I went to Dillman’s for lunch the other day. It is all dark and cozy with chandeliers. My server said “for sure, for sure” a lot. It was distracting. Also distracting? The rose was listed under “Whites” on the wine list. Less distracting? The chicken liver and lovely toasty warm brioche. A very generous, tasty and satisfying portion at $9.95.
I like meeting people from the Internet. People like Francis who says to me one day, “I’m going to Lima by myself. You should come!” And I say things like “Francis, you can’t say things like this to me because I will actually come with you.” And before you know it, Wendy and Maureen are coming too and Francis turns out to be the TRAVEL MASTER ORGANIZER and has an agenda for us and everything and we eat all the fruit and drink all the pisco sours and leave Lima very very happy.
Francis proved to be the master organizer yet again when he marched us little ducklings off to Tanta, the new Peruvian place in Chicago by Peruvian chef Gaston Arcurio, whom some may be familiar with from World’s 50 Best Astrid & Gaston. (Almost wrote Gastrid and Ashton there. Whoops.)
I’m worried about Tanta’s location. Although it’s in River North, it’s in a bit of a desolate stretch of Grand close to Lasalle. Signage is also a little discreet for River North, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. I can imagine the tourists walking by…”Should we go here? I don’t know…Tanta? What does that mean? Do they have steak here? Do you think I can put ketchup on it? I hope they open at 5.”
But once inside, I love the space. I love the bar and would happily come back here to dine solo. I love that it’s not too uber-stuffed with tables and chairs. There’s an appreciation of personal space here that is just really nice.
That being said, personal space is on overdrive at the back of the restaurant at our table, which is too wide and too long for our party of five. I am the fifth wheel. And the restaurant is LOUD and my hearing is not as bionic as it used to be. I am alone at the end of the table, but the lovely and gracious Mr. Stashwick is a wonderful table-mate.
Enough babble. Let’s talk CHICKEN. I cannot profess my love of a full roast chicken enough. Roast chicken is one of my absolute favorite things to eat and to make. (Yes, you read that correctly…to make!) While I hate restaurant chicken breast entrees (too frozen Restaurant Depot for me), I love a pick-at-it-all-day-and-all-night-long roast chicken. And Tanta’s is probably one of the best I’ve ever had. The presentation is awesome…so many sides and lovely crisp potatoes that are even crisp the next morning when I polish them off as leftovers for breakfast. Seriously, this is very good stuff, very excellent, supremely competent stuff.
The Verdict: I will be back here soon. You should go too. Maybe we should go together and drink all the Pisco Sours together.
P.S. It’s perhaps worthy to note that we received special treatment the night we came in because Francis was super-excited about the restaurant’s opening and had been in touch with Gaston Arcurio and staff. The chef came out a few times to talk with us, along with some of the other senior staff. Also, we were comped a few dishes; my apologies but because I was not in charge of the bill, I’m not sure what exactly we were comped but it was a small amount in relation to the overall bill. We tipped as if we had not been comped, of course.
Long-term readers will know that on Fridays during the summer, I can leave work early if I want to. And I’ve been trying to do that this summer, trying to get out there and explore places and do things and see things. Someone told me that I would love Beatrix so I went to Beatrix on one of my Friday afternoons. Because I am trusting like that.
And I did like Beatrix. Sort of. I mean, I liked the chairs. There are a lot of different chairs at Beatrix. It’s one of those new-school/old-school all day free-wifi restaurants with lots and lots of chairs for people so you can sit down or you can stand up or you can stay for 20 minutes or you can stay for EIGHT HOURS (like the people across from me did). Lots of interesting, different chairs. Really, there’s something for everyone. Really, it felt like a total ripoff of London’s Hoxton Hotel.
“Have the burger,” some guy at the bar urged me. “I just did and it was really really good.”
Apparently that man has never had a burger in HIS ENTIRE LIFE.
Because the burger was shite. Super shite. Overcooked sawdust.
And the fries were undercooked.
And the pickled vegetables were still too raw.
When I left, I was angry at myself for wasting my Friday lunch here. Very angry.
All that being said, they were jackhammering the road outside the restaurant and you never would have known it inside the restaurant. That’s some good sound-proofing they’ve got going there.
I had in my head this idea. That I wouldn’t go anywhere for July and August. That I wold stay in town and try to enjoy Chicago. This is my second weekend of that, and frankly speaking, I’m doing a terrible job with all this. Instead of relaxing and exploring, I’m finding myself at Home Depot, Target, the Post Office (!!!) and Bed, Bath & Beyond. Worst bit? I REALLY want to go to IKEA. NOOOOOOOO.
I did have a very nice morning at the Wicker Park Farmer’s Market last Sunday though, helped by some Divvy bikes and some classical music. (But then…stressful…Divvy didn’t show that I had ever returned my bike. They’ve still got some kinks to work out there, apparently.)
Where I’m going with all this is that for the first time in ages, I did take a bit of a break and finally took advantage of work summer hours on Friday and met @Zimmerino for lunch at Siena Tavern. I was a bit nervous about this lunch because Siena Tavern is one of those cavernous River North places with filament flightbulbs and cheap bathrooms. (Not even a soap dispenser. Seriously. Just a container of Softsoap.)
And I was somewhat right to be nervous. Because here’s how this all went down.
Me: “Hi, I don’t have a reservation but I’d like table for two if you’ve got one.” (It was 1:30 pm on a Friday, close to the end of the lunch rush.)
Them: “We’re all booked in the restaurant right now, but you can find a table in the bar area. It’s first come first served.” Fine.
Me, sitting at the bar, about 15 minutes later, “Hi, we’re going to move to that table over there that just opened up if you don’t mind.”
Bartender: “I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that. Have you asked anyone if you can do that?”
Me: “Um, I guess I’m sort of asking you. The front desk said it was okay, so maybe we can just close out our tab and move over…”
Bartender: “Well, I don’t know if you’re allowed to do that but if that’s what they told you at the front desk, I guess you can.”
And then we ordered some food that took ages and ages to arrive. The brussel sprouts salad was rough and dry, and the coccoli, which everyone raves about (dough puffs slightly bigger than golf balls, prosciutto di parma wrapped around stracchino cheese, “drizzled” with truffle honey) was okay, but for me, the honey ruined everything. Too sweet, too cloying. Then the waitstaff disappeared forever and ever. And then we had some gnocchi that I can only describe as overcooked wet blobs of something in a decent cream sauce, and then a prosciutto, pear and arugula pizza where the pears had been “drizzled” with powdered sugar. I don’t want powdered sugar on my pizza. (But the arugula was very good and fresh, and the pizza crust itself was nicely done.) Ah, and then the waitstaff disappeared again and us and the table next to us spent a lot of time trying to flag someone, anybody, down.
Best line? Our waitperson walked by with two very fine looking beers on her tray, stunning in color with fine foamy heads. I had just gotten a beer, but it wasn’t anywhere near as nice looking as the two she had on her tray. “What are those? I asked her.
“Beers,” she answered.
The Verdict: Inconsistent cooking and flavor combos that didn’t work for me particularly well. Too much sweetness. In general, not my scene. But many people will like it here.
You know when you have something once, and you think it’s great? And then you have it again, and you think, “Boy was I totally right that first time or what?? This stuff is freaking delicious.” So it is with me and the Escalivada at Tavernita in Chicago. It’s like crack. Not that I know what that means.
Can I tell you something? I don’t want to like Tavernita, really. Tavernita requires that one weigh 30 lbs less than one does. And also, that the length of one’s skirt hem pass no further than one inch from one’s bottom. Also, cleavage. Tavernita seems to require a lot of cleavage. And maybe a divorce or three.
But no matter. I can shut out the world and all its problems when I’m snarfing down a plate-load of Tavernita’s Escalivada. This time, it was free thanks to a social media wine dinner with Darkhorse, a Gallo brand. (Gallo has a hand in more wine than you think it does.) I love hanging out with wine makers, and Darkhorse winemaker Beth Liston just made you want to be her best friend. The Chardonnay was a party-pleaser and can be found at Trader Joe’s for under $10 a bottle. It paired really well with our first few courses of hamachi crudo and then of course the swoon-worthy escalivada.
A little Google’ing has found me Tavernita’s recipe. Worth trying someday as a little snack (or a big snack) before dinner, specially if you possess a charcoal grill:
4 small eggplants
4 small onions, halved
4 red bell peppers
2 Roma tomatoes
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing the vegetables
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 small baguette, sliced, slices grilled
Zingerman’s Creamery Lincoln Log goat cheese (or other slightly aged goat cheese)
The Verdict: Go for it. And feel free to invite me over.
I was a guest of Darkhorse and Tavernita and did not pay for this meal. I also received one $20 Trader Joe’s giftcard and two bottles of Darkhorse wine — one Chardonnay and one Cabernet — in thanks for my attendance. I preferred the Chardonnay to the Cabernet, and would definitely consider picking up a bottle of Chard next time I’m in Trader Joe’s. (The cab was too jammy for me.) Darkhorse is being stocked exclusively by Trader Joe’s at the moment, only one of my favorite places in the entire world.
How are you? I hope you are well. I am fine. I went to your restaurant the other night with my British friend Ben, who was in town from London. I thought it would be nice to take him to a steak place because Chicago is famous for steak and Oprah said you were “Phenom!!” And everyone knows who Oprah is, even British people. Plus, you dry-age steak, which is a big deal. I like big deals.
I took Ben to the John Hancock first. We had cocktails at the top, and I tried to remember everything I’d forgotten about Chicago history and architecture. I also showed him where Oprah used to live, because you can see it there, from the top of the Hancock. I’m not sure where she lives now though. Do you know? Then we came over to your place for our steak and creamed spinach.
And we asked for your wine menu.
And you handed us an iPad, which is a cool idea in theory. I can imagine your agency of bearded wine-loving hipsters now. “THIS IS THE FUTURE OF DINING. THIS IS VISUAL. THIS IS INTERACTIVE. THIS IS…STRATEGERY.” They probably talked about how soon, soon we will not need sommeliers. That everything will be CONTROLLED BY THE USER. WITH AN APP. That probably pronounced all this meaningfully and confidently (while scratching their beards) and told you this would all be so very, very cutting edge.
You probably spent a lot of money on this too.
So, let me tell you what I think.
In practice, your iPad wine menu? It really kinda just…sucks. Like really.
Let me tell you why:
It crashed multiple times while your server was showing it to us.
It crashed multiple times while we tried to use it.
Your server had to explain how although there was an “Add to Order” button on every wine page, it didn’t work. It had never worked. She did not know when it would work. “Please don’t use it,” she told us. “It doesn’t work.”
And then we decided that we should get some California wine, red, for under $80 a bottle. All of the filters are there on the screen. All of them. You can see them all in the screenshot above. BUT YOU CANNOT MULTI-FILTER. You can only filter on ONE THING. EVEN THOUGH THERE ARE MULTIPLE SELECTION BOXES presented at the same level of hierarchy Whoever your agency is, they should be fired. They know nothing about usability. And they also know nothing about product development because filtering a database on multiple criteria IS NOT HARD. (Lovely readers, you can see what I mean about the Chicago Cut wine “app” over here. Try it for yourself.)
And then our lovely server saw that we were frustrated and tried to help us. “Please,,” I begged. “Please, do you have a sommelier? Can you send the sommelier over?” “We don’t have a sommelier,” she replied, “But all of us here, we’re pretty knowledgeable so just tell me what you’d like.” “We’d like a California red, not too meaty, good with our steaks, for under $80 a bottle.” “Oh,” she said. “I’m not sure. I really don’t know the options that well…” (!!!) “But there is this one,” she said, and steered us towards a $60 bottle of Archipel Meritage 2007. It was really nice, so there’s a good ending here. But it took us a long time to get to this point. A long time. And your iPad app still sucks. I told her this, but I didn’t use the word “sucks,” I promise.
So in short, you’re doing it wrong. Like totally, totally wrong. You are all idea and no execution. (And I don’t just mean the iPad here. If you are going to forego a sommelier, schedule some regular wine tastings for your staff!)
Thank you for reading and I hope there’s a Version 2.0.
P.S. All this being said, our steaks were very nice and our server was nice. Also, I do appreciate that your wine markup in my case was “only” 100% of retail. I know this because my friend Andy Hayler makes a GREAT app called Wine Search that lets you easily search for wine and compare list price to mark up. You should check it out to see how the pros do things.