Why isn’t 2007 over already? We feel like it’s been slowly deflating since Thanksgiving. Maybe that’s always how it is?! Anyway, Pat Bruno’s up at the Best Of plate, ticking off his favorite restaurants of the year (winner: TABLE fifty-two) and some of his favorite dishes. But the fun stuff is in the “Bits & Pieces,” like biggest bomb of the year - Alhambra Palace; it’s true, and no one else has pointed that out recently. Bruno also seems to be predicting that the “hot retro” dishes of next year will include “soft polenta with sausage, gnocchi, [and] macaroni and cheese.” Or maybe that’s what they were this year. Hard to tell! Mac and cheese is timeless, for better or worse.
This week’s Reader is devoted to reviews of new restaurants, which is always good. Mike Sula visits Korean Seoulfood Cafe in the West Loop, and finds that it’s pulling no punches on the pungent cuisine. People are totally down with the kimchi - enough to justify retailing it - but the service isn’t always the classiest.
Martha Bayne hits fax-machineless Demera, a new Uptown Ethiopian/Eritrean spot. She thought the food and drinks were tasty enough, but described the service experience as “inoffensive disorganization.” For our part, we’ve found this to be the case at almost every Ethopian restaurant we’ve been to in the United States. Why is that? We had consistently good service at Ethopian restaurants in Ethiopia, for what that’s worth.
And Sula’s back on the case again at Powerhouse Restaurant. Powerhouse has received a bevy of reviews in the past week and a half, none of them great. Yesterday, we wrote about David Tamarkin’s not-quite-pan in TOC, and Mike Nagrant went there last week for NewCity. Let us compare and contrast, then, shall we?
“…often slow and aloof.” - Tamarkin
“The wait staff was decked out in short white coats that make them look like either first-year medical students or asylum employees. Based on the meth-withdrawal-like tweakiness of our server, I’d go with the latter.” - Nagrant (but he went on to complement the server’s mastery of the menu)
“And every five minutes or so a train roars by, sending the dining room into a mild rumble.” - Tamarkin
“The spaces (bar and dining rooms are separate and have their own menus) are long with high windows, and weirdly but not uncomfortably evoke the interior of a pair of railcars—especially when the Metra rumbles by on the other side of the wall.” - Sula
“Still, amidst all the great food, a red glass teardrop vase on our table sported a crack. It could have been from the constant seismic activity from the Metra and Lake El lines that run near the building.” - Nagrant
“With dishes as delicious as these, questioning Peters’s ambition (or lack thereof) seems beside the point. But when you hit his weaker dishes, you’ll wonder why he didn’t try harder.” - Tamarkin
“Things started at a pinnacle and slid steadily downward…” - Sula
“Slow-roasted pheasant with sage stuffing, caramelized Brussels sprouts, cranberry gastrique and sweet potato is what Thanksgiving might be like if your mom was Julia Child.” - Nagrant
“Desserts were so consistently disappointing that they barely warrant mentioning (the sweet-potato doughnuts being the one exception).” - Tamarkin
“Desserts by Tara Lane (formerly of Blackbird) were overcomplicated flops, including a dry apple streusel cake and greasy, leaden sweet potato “doughnuts” (more like doughnocchi) piled atop a gritty sabayon.” - Sula
“Brown-butter-glazed tater-tot-sized sweet-potato beignets chilling by a cinnamon-spiced pool of creamy sabayon flecked with candied pumpkin and toasted, salted pumpkin seeds is one my favorite desserts of the year.” - Nagrant
If ever the phrase “uniformly mixed” applied to a set of restaurant reviews, this would be it. Not unlike a Greek chorus, with the three distinct voices harmonizing into a steady “blahhhh.” So the service is competent when it wants to be and uneven when it doesn’t; the dishes are often wonderful except when they’re not; the place shakes like a Polaroid picture when the train goes by; and if you absolutely must eat dessert, it should be the sweet potato beignets even though you might hate them. We suspect that Vettel and Bruno won’t be able to stop themselves from reviewing this place, and we will keep you posted as usual.
TABLE fifty-two [MenuPages]
TABLE fifty-two [Official Site]
Alhambra Palace [MenuPages]
Alhambra Palace [Official Site]
Korean Seoulfood Cafe [MenuPages]
Powerhouse Restaurant & Bar [MenuPages]
Powerhouse Restaurant & Bar [Official Site]
[Photo: Powerhouse. Those trains are close, aren’t they? (malarchie/flickr]