The Damage: I put in $35 for my $8 soup and my $14 ravioli and my Arnold Palmer that had to have been less than $4. So let’s say $26. Plus 10% tax and 18% tip equals $30.68 max. $33.28.
The Background: It’s nice to get out of the office. And NOT talk about work. We’ve been trying to do that, so last Tuesday’s field trip was to The Florentine, the newish Italian in the downtown Marriott.
It’s one of those things…I work in The Loop, but I rarely stray more than three blocks from the office when it comes to lunch. And I rarely if ever go south of Monroe. So to go to Adams…WOW. Big news.
The Entrance: The Florentine is on the 2nd floor of a soulless cookie-cutter US Marriott. Hey, I’ve stayed in a lot of Marriotts. They’re fine. People who probably don’t stay in a lot of hotels probably think they’re great. For me though…they’re big and soulless. So I’m somewhat surprised when we enter The Florentine and it’s LOVELY. It does have soul. The light is entering the windows JUST SO and there’s a happy buzz about the place.
The Food: It took us a while to flag down our server and place our orders, but after that, things went remarkably quickly. Almost too quickly. My tomato soup was HUGE and very good. I should have just had this. But no, I had to order a main as well.
I had the ravioli…English Pea Ravioli with oil cured tomatoes, garden peas, and fiore sardo. Sounds great, doesn’t it? And looks pretty too, right?
Too bad the pasta was served practically RAW. As in crunchy. I really should have sent it back. Really.
The Verdict: Liked the setting. Liked the soup. But the pasta…meh.
The Background: Do you remember where you were when Michael Jackson died? Me, I was slightly over-served and heading home on the 56 bus in London’s Clerkenwell. Twitter for iPhone (or maybe it was Tweetie at the time) was saying how MJ had kicked the bucket. I announced this to my fellow passengers on the 56 bus and they all looked at me with that “Poor Yank. Overserved now, isn’t she?” sort of look. No response. Just glares.
Haters gonna hate, huh?
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with this.
So within 10 minutes of getting to the airport in Kuwait the other Thursday night, my voicemail beeps and I get one of those United Airlines “Easy” Updates. “Hello. This is United. Your flight from Kuwait City to Chicago has been canceled.”
Bummer. Totally. (But I kinda already knew this was going to happen. The Bahrain => Kuwait pre-leg of my flight had already been canceled, and United Cargo–my secret weapon in analyzing United on-timeness–was already saying that my Chicago flight was under “Decision.”)
But there I am in Kuwait City with my iPhone–underserved this time because KUWAIT IS A DRY COUNTRY–and I announce to my fellow passengers that our flight has been cancelled. They all look at me like I’m crazy. Like big time crazy. “How can you possibly know that?” one man asks me. I play back the voicemail–on speaker phone–and he looks away. Goes back to reading his newspaper. Stays in the queue as I step out of it.
I call United. I rebook myself on the next flight out. 24 HOURS later. I again tell my fellow passengers, “Hey guys, the flight’s been canceled.” Everyone just looks at me like I’ve just announced that Michael Jackson, the King of Pop, is dead and they’ve just seen him in concert.
“Well, they haven’t made any announcements,” says one woman.
“Sometimes technology is faster than announcements,” I say. “And I just called United. And they confirmed there’s no flight and they rebooked me. Because the flight is canceled.”
No one moves.
I take my luggage and leave the airport. No one follows. I repeat the entire process 24 hours later, but I get upgraded to business class! (How you feeling now, haters?) I finally arrive back in Chicago Saturday morning around 10 am. I pass out cold but rouse myself just in time for dinner with Theresa and Amy.
We start with a fresh and crisp arugula salad. The world needs more salads like this, and after a dearth of vegetables while traveling, I’m eating this with my hands.
I’ll start with the better of the two pastas. The gnocchi with fried sage was amazingly good. Satisfyingly dense gnocchi pared with disturbingly good fried sage. This made me want to come home and fry up some sage. This never happens.
Antico prides itself on its seasonal menu, and we were sold on the idea of a soft wheat pasta with mushrooms. (Although long-term readers will know that I am more down on mushrooms than up.) Um, can we talk about presentation here? It’s pretty crap. What were they thinking? It’s all just too wet and messy.
We finish off with a plate of short ribs and polenta. It’s really hard for me to dislike polenta. The short ribs were rich and tender. My only complaint, again, would be presentation. But for tasty food, I will put forward that there are far worse things.
The Service: Totally annoying. Would hover and interrupt, and always when one of us were at the denouement of some very important story. To the point where after this happening three or four times, he said, “Gee, I always seem to be interrupting you when you’re in the middle of a big story.” That’s a sign, my friend. A sign.
The Sound: LOUD. Way too loud. It’s a small space, but with no soft coverings. We were in the very back and I could still barely hear myself think.
The Verdict: On the fence. Like that it’s BYOB. Liked the gnocchi A LOT. Did not like the service and felt that the presentation was a bit slapdash.
Date of Last Visit: Sometime in January. I forget the exact date and my camera battery died so the photos aren’t dated.
The Victim: Michelle
The Damage: $10
The Background: Michelle and I have been trying to have lunch forever, but the stars just haven’t been aligning. She is a social media maven–she’s on a panel at SXSW if that gives you any indication–and an original blogger and WordPress aficionado. She is also a vegetarian. Chicago…not an easy city for vegetarians.
She’d already been to The Oasis Cafe (why I haven’t written about The Oasis, I don’t know), so I was struggling to pick a new place. Luckily in this instance, Michelle came through for me. It was she who suggested the local pizza chain Mista, a chain I’d never heard of before she sent me the link.
The Entrance: Mista in the Loop is small and compact. This creates a problem because you want to get a pizza, but you also want to sit down. And there are very few seats. Mista solves this by having a gentleman on staff who saves your table for you while you go get your pizza. Good thinking.
Mista bills itself as a fresh, organic, and natural pizzeria. I opted for the Florentine–organic baby spinach, ricotta, mushrooms (none in sight), and organic garlic. Eight or so minutes later, it was ready.
This is a very crispy pizza. As a New Yorker, I am definitely a fan of all things thin-crusted, but part of me felt this was just a bit too thin and crispy for me. The ingredients themselves were top notch, but I couldn’t stop thinking that I was eating a big cracker with pizza sauce on top. Hmmm.
The Verdict: Different. Not bad. But maybe not for me?
The Background: Just before Christmas, an old friend from grad school e-mailed myself and a big list of our fellow classmates and asked if anyone wanted to go out to lunch. It was her birthday, she said, and she was feeling festive. For the sake of the story, let’s call her Jane.
I too was feeling festive as December 17th was going to be my last day in the office until December 28th. And given that Jane works in The Loop–as do I–I knew lunch would be at a convenient place. Ah, and it was a Friday. One of the best things about being back in the U.S. but continuing to work across countries is come Friday afternoon, the rest of the world is either having dinner or in bed. So I knew I could get away for a while at some point after 12 noon and not be overloaded by emails or phone calls by the time I returned.
And so it was. Rosebud Theater District. An odd restaurant because it’s more or less in the lobby of an office building. Sure, it’s set off from the foyer of the building itself, but the draft blasting into the space and our table’s unfortunate position at the front of the restaurant made it clear that we were in the lobby of an office building and not in our own space.
The Food: I’m going to cover the food first and briefly because I have a debate I want to get to which is more important than the food. Frankly, the food sucked. I had a steak salad and the steak felt like it had been cooked ages ago and then just reheated for use on my salad. The lettuce was wet, which meant that the blue cheese had all congealed. (Their salad spinner must have been broken.) And back to that steak…it was just so…rubbery. It might look like it has a nice char, but the char had evaporated several hours ago. Jane and her friend stuck to pasta dishes and seemed please with their food. So if I did go back–and that’s a big if–I’d stick with the pasta dishes.
The Debate: OK, and now the debate. So when the bill comes for lunch. Jane’s friend –who is super nice and interesting but whome I’ve never met before — looks at it and turns to me and says, “Let’s split the check. That’s $31 each.”
Um…okay. I didn’t know I would be buying the birthday girl lunch. I really do like the birthday girl as a person and I know it’s only $10 extra in the grand scheme of things, but I suddenly feel a little awkward. Frozen, really.
The bill was 52 for three, or say $62 with tip. It’s Jane’s birthday, and Jane and I went to school together. I have seen Jane twice since 2004, and the other time was just a month previously. I don’t know where Jane lives and I don’t have her phone number programmed into my phone. While I was in London, Jane and I did not exchange e-mails except for the occasional group “Congratulations!” to a friend having a baby. (I am giving you these details so you can provide feedback later.) I have never met the friend who joined us for lunch before. I did not know it was Jane’s birthday until that week, and I am fairly certain that Jane does not know when my birthday is. (It’s April 30th, in case you’d like to make a note. I like hydrangeas, just FYI.) In short, Jane is a very nice person who I enjoy spending time with when I do see her, but we are not bosom buddies.
I’d like to laugh at myself now because at the Chicago Food/Wine Bloggers’ Meetup that I organized earlier this month, I joked about how women are the WORST at splitting bills when there are large parties involved; my experience has been that women want to nickel and dime everything and for some reason women frequently manage to forget about the tax and the tip. And if they do factor in either, they totally gyp the poor waiter. More often or not, I always end up throwing in an extra $10 (or more) whenever I go out with a big group of women. Men are much easier. They don’t care what you ate or what you drank. Everyone pays the same. Done. (Perhaps this method appeals to me because I am not one to not eat or not drink. And if I am–like that three month period in 2008 where I gave up alcohol–I’ll either happily subsidize everyone else’s drinks or make it clear with the waiter at the start of the meal that I’d like my own check.) (Bob, if you’re reading this–Hiii!!!–I believe this gels with your old theory about sharing cabs with women vs. sharing cabs with men. At the end of a taxi ride with two women and two men, the women will each hand over $1 or $2. Whereas either of the men will offer to pay for the whole ride.)
I realize the entire paragraph above is full of sweeping generalizations. But I think you get my gist.
Back to my lunch: there were only three people at lunch, so splitting the bill wasn’t very complicated. And this wasn’t me nickel-and-diming anyone; I was happy to split the bill…just three ways instead of two. (And in a backwards-kind-of way, I’m saying that Jane’s friend was very good at splitting the tab, contrary to my comments about women earlier. I’d also add that given that my portion of the bill was slightly higher, I would have paid more than my fair share anyhow.) But did my presence at lunch necessitate buying someone else lunch because it was their birthday?
What did I do? Of course I split the bill with Jane’s friend and paid $31. With a smile. I gave the birthday girl a big hug, wished her the very happiest of birthdays, and left the restaurant for the office, hoping valiantly on the way that she doesn’t know about my blog because I was definitely going to blog about this!
What would you have done? Has this ever happened to you? Do you think women are worse at splitting the tab then men? And who tips better: women or men?
The Background: When I lived in London, I used to walk down Brick Lane and think to myself, “What if just ONE Indian or Pakistani or Bangladeshi restaurant opened here that was doing something even just moderately different? Something modern? Something interesting?” But no…when one restaurant closed, another mediocre spot took its place, its windows full of obscure awards and hawkers at its doors. Chinatown was doing it…with the likes of places like Bar Shu opening up a few years ago. Why couldn’t other ethnic enclaves do the same?
Truth be told, in my eight years in Chicago previously, I’d never been to Little Italy. Besides for an old Italian ice stand, there was nothing much to recommend it…one old Italian restaurant after another, dishing out lasagna for tourists. But now the critics’ darling Davanti Enoteca has opened its doors and this stretch of Taylor Street has become more of a destination.
I’ve come to Davanti Enoteca (which means “in front of the wine bar”) straight from my spa appointment at The Trump and I am famished. There’s probably a rule about not drinking wine after using saunas and steam rooms and having 90 minute spa treatments, but the wines-by-the-glass menu at Davanti cracks me up so much I have to give it a go. (That is the wine list, plastered to that very large wine bottle up top.) On my server’s recommendation, I opt for a quartino (that’s one-quarter of a standard 750 ml bottle) of Barbera d’Asti. (This didn’t match so well, but there are worse crimes than a good wine that doesn’t match.)
Things start off on a very high note. The corn salad is a mixture of great flavors and textures. The corn still has some good crunch to it, and of course so do the walnuts. But sprinkled in there as well are wild mushrooms which lend the dish an earthy flavor. Ah and then there’s the rocket (sorry–arugula), which gives everything a little peppery spice. This is all topped off with some aged goat cheese and a swirl of olive oil. I feel very virtuous and decide that I will come to Davanti Enoteca every day and have this salad.
But then I have the rigatoni with sausage. And you know what? It’s just rigatoni with sausage. The pasta is done to a perfect al dente, but that’s about all this dish has going for it. Both the sauce and the sausage were mild and unmemorable, and after the great sweep of flavors in the corn salad, I was hoping for more. This dish let me down and I felt like I could get it anywhere.
Throughout it all, however, service was polite and sweet. Dare I say…perky? I should note that my server did try to steer me away from the rigatoni and towards the giant ravioli with ricotta, egg and spinach, but I feel like having some animal protein so there you go.
The Verdict: Davanti Enoteca is of course a welcome addition to Taylor Street. I think it has a lot going for it, not the least of which is an interesting menu with flashes of brilliance and creativity. But I don’t know if I’d make another special trip here in the near-term.