Best Of MenuPages Reviews: Sushi Wabi, El Jardin & La Cucina Di Donatella

We may not do reviews at MenuPages, but our legions of users are all over that. Here are three of the best from the past week, each of which wrestles with the relevance of authenticity in ethnic dining:

This well-considered, but negative, review for Sushi Wabi was filed by “sking” on May 10th:

I went here because of the good reviews I’ve heard and it was really disappointing - especially for what you pay.For what you’re paying, you should be getting something above mid-tier. It’s nothing like Mirai or Hama Matsu, but it should be quality stuff. The rice was really bland. Sushi rice should contain sugar, salt, and rice wine vinegar just enough to so if you ate it plain or in a bowl (like chirashi), it should have flavor and be really sticky. Their rice tasted like it lacked the key ingredients that make sushi rice. Not to mention it was mushed and sloppy. The rice was the same quality as rice in supermarket sushi. The fish was a little better (thankfully), but the variety was very standard. A good sushi place should have signature and inventive specialties. Measuring a sushi place by their dragon and rainbow rolls is like measuring a steakhouse solely by their hamburgers; it’s incomplete and a short measure.Considering the restaurant is by all the quality fishmongers in Chicago, you would expect the fish to be fresher too. Like I said though, I could deal with a lot of these traits if I wasn’t paying as much as I did. I’ll go again if someone else is paying, but otherwise, no thanks.

This reviewer gained our trust with his knowledge about the intricacies of sushi rice, and cemented it with his steakhouse analogy. We could do without restaurants that are okay acting like they’re something special and charging through the nose for it, too.

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Later that day, “out of towners” largely enjoyed their dinner at El Jardin:

the food was nothing special–very average mexican food–but the service is wonderful–so nice!!--and the patio is a great place to hang out with friends, eat and drink lots of (incredibly strong–not small at all!) margaritas. very pleasant, relaxed atmosphere. the queso fundido was great. and although the menu says chips refills cost extra, they gave them to us for free without comment. really nice, friendly waitstaff, and killer patio. a fun spot, as long as you’re not in it for gourmet food.

Unlike the last reviewer, “out of towner” had no particular expectations of quality, which is just as well because they didn’t find much in the food. But they took stock, realized that the outdoor seating was lovely and the drinks were strong, and had a good time anyway. We wish we could be that well-adjusted.

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Finally, on May 13th, “SBakall” rose to the defense of La Cucina Di Donatella

The food is magnificent here… The best fish & pasta dishes I have ever tasted (love the pasta with boscaiola sauce). I read so many complaints about the charge for cheese & butter.. Why? Only in the US do we feel the need to goop together oil & cheese to dip our bread into in order to eat it. Also, you go to a place like Tru or Charlie Trotter’s.. they serve you a course.. you don’t ask for add’l condiments because it was presented to you as the chef intended for it to be enoyed.. If you want unlimited & cheese & butter, go to Maggiano’s… but if you want a true homecooked, classic and delicious italian meal, come here..

This review is quite glowing, stoked by red-hot anger over complaints cover charge for butter and cheese (where these complaints are is beyond us; this is the first review for the restaurant on MP). In old country, people are less gluttonous, and those pre-dinner snacks are á la carte. How dare Americans expect the same freebies that they get everywhere else? It’s possible that this is a shill, but in the likely case that “SBakall” is simply a customer, there must be something compelling enough about La Cucina Di Donatella to warrant this much defensiveness.


Best Of MenuPages Reviews: Sushi Wabi, El Jardin & La Cucina Di Donatella