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Lawrys 2012-12-17

by Foodbitch 17. December 2012 00:25

Richard N. Frank

234 E Colorado Boulevard # 500

Pasadena, CA  91101-2211


Dear Mr. Frank,

On December 17th, I dined at Lawry’s Chicago. Although my Prime Rib sandwich was, as it always is, excellent, I cannot say the same for the salad of my date. Indeed, I even feel discomfort using the term “salad” to describe the horror that was served. It seemed as though what passed for lettuce in Lawry’s Chicago sphere of gravity was a wilted and aged relic with a frozen past. The promised egg was missing and someone thought it wise to make up in seasoning what the entrée lacked in freshness. Much like my own wilting glow and souring scent of youth has forced me to resort to brightly colored outfits, jewelry and oceans of cologne. Yet I have seen McDonald’s hide their disdain for freshness better that Lawry’s did today and at least they don’t charge $10 for their assaults on salad-eating palates.

My complaint is, sadly, twofold. It is exceedingly rare to be served such inedibility anywhere in Chicago. When it happens, I like to monitor the server’s reaction to clearing a full plate. Today, the bus staff cleared the table and took no notice whatsoever. This is bad training. As is the fact that wilted, browning lettuce can make it past a single pair of kitchen eyeballs and down on a paying person’s plate. This kind of carelessness trickles from the top. So, after paying for our luncheon, I asked the hostess for the manager. “Is it important?” I was asked. I would like to think that if I’m asking, clearly I consider it important but alas, there was no manager around. At all. It startled me that a chain as successful as Lawry’s could fail to impress upon a general manager the importance of having supervisors available to customers at all hours they are served. Especially during lunchtime rush on Michigan Avenue. Had I been able to speak about the matter in real-time, this would have gone no further. But since the GM obviously cares so little for his operations I feel this escalation is a favor to a restaurant where I had enjoyed so many prior meals. And hope to in the future.

You see Mr. Frank, Lawry’s, unlike most of Chicago’s temples to carnivorousness, has never cared for their vegetarian clientele quite as much as I believed was business savvy. Go to Gibson’s or Joe’s and order a salad and what comes back is a caricature on a serving platter. For a comparable pittance. They have, unlike Lawry’s, figured out that the flesh-eaters must often dine with those who are still stuck in moral purgatory eating the plant diets of great apes. They don’t understand that all domestic animals are alive for our entertainment or consumption but instead of shunning these poor souls, feed them! And you’ll see more of their dinner partners too! The marginal increase in cost for a head of lettuce is trivial after the supply chain absorbs the cost of the first 100 units. If you promise egg, deliver it! And a few more than 5 tiny croutons (we counted). And…who thought that freezing lettuce was a good idea? Unlike animal protein, water-rich plant membranes do not maintain cellular integrity (or taste) after being pierced with ice crystals. This is why JR Simplot’s process of flash-freezing his potatoes enabled us to become a country of freeze-dried, French-fried tastelessness. Let them be thankful for International Flavors and Fragrances for creating the chemical mirage of flavor. Lawry’s – I held to higher standards.

Mr. Frank, I love your company’s accomplishments almost as much as I loved the food. But the decline in “caring” continues unabated. Please sir, sneak in one day and eat at Lawry’s Chicago’s lunchtime counter. If you proclaim it even passable (C-) I will eat this letter right in front of you. It’s printed on 32 lb. paper so this is not a run-of-the-mill boast. Although it may not be the worst thing for me. They keep telling me I need more fiber in my diet.


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Chicago Cut 2011-09-06

by Foodbitch 5. September 2011 22:45

Chicago continues to have as big an appetite for steakhouses as it does for steak itself. Will Chicago Cut make it to the repeat list? Maybe. But not likely. As we’ve covered in the past, the restaurant industry is in the business of food service. Even greasy spoons get the former. It’s the latter that gives everyone more grief. And in most cases, service issues are the direct result of unprofessional management.

Management is a skill. It’s not acquired by being a great server. Or a short-skirt hottie. Or even a great outside salesperson. It is acquired by recognizing, learning from and trying to emulate excellence. And restaurant management has professionals just like any other field. It requires learning and adapting to one’s bosses AND learning and adapting to one’s staff. How many cube dwellers do you know who have been promoted well beyond their competence? Quite a few I imagine. They are the ones who mistake fear for respect and manage through aggression rather than diplomacy. And why should restaurant America be any different from the corporate? Management is recruited from the ranks of server to show that promotion happens from within. To preserve the “bond” between the staffers as if the promotion itself didn’t already sever any ties that may have formed. Unfortunately, it was all too obvious this evening that the management of Chicago Cut was recently promoted into a role for which it was grossly unprepared. But before the bad, the good.

The food, as expected, was terrific. The drinks were healthy but just a bit too pricy and the steaks were just the way we like them. Translation: the way we order them the FIRST time out of the kitchen. I’ve been surprised with how many steakhouses really don’t believe you when you order a steak rare.  Anyway, French Onion soup was, at $8, the evening’s greatest value and within a standard deviation of Capital Grille’s. The bone-in filet (cooked rare) did have a fair amount of gristle but enough marbling to balance out the tough parts. And given that the gristle was mostly at the bone, I mostly forgave them. At that price (US$55), mostly.

The prime rib, although cooked to my friend’s desired temperature of medium, looked and smelled delicious. I did not try his steak nor did he try mine because we both consider our respective temperatures misguided. I believe medium to be grossly overcooked and he believes that humans discovered fire for a reason and can barely stand the sight of the bloodbath sloshing on my plate. Anyway, we agree to disagree and keep our mutual mockery at friendly levels but I do try to slurp loudly every dozen bites or so just to remind him of the bloody past from which humanity evolved. Or at least that’s what I gather after watching Quest for Fire. Those guys had it good! They could have used a shower and perhaps a forehead but oh the raw meat that they’d devour! How I wished this evening for prime rib! So much so that I ordered one. My order was not to be.

Prime rib is my favorite cut of meat. I can’t describe the feeling. Maybe if I did better on my SATs I’d have the vocabulary. Especially when rare and dripping in congealing, living juices it is one of humanity’s greatest gifts to itself. When I think of Intelligent Design, I don’t think of ghosts in heaven or planets or galactica like Michael Behe. I think of the domesticated cow. How about that for intelligent? We took a fierce, muscular killing beast and converted it into prime rib, filet mignon, rib eye and hot dogs. What was once 3 tons of murder with 4 legs and 2 horns became bovine passivity. The last auroch to walk the earth circa 1627 would have killed all of Naperville before it would have allowed itself to be milked to say nothing of slaughtered in a cubicle. Humans didn’t beat the fight out of it. They bred it out. Of course, they didn’t know what the devil they were doing when they started inadvertently sexually selecting for passivity around 8000 years ago but hey, we had trial and error on our side. That pretty much sums up most of human endeavor: throw up enough ideas and hope a few stick.  Works pretty well when the species’ lifespan is relatively short and they don’t mind copulating on a schedule or with an audience.

As for the problem: there was but one. In a professionally managed restaurant, the staff advises you pre-facto of shortages or outages. BEFORE the decision is made. This requires frequent data interchange and is the foremost task of management. At restaurants managed by inexperience, they don’t seem to catch this point or think it too important. It is. And so, the minutes turned to tens as we waited for our delectable prime rib. Only the rib never came. Instead, the manager arrived to tell me that they had no more rare prime rib. A crime unto itself, and all they had was medium. My misguided friend likes his steak that way so the choice of which of us was having it was clear. The price of the rib: $44. The price of my steak: $55. Guess which price I was charged? This is terrible. When the kitchen runs out of anything – mid-shelf vodka, a desired cut of beef, etc., and the patron must make another selection, the proper charge is the smaller amount of the two. I’m not talking about being out of Veuve and letting someone order Cristal for the lesser price. I mean $11 after making me wait, serving me rejection and then spanking me for the larger sum is just unacceptable. And it’s not like they wouldn’t do it. It just never crossed anyone’s mind. Inexperience is a terrible prison. I hope they soon break out. But for now, I am telling this with a sigh, a month ages and ages hence, that two steaks diverged on a grill and I, ate the one less cook-ed by and that made all the diff-e-rence.

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Urban Farmer 2009-12-22

by foodbitch 22. December 2009 17:13

The only way to improve on perfectly-cooked steak is more perfectly-cooked steak. Thus, the steak-tasting at Urban Farmer of Portland was an improvement on excellent.  

Never before did oyster appetizers present me with problems. Until now. In retrospect, I felt that every oyster to have slimed down my throat took away room from a precious bite of steak. Twas sinful leaving behind as much steak as I had but there was simply no more room. For me, this is rare indeed but the “tasting” was not at all what I expected. Instead of tiny morsels littering gigantic plates the dish was simply 4 full portions of meat. None could have been smaller than 8 ounces. Just thinking about it now, I can feel the pressure on my cardiac sphincter (and if you must know, the other one too).  I had not been this full since the Cool Hand Luke inspired eating contest but I just could not stop.

The steak tasting consists of Highland-Oak grass-fed, Brandt Prime and Strawberry Mountain 21-day dry-aged. The Wagyu is an optional $30 add-on to an already $60 entree but who cares? It was one of the best cuts of the elite cow I’ve ever had. Naturally, I devoured it first. The rest were excellent too but nothing compared to the perfectly marbleized Wagyu. Have done with the childish notion of saving the best for last. According to the law of diminishing marginal return, one should always eat the best first. Children don’t know this and for this reason you never see any working as economists. The sheer size of the dish was something straight out of Barton G in South Beach. I was fully expecting a giraffe to come marching through the spacious atrium but thankfully some cheeseballishness is reserved for Miami alone.

There was no room for dessert. Barely any for drinks. At dinner’s-end I sat comatose for fear that any sudden movement would fatigue my muscularis and blow all of my undigested steak, along with my submucosa through an orifice of its own making. I would wind up like the fat dude in Se7en whose sin was gluttony. This night, mine certainly was.

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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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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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Mastros Steakhouse 2009-01-23

by foodbitch 23. January 2009 20:03

Dear Mastro’s Steakhouse,

On Friday, the 23rd of January, the year of our Lord and Savior Jesus H. Christ, Two Thousand and Nine, we dined at Mastro’s Steakhouse Beverly Hills. Dinner was a symphony of errors. Not for want of service or flavor but management.

If a restaurant chooses to datestamp its menu like an entry in a server log, it should take care to make the date current. My menu stated that it was December 23rd or some such thing giving the impression that the ingredients have been patiently sitting on the counter hoping someone would order them for a month. Yes, intelligent diners will understand that a restaurant does not reprint a menu every day but there is no reason to boldly proclaim the menu’s age unless it’s flattering.

I have, with advancing age and wisdom, begun informing the wait staff of my steak’s preferred temperature rather than giving a blanket term that everyone seems to define at their convenience. The preference is cool red center. Having advised the waiter of this, my steak was still overcooked throughout its majority but there was definitely a portion of the center that managed to evade heat at all. As I relished this morsel I wondered what natural phenomenon could have made this possible.

Inflation happens. Costs increase and having no alternative, people accept it. However, when one charges US$39 for a fine cut of slightly overcooked beef, and has an extensive wine list with bottles in the thousands of dollars, charging US$18 for a martini is beyond explanation. It is simply an assault on alcoholic decency. Mastro’s is a restaurant, not a resort. Even Sunset Tower charges US$15 and one could argue that it is both. Completely unacceptable.

And finally, when one wants to be taken seriously in any field that requires communications such as from the kitchen to the customer by way of the menu, one learns to spell properly. Ask a random sample of people on the street for the spelling of Johnnie Walker’s family of scotches, and one is likely to hear the same mistake 8 out of 10 times. Fix the damn thing before someone does a special titled: Celebrity Restaurants: They’re just like us! They can’t spell either.


The Food Bitch

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About the author

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

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