinner time was a little early. But we were a party of 6 and our show started at 7 so we believe it common courtesey to plan ahead and not rush the staff at every turn. Imagine our surprise when we pulled up and – nothing. No valet eager to drive away our vehicle. Judging by the number of people queued up for the same I don’t think we were alone in our expectations or incredulity. When taking a dinner reservation for 4PM the staff ought to let the party know that there would not be a valet and to make alternate plans. Normally driving is cheaper than round-trip cab fare but not in the theater district. Thanks for wasting $30.

But on to the meal itself.

How many ways are there to ruin Calamari? Pretty much none. Like sex and pizza, even when calamari is bad it’s still pretty good. So how did it come to pass that Petterino’s made their calamari appetizer so good that all others tasted ruined in comparison? Also good was the fried asparagus, the garlic potatoes, soups and of course, the entrées of salmon and steak. Indeed, it has been a long while since I ordered a steak rare and actually got it that way. Yes, I know the risks, no I don’t care. Not to mention, most meat is irradiated anyway so all the stuff your parents taught you is more nostalgia than reality. When I order rare, I mean it. And here, rare was delivered. It was excellent.

It’s a shame that the most memorable part of the meal has to compete with the most memorable irritation of the evening. They really should get a valet.







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Tocco 2009-10-24

by foodbitch 25. October 2009 19:45

As we arrived at Tocco at 8:28 PM for our 8:30 reservation, we were told that things would take 20 minutes since they were “waiting” for a few tables. Not a good start. But before we could even take a sip of our first round, we were seated and on our way to the tastiest Italian dinner we’ve had in a while.

 The chef/owner of Tocco is not new on the scene. His Folia restaurant in the market district was one of the most affordable and tasty Italian meals in the city, occupying that rare nook of the Italian spectrum between La Scarola and Spiaggia. And with Tocco, he does it again.

For some reason, Italian restaurants have, over the years, become caricatures of themselves. Giant portions, overdoses of garlic, oceans of tomato sauce, and pasta pasta pasta. Fine-dining Italian was a contradiction in terms for those unfamiliar with the potential of a Spiaggia but even mid-priced restaurants like Topo Gigio kept the caricature alive and pretended to be fancy just by increasing prices. Sorry, it doesn’t work that way.

How refreshing it then is to taste some very mainstream Italian dishes and be overwhelmed by their uniqueness. Pizza, ravioli and pasta may not sound like the makings of a memorable meal but Tocco did a truly amazing job with them. The Pomodorini pizza was as good as any Folia did and at budget-busting $16, the most expensive item of the night. It was pretty big though. Enough to stuff 2 normal people, just not us. And speaking of stuffed, the ravioli had a mix of ground seafood including crab, shrimp and probably whatever else was past its prime on refrigerator shelves. But you know what? It was great. When you order a seafood ravioli, you had better expect it to taste mildly fishy and here it only added to the flavor. Despite all this delicacy, the loudest applause must be bestowed upon the Pappard Bisamzio pasta. Steaming hot, it was prepared in a tomato/cream sauce that must have been the best ratio of tomato to cream I’ve ever tasted. Here was one dish that we could have eaten 5 times over but as before mentioned, Maggiano’s was never in the building.

In closing I would like to thank the Tocco management for not gouging their customers on drinks. A Martini these days can cost anywhere from 12 which is somewhat inappropriate, to 18 dollars which is the pinnacle of greed. Points then to a restaurant that still charges $10. It will not be forgotten. Unless, of course, I have a dozen of them.







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Bull and Bear 2009-10-24

by foodbitch 23. October 2009 23:11

The best thing about the Bull and Bear is not the creative bull-horn and bear-print logo, nor the under-dressed, over-fed waitresses nor even the beer-tap at the table. It is the consistency and value of its food. Although the table-tap is pretty ingenious and whoever takes the next step by offering table-side catheterization should win a Nobel Prize.

This afternoon, we were treated to an onion soup (the French kind, as the menu helpfully clarifies), a market salad, and the trio of Philly mini-sandwiches (not that mini) for less than the cost of a Gibson’s entrée. And the best part? The soup actually came before the entrees! This is not nit-picky. There have been an uncanny number of meals where the hot-liquid course has either come simultaneously with the main, after it, or not at all. We always say: “we’re going to start with …” to make it as unambiguous as possible without being rude. No matter. Over 50% of meals find the soup timed incorrectly. So points to the big mammal bar for getting it right.

Now, all that remains it to get it great.

Onions should be caramelized before being thrown into the soup and if the croc is not put into a hot oven before coming to the table, the cheese just ends up gooey instead of deliciously burnt. When the soup costs $9 (same as Bistro Zinc) these steps had better be taken.

More than balancing out the soup is the 12oz. bloody mary for $5. Perfectly spicy and with that seasoned salt on the rim that I love to watch people lick at while trying to look sexy. The mini-Phillies were great too and so was the market salad. Only, what the sam-hill is a “market” salad? There’s no market anywhere around here and if there were, I’m not sure its produce would be thawed in time to still be fresh. But overall, the terrific lunch was so filling that I didn’t even need my little tiny 4PM snack of Portillo’s hot dog, beef and fries. A rare bonus.

 






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Kamehachi 2009-10-21

by foodbitch 21. October 2009 19:38

How does a place remain open for years and years when fewer than 10% of its tables are ever filled and dining room ineptitude can hold its own with LA’s laziest? Several ways:

1.) Brand-showroom – OK with losing money

2.) Money-laundering front

3.) Successful daddy schooling loser sonny

1: brand-showroom works well for Nokia and Levi’s but not too many people go to a restaurant to browse. 2 and 3: it’s kinda hard to launder in the days of credit cards and given how long Kamehachi Old Town has been around, I’d say the offspring are either entrenched or homeless. Whatever. Kamehachi Streeterville is here to stay.

Upon entering the restaurant, one detects a faint trace of a disagreeable odor that seems like a mixture of spoiled fish and industrial cleaning solvent. Not good for a sushi restaurant. Getting seated can take several minutes and having a waiter notice can take multiples more. In all fairness, today, the waiter was prompt, polite and attentive and did an overall excellent job. However, considering that I used to work a block away and spent a fair number of lunches waiting on the waiter I can safely tell you that this experience is atypical.

When Kamehachi Streeterville first opened, getting a sashimi plate could (and did) take 45 minutes+. My party walked out before. Now, getting sashimi, 6 pieces of nigiri and 4 rolls took less than 15. Yes, nothing says PIG like when they slide over the table next to you so everything can fit. For two people. Shut up. The point is that it came, was timely and above all, GOOD! With a major exception. The tuna sashimi sucked great pacific garbage patch.

Dear Kamehachi, when one orders a sashimi plate, please do not think that you will make up in quantity what you lack in quality. Mind you that all I know about this I read in Sushi Economy but the closer a cut gets to the tail, the more of those icky white sinews and tendons one has to chew. Fish gristle is not a good thing. Tuna should melt in your mouth. I looked at the beautiful, deep red cuts of tuna nigiri at the table next to us and drooled. Why not use such cuts with ours? Would this refuse not be better camouflaged in a spicy mayo roll than a sashimi platter? You bring great shame to your family Streeterville-san.

So as not to end on a bad note, the summer rolls with spicy chili oil are the best rolls on the menu (the best of many menus) and shrimp tempura is battered and fried all over not leaving you with a raw tail to swallow like at some places. (Yes, of course I eat the tails and so should you.) And the rest of the sashimi was good too. If this experience is now the norm at Kamehachi Streeterville then I guess I can start coming again. Just get rid of that strange smell.






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Fulton Lounge 2009-10-17

by foodbitch 19. October 2009 16:26

Q: Who adds $13.61 to $121.00 and gets $134.65? A: Idiots and Fulton Lounge. I’m never surprised at human error given how our classrooms have been hemorrhaging arithmetic for decades but this is a mainstream restaurant-management software program. A glorified calculator designed to remove the necessity of thought from those who spend more time memorizing their lines than helping their customers. How many times have you seen a calculator make a mistake unless you fat-fingered something during data-entry? So what explains this? An error of .04 is far too large to be explained by rounding error no matter how much precision is used to store floating-point decimals. I don’t get it and don’t like it at all.

All the more reason to step up the fight against the practice of bringing a single-line charge slip in lieu of an itemized receipt. No I don’t trust your math. See exhibit A.

2009-10-18-Fulton

 






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Captain Nemos 2009-10-18

by foodbitch 18. October 2009 19:53

I figure that since I have been old enough to make my own lunch decisions, I have had lunch around 6,500 times. I would not be surprised if 5000 of those lunches would have included one species of sandwich or another. Why then would yet another sandwich move me? Why drive 5 miles for a taste when there’s a Subway on every corner? Well, quite simply, because Mrs. Nemo’s split pea soup and the Captain’s Northern Italian sub is probably the most memorable lunch combination ever. The best cuts of meat, so thin you can see through them, the best bread and the freshest ingredients. There’s never anyone in the place and I honestly do not know how they stay open. So go help out. Just don’t get in line in front of me.  

 






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Province 2009-10-17

by foodbitch 18. October 2009 18:30

If love is stronger in times of cholera then no doubt dinner is tastier in times of swine flu. And recession. Fewer people means fewer hassles. However, someone forgot to scare away Province’s remarkably attractive heap of customers on this fine Saturday evening. The bar hadn’t room to walk and the restaurant was as packed as a Russian moonshine tasting. We arrived 15 minutes before reservation time to grab a few drinks at the bar. Or so we thought. Despite there being 3 bartenders, and not a single un-served soul before us, it still took 8 minutes to place the order and another 4 to get it. I guess 2 glasses of house red is complicated. This worked out well because we were a mere sip or two into the first round when our table beckoned. In the world of reservations, timeliness is godliness.

As I walked across the harvested cork [Is there any other kind?] floor and settled into my recycled leather chair surrounded by LEED certification here and GREEN certification there I was secretly delighting in the fact that all this environmental gobbledygook was balanced by my having driven the 7 blocks to dinner in an 8 mile-per-gallon chariot. Hahahahahaha! Take your GREEN and stick it right up your BROWN.

Anyway, on to the gluttony.

Perhaps Province’s most delightful aspect is its breakdown of portion size. Small, Big and Bigger works for those unable or unwilling to drop 30 bucks on a cut of fish by enabling the order of a halfsie for $12. For caloric potentates like the author, such rationing is divine because now, instead of ordering 2 entrées and splitting a third, he and his date could (and did) order 8 entrées without being overly embarrassed. Nearly all were winners.

The best dish of the evening was the salmon. Burnt on the outside while nearly raw on the inside each bite made me regret not getting the bigger portion. Other winners were in descending order: Shrimp and grits, veggie rice, pork bocadillo, baby octopus, Hamachi sashimi and tortilla soup. The only loser was the oxtail stew of which there was little ox, less tail and a runny liquid that was closer to the stuff in a can of black beans than stew. I did find what I thought to be a microscopic cube of the promised pork belly but it turned out to be gristle. But don’t let me fool you. I still devoured every last drop of the stuff. When 7/8 dishes are perfect, it is unfair to proclaim dinner anything other than success. Table service was excellent too despite the fact that things took their sweet time leaving the kitchen. Though when one orders a cartload of half-portions some delays should be expected.

And the best part? 2 people eating to the point of immobility with 2 glasses of wine each for 100 bucks. In Chicago. In 2009. Believe it. Then go do it. Or I’m going to print out this review 50 times and not recycle it.






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Irazu 2009-10-17

by foodbitch 16. October 2009 21:09

This afternoon, a wormhole opened up at Irazu Restaurant and delivered this unsuspecting diner straight to Buca Di Beppo. Now it is unusual indeed for a wormhole to masquerade as a bowl of chicken soup but evidently, adding enough garlic to a bowl of liquid can create strange phenomena. And this wasn’t all. It would appear that the soup pot doubles as the restaurant’s grease trap since there was more of it floating on top than actual ingredients. I guess during these economic times, anything to save a penny is worthwhile.

However, it would be unfair to withhold the positives of which there are many. Not even at Subway can one still get a giant sandwich for $4.95, on great bread and bursting with beef. The burritos are bizarrely good and the empanadas the greatest deal on the menu.

This place has been around for years and you owe it yourself to go the next time a burrito craving strikes you. Just hold the soup and save everyone around you from holding their noses.

 






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Stanton Social 2009-10-04

by foodbitch 5. October 2009 13:34

Nearly a decade slithered by since Dinner Bitch last complained about New York. It was the best of times and it was the worst of times. But now the time comes not to complain but compliment.

Before packing up for the jaunt home, we went to this little place in SoHo for a parting bite. The drinks were strong and the meal tasty which was pretty much what we expected since the bartender was an old friend from Japonais Chicago and the food was well-reviewed by others. The prices were right too. Ordinarily, this level of accomplishment is insufficient to provoke a strong opinion from anyone but the most devoted zealot. Save one item.

That first French Onion Soup Dumpling was the best thing to have ever oozed into my mouth. There, it exploded with a broth so flavorful my eyes rolled back into my pleasured skull and my nose lifted toward the ceiling in search of warmer air to suck over short-circuited taste-buds. It was amazing; as was the rest of it. But just like the second third and fourth orgasm of the evening, the later bites were mere refinements of the first.

If you inexplicably find yourself at 99 Stanton Street NY NY you should probably stop drinking so much but not before you order those French Onion Soup Dumplings and have a loud obnoxious tongue orgasm at the table.

 






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Tequila Chicas 2009-09-07

by foodbitch 8. September 2009 17:21

Going out to eat in South Beach for less than the price of a used car is a privilege seldom afforded to those lodging around Collins and Ocean. This is why going to Tequila Chica’s for the farewell lunch was a welcome reprieve. Guacamole for $3 dollars, nachos with the fake movie cheese that we all say we hate but actually crave for $8 and a wonderful beef fajita wrap for $10. One can hardly eat cheaper at Mexican McDonald’s, I mean Chipotle. The only question I have is what do you use to heat your wraps? White Phosphorus? It was so hot that even after a few minutes of waiting, touching it would burn right through your nerve endings and you wouldn’t know what happened until you smelled your burning skin.

With such an intro, one may mistake this for a tale of compliment. Riiight. One of the newest tricks in SoBe is to charge customers for refills of soda, iced tea, coffee, lemonade and other beverages that have traditionally been bottomless. Having fallen victim to this on at least 3 occasions this weekend I began to notice the behavioral pattern that will predict the charge. The glass of soda, tea, etc., will hit bottom and stay there. In the quest of conflict avoidance, the servers will not refill the drink unless nagged. At no time is the extra charge mentioned. At Tequila Chica’s I enjoyed 12 ounces of Coke for 6 dollars. Making the same mistake at the Delano got me 18 ounces of tea for 18 dollars.

I love South Beach.

 






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Hakkasan 2009-09-04

by foodbitch 4. September 2009 19:12

In years past, never would we have trekked 2 whole miles north of the Delano to some gigantic resort for Chinese food but into the breach of fine-dining Chinese restaurants comes Hakkasan at the Fontainebleau resort, South Beach. If fine-dining Chinese confuses you into contradiction, think more Shanghai Terrace at the Peninsula than the de-ree-verry place with extra MSG.

As we de-cabbed at one of The Fontainebleau’s 4 entrances, we began a lengthy and winding walk to the restaurant that appeared to be so lengthy and winding for no purpose other than to take diners on a tour of the resort. Neat trick. The first time. Next time I’m demanding a golf cart.

The menu was very pretty but vast and confusing. Luckily, Hakkasan, like many other restaurants in Miami, were part of the Miami Spice network thus making selections very easy. And cheap. Relatively. At a place where a noodle dish can cost $40 dollars, 4 healthy appetizer portions of popular items for $35 is a treat. Unluckily for us and luckily for the restaurant, it was a Friday and Fridays mean drinking time. So although our food tab (for 3 people) was around $90, 11 drinks @ $14/drink made all the difference.

I don’t know what to tell you about fine-dining Chinese. I wasn’t convinced at Shanghai Terrace and I’m not convinced here. The only place that exceeded my expectations was Mr. Chow in Beverly Hills but that was not an experience for the squeamish. Does anything justify a $40 plate of noodles? I’m not sure. I bet people asked if anything justified a $50 steak some years back. Clearly the answer was yes. But for now, all hail the Miami Spice tasting concept and may every other city start its own.

 






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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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