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Chicago: three dinners, seven options. What's a diner to do?


Alex
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Ms. Alex and I will be visiting Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend this year. Dinner on Tg Day is set, but we're considering our options for the Wednesday before and the Friday (and possibly Saturday) after. I haven't yet checked on which places are or aren't open on which days, but absent that information, we've narrowed our choices to eight. In general, and with the occasional exception, we're looking for places we've never been to, entrees at the mid-20s to low-30s level, and relatively casual dress. We have no food allergies or restrictions.

It's not like this will be our last trip to Chicago, but if you had to pick two or three places currently at the top of their game, which ones would they be? I also would appreciate any other feedback based on your experience or of those you trust.

Everest ...for the three-course pre-theater dinner. We've been to Brasserie Jo, and have read wonderful things about Jean Joho's food, so this might be a good time to dive in. I know that jackets are required.

Sweets and Savories We've been there several times, but not for years. If Chef David's cooking is as good as (or better than) ever, it'd be great to finally go back. The $29 prix fixe sounds like a tremendous deal. And Wednesday is $10 burger night.

Michael Glowing reviews, including by nsxtasy here on eG. The menu had me at Sauteed Medallion of Hudson Valley Foie Gras over foie gras strudel with candied huckleberries.

Blue 13 I like the menu and the attitude (so long as the music isn't too loud). *They* had me at "Coffee and Doughnuts."

Pelago We're both absolute suckers for progressive Italian cuisine. The reviews have been very, very good.

Cibo Matto Ditto re the cuisine. We then can pop up to Roof to continue our consumption of adult beverages.

The Publican This might be a Saturday "afternoon menu" choice.

Girl and the Goat Why not?

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Well, while I can't speak from personal experience on Publican, a local foodie buddy says that Publican was the best breakfast he'd ever had, and based on my track record with his suggestions, it's *got* to be great. It really has been too long since I've graced Chitown with my presence...

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The Publican is pretty fantastic. It's one of my favorite restaurants at the moment. I've only been there for dinner though.

Cibo Matto was very good, but they've changed chefs since I went and I'm not sure if things have changed.

Sweets & Savories is, as always, a great choice.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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I've been to five of the eight (not seven :smile: ) options listed. Here are my thoughts.

Everest is absolutely wonderful. Jean Joho has keep his version of French cuisine contemporary and relevant. The service is exquisite, the view of the city is spectacular, and the wine list is one of the best anywhere. The pre-theater dinner is a bargain but I believe it's a set menu, i.e. three courses with no choices, which could be limiting.

Sweets and Savories is very good but hasn't impressed me as outstanding. It's also a very good value but for about the same bargain price I'd easily choose Sable or Inovasi instead.

Michael is, IMHO, the best restaurant in the Chicago area aside from our uberexpensive temples of haute cuisine (which include Everest). If I had to name the best half dozen meals I've had in the past several years, 3-4 of them would be at Michael (and I've only been there maybe 6-7 times during that period). It's where I go when friends come from out of town and I want to impress them with great food. Prices aren't bad, either, with a three-course prix fixe option of $48 for virtually the entire menu.

Blue 13 and Pelago - I haven't heard anything about either of these places. That doesn't necessarily mean anything, of course. What should I know about them? Anyone?

Cibo Matto - I had dinner there a few months ago (like Josh, before chef Todd Stein left for the Florentine) and I liked it a lot. It's a contemporary bistro version of Italian cuisine, with traditional Italian dishes as well as ones you'd find in a global bistro. The standout in my meal was a dessert featuring cardamom panna cotta; if they have it, don't miss it!

The Publican - They serve a limited menu in the afternoon from 3:30 to 5:30, so check out the menus on their website to see if this suits your needs. It's a nice place for beer and smaller plates at an early hour, before it gets OVERWHELMINGLY LOUD when it fills up for dinner later on. For dinner, I thought the food was very good, but not outstanding, and was not left with any desire to return.

Girl and the Goat - I haven't been there but I've read a cascade of consistently positive reports. Reserve now, as they've been booking up months in advance for desirable times on weekends.

If I had to rank the five places based on how much I enjoyed them, Michael and Everest would be at the top (sublime), then Cibo Matto (excellent), then S&S and Publican (pretty good).

HTH

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Everest is terrific, but I didn't find it exceptionally memorable. If you have a soft spot for Alsatian cuisine and wines, then certainly it's worthwhile, but I don't know if I'd go out of my way to return. (ETA: Since you mention it, it's worth noting that Brasserie Jo has closed and the space is being reworked into a "funky neighborhood French restaurant and bar" by the same folks.)

The Publican has been my favorite restaurant in the city for some time. The food and beer are both impeccable. The ambiance is more German beer hall than gastronomic temple, but that doesn't bother me in the least. That said, I'm an unabashed Kahan booster, count Avec and Big Star among my favorites as well.

Have not visited either, but have heard all the same good things about Girl & the Goat and generally middling reviews of Blue 13.

If you're in the mood for something sort of like Sweets & Savories, but want to branch out, try The Bristol or Purple Pig.

As the wild card, I'll throw out Schwa. If you can get past the voicemail (don't bother leaving a message, just try back later) and the potential for loud music, dinner just might be the best bang for your buck anywhere.

Someplace I haven't been in awhile, but which has always been near the top of my list, is Topolobampo. Currently on Opentable they have availability for lunch on the days before and after Thanksgiving...

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Keep in mind that Michael is not in the city, but in Winnetka and would require a car or train ride to get there. Probably 30-40 minutes depending on traffic and where you are in the city.

Edited by rickster (log)
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Thanks to those who've replied so far, and for the information about Brasserie Jo. I'm aware that Michael is in Winnetka, but very close to the Indian Hill Metra station. Turns out we arranged to meet another eG'er and his spouse there for one of our dinners. It's only 33 minutes on the train and it's not a big deal to get to Ogilvie from our hotel, not to mention it'll give me a good excuse to buy something at Vanille Patisserie.

The other dinner is still undecided, but we're now leaning toward Sable (not mentioned in my post), which is very much our style and is a short walk from our hotel. I think The Publican will be for my next visit without Ms. Alex, as she will eat, but is not a big fan of, charcuterie or pork (except for bacon, of course). She also actively dislikes oysters.

Regarding lunch, we'll probably play it by ear, but Purple Pig is on the very short list. We've been to Topolobampo and Frontera, but never for lunch. We also might consider Pelago if we're in the N. Michigan Ave/MCA area at the time. If we're in the vicinity of the Art Institute, which we almost certainly will be, I've never been to The Gage, although Ms. Alex has.

<rant> Actually, Schwa was my very first choice when I started planning this all out, but their lack of response to both my email and voice mail message--both of which simply asked when they'd start accepting reservations for November--pissed me off. I know the food is wonderful and a bargain and there's BYO and all that, but I'm not willing to put up with rudeness in order to eat somewhere--anywhere. I also know that they're a bare-bones operation, but if Alinea can reply to an email the same day I sent it, there's no excuse why Schwa can't reply within even a week. </rant>

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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[N]ot to mention it'll give me a good excuse to buy something at Vanille Patisserie.

The macaron are superb.

The other dinner is still undecided, but we're now leaning toward Sable (not mentioned in my post), which is very much our style and is a short walk from our hotel.

I don't think you'll be disappointed...this is a regular after-work spot for my wife and I. The bartenders really know their stuff, and the food has always been quite good.

I know the food is wonderful and a bargain and there's BYO and all that, but I'm not willing to put up with rudeness in order to eat somewhere--anywhere. I also know that they're a bare-bones operation, but if Alinea can reply to an email the same day I sent it, there's no excuse why Schwa can't reply within even a week.

I had this conversation with another visitor recently, and I'm sorry to know that others see this as "rudeness"... I can't defend Schwa, if you're hurt that they did not acknowledge your attempts to contact them. I long ago gave up on the misconception that leaving a message of any sort there entitled me to anything. If I don't speak to a live human being on the phone, I just try again later. All I can really say is that we tolerate certain behaviors of geniuses, of which I consider Carlson one, that we would not accept in others...and what I probably wouldn't put up with to eat anywhere else, I for some reason completely accept for Schwa.

ETA: The comparison to Alinea is inapt...Alinea employs a team of receptionists. Schwa is a different beast, entirely.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I think The Publican will be for my next visit without Ms. Alex, as she will eat, but is not a big fan of, charcuterie or pork (except for bacon, of course). She also actively dislikes oysters.

Regarding lunch, we'll probably play it by ear, but Purple Pig is on the very short list.

Purple Pig is really the same genre as the Publican - pork, charcuterie, pork, a little bit of cheese and a beer with your... pork. :smile: If you're holding off on the Publican for that reason, the Purple Pig may not be the best alternative choice.

<rant> Actually, Schwa was my very first choice when I started planning this all out, but their lack of response to both my email and voice mail message--both of which simply asked when they'd start accepting reservations for November--pissed me off. I know the food is wonderful and a bargain and there's BYO and all that, but I'm not willing to put up with rudeness in order to eat somewhere--anywhere. I also know that they're a bare-bones operation, but if Alinea can reply to an email the same day I sent it, there's no excuse why Schwa can't reply within even a week. </rant>

One of my frequent dining companions absolutely refuses to go to Schwa ever since Carlson suddenly closed for months and cancelled all reservations with no prior notice. He didn't have a reservation that was cancelled; he just feels that he does not want to spend his restaurant budget on a place that treats its customers that way (I think he used the term "customer abuse").

The way I see it, everyone is entitled to go wherever they want, and to avoid whatever places they want, for whatever reasons they deem appropriate.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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Actually, The Publican and The Purple Pig are only superficially similar. The Publican does a really fantastic (and underrated) job with seafood, oysters in particular but also crudo. Purple Pig is more meat and cooked seafood focused. I think Purple Pig will be a good choice, as there will be plenty on the menu that doesn't involve pork/charcuterie.

-Josh

Now blogging at http://jesteinf.wordpress.com/

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If there's any doubt, have Ms. Alex take a look at the menus on the restaurants' websites to get a good idea of what they offer.

FWIW, my tastes align pretty closely with Ms. Alex; I'm not big on pork and I detest oysters (as well as most types of raw fish). I liked some of the items at the Publican, particularly the mussels, but thought the pork rinds were overhyped. Desserts were dreadful and the INCREDIBLY HIGH NOISE LEVEL made me swear never to return. I haven't been to the Purple Pig yet, primarily because the menu on their website doesn't sound particularly appealing to me.

Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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I have not been to Schwa, nor do I have any affiliation with the restaurant, but I think if people read this article about the chef, they make think twice about writing it off. The closure had nothing to do with customer abuse (but more to do with another kind of abuse), and the unreturned phone calls likely have more to do with being overwhelmed and understaffed (and likely ADD) than just plain rudeness.

Just my opinion, but I'd be inclined to give Chef Carlson a lot more leeway.

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So you're saying people should give it a chance despite knowing that the restaurant doesn't hire as much staff as it needs to serve its customers (at least, by taking reservations), and despite knowing that it has a past history of cancelling its customer reservations. In other words, give it a chance even though it has mistreated customers in the past and some of its problems continue. That's what you're saying.

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Did you actually read the article? They can't afford to hire any more staff. Really, they can't even afford to be in business, or at least that's what the article implies.

And if I had a substance abuse problem and/or a nervous breakdown and had to drop out of life in order to get better, then I would hope the people I had to drop during that time would accept me back once I got better. But if they couldn't, so be it.

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If you truly care about the chance to eat amazing food prepared by a master of his craft, yes. Undoubtedly, yes. If you worry about having your perfect Saturday thrown into a tizzy because the help couldn't be responsible with their reservation book, then no, don't bother. I don't begrudge people not wanting to eat at Schwa, honestly, I don't...more mind-blowing courses for me, served by some of the most affable people I've ever met. I just hope they're seeing the whole picture.

Edited by KD1191 (log)

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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I sort of knew that my comment about Schwa would elicit some responses. I have just three final thoughts: 1) When I'm wanting to spend a couple hundred dollars on a brilliant meal for two, it seems absurd to have to beg to do so. If voice mail and email are seldom answered, why maintain the pretense? 2) I owned an outpatient substance abuse treatment center for many years. I had lots of patience (and patients) when doing treatment. I also did a lot of work with adults with AD/HD. However, one should never use a diagnosis as an excuse for inappropriate behavior. Re presantrin's comment, from my perspective the rudeness is in the behavior; the cause is irrelevant. (Can you tell my theoretical orientation?) I know that we all overlook annoying or odd behaviors in our good friends; that's simply part of friendship. However, I don't have the equivalent kind of relationship with Schwa, and I'm not willing to jump through all the hoops necessary to do so. 3) If Chef Carlson can be philanthropic about his food, how about offering one or two free meals a week for someone to handle voice mail and email? If I lived in Chicago, after I retired I'd be beyond glad to volunteer for the job.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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The reservation policy at Schwa is no doubt far from the norm of what most diners find acceptable. Could it be that it is just such a foreign policy then what we are use to in obtaining reservation? For instance the French Laundry has a receptionist just to turn away dozens of people each day. On the other hand at Schwa when no seats are available your call goes to voice mail.

I was just thinking about this the other day as my wife surprised me with a reservation. She told me she had been calling Schwa daily for nearly two weeks only to get the full voice mail message each time. Then suddenly someone picked up and she made the reservation with no problem. The end result was reservations without nearly the wait as one for the French Laundry.

Robert R

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The reservation policy at Schwa is no doubt far from the norm of what most diners find acceptable. Could it be that it is just such a foreign policy then what we are use to in obtaining reservation? For instance the French Laundry has a receptionist just to turn away dozens of people each day. On the other hand at Schwa when no seats are available your call goes to voice mail.

I was just thinking about this the other day as my wife surprised me with a reservation. She told me she had been calling Schwa daily for nearly two weeks only to get the full voice mail message each time. Then suddenly someone picked up and she made the reservation with no problem. The end result was reservations without nearly the wait as one for the French Laundry.

Completely agreed...those who are generally most frustrated either don't entirely understand the system or are bringing their own beliefs about how the reservation making process should work to bear on the place. If they would simply do away with the voicemail, I bet there would be many fewer frustrated with Schwa, which is rather counter-intuitive. Thinking of the voicemail as being on the waitlist, I guess, could help folks. That said, if you call every day between lunch and dinner, you'll have a reservation much more quickly than you ever could at many other places.

True rye and true bourbon wake delight like any great wine...dignify man as possessing a palate that responds to them and ennoble his soul as shimmering with the response.

DeVoto, The Hour

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Normally I would just smile and read a thread like this but I feel I gotta chime in here simply because I love, love, love this restaurant. Seriously Schwa is worth whatever perceived slight or rudeness you think you have been subjected to. I fly in from NY to eat there (also to see friends) and no, its not easy (last time in August took 101 calls before someone answered and I could book - but that being said its easier than Per Se or Momofuko Ko - good luck with Ko) but it is so well worth it. You could not find a nicer, more generous group of people (the whole crew - not just Chef Carlson) at any restaurant anywhere. With the food they are serving and the prices they charge (its literally given away sometimes) it is no wonder that they don't have a budget for someone to answer their phones all day. I think the reason that you are not going to get a call back if you don't land a table is that you have to keep in mind - they have 26 seating's a night - if you get them live you will get a table if not keep trying or move on - I don't see the need for a call back simply to tell me I didn't get a table -- it would seem pretty obvious. To use the words "mistreat a customer" or "abused"!! is absurd -- simply because you cant get through or are not willing to play by their rules is far from being mistreated. Agreed that "The way I see it, everyone is entitled to go wherever they want, and to avoid whatever places they want, for whatever reasons they deem appropriate" but in regards to Schwa, it may not be for you (the collective you - no one person in particular on this thread) even if you were able to get a reservation because nothing else about the experience is traditional or even normal. I agree with KD1191 -- more mind blowing courses for me as well and really hope they get more than one Micheline star in a few weeks when the book comes out as they truly deserve it.

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Normally I would just smile and read a thread like this but I feel I gotta chime in here simply because I love, love, love this restaurant. Seriously Schwa is worth whatever perceived slight or rudeness you think you have been subjected to. I fly in from NY to eat there (also to see friends) and no, its not easy (last time in August took 101 calls before someone answered and I could book - but that being said its easier than Per Se or Momofuko Ko - good luck with Ko) but it is so well worth it. You could not find a nicer, more generous group of people (the whole crew - not just Chef Carlson) at any restaurant anywhere. With the food they are serving and the prices they charge (its literally given away sometimes) it is no wonder that they don't have a budget for someone to answer their phones all day. I think the reason that you are not going to get a call back if you don't land a table is that you have to keep in mind - they have 26 seating's a night - if you get them live you will get a table if not keep trying or move on - I don't see the need for a call back simply to tell me I didn't get a table -- it would seem pretty obvious. To use the words "mistreat a customer" or "abused"!! is absurd -- simply because you cant get through or are not willing to play by their rules is far from being mistreated. Agreed that "The way I see it, everyone is entitled to go wherever they want, and to avoid whatever places they want, for whatever reasons they deem appropriate" but in regards to Schwa, it may not be for you (the collective you - no one person in particular on this thread) even if you were able to get a reservation because nothing else about the experience is traditional or even normal. I agree with KD1191 -- more mind blowing courses for me as well and really hope they get more than one Micheline star in a few weeks when the book comes out as they truly deserve it.

The problem lies in the fact that no one really knows what the rules are. In regards to reservations, the website says "RSVP by telephone only." That's it. Nothing else. Considering I'm making a reservation at a restaurant and not responding to an invitation to chef Carlson's pool party, I can only deduct that means I need to call them. And when you call them you're most likely just going to get "the voicemail."

A simple paragraph on their website explaining the reservation process would help customers understand the process, while helping to alleviate the unnecessarily large amount of phone calls/voicemails the restaurant receives. Its win/win. But instead of informing the customer of something useful and relevant to running a business, what do we get? All of the chefs' favorite movies! Because somehow, someone decided it was more important I knew the sous-chef's favorite movie than how to make a "RSVP" to actually eat there.

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It has been a few months since I last called but if I am not mistaken I believe the voice mail message explains the process to a degree. I don't know - for me based on the size of the place, the message on the voice mail and what others have reported (the chef included) I guess I always figured if there was no call back than they are booked for the month. I have read many instances (and it has happened to me before) where they have indeed called back when they do have a spot opened. I understand what you are saying but at the end of the day the food and more importantly the experience when I am there far out way the trouble of calling until I get someone or not getting a call back.

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It has been a few months since I last called but if I am not mistaken I believe the voice mail message explains the process to a degree. I don't know - for me based on the size of the place, the message on the voice mail and what others have reported (the chef included) I guess I always figured if there was no call back than they are booked for the month. I have read many instances (and it has happened to me before) where they have indeed called back when they do have a spot opened. I understand what you are saying but at the end of the day the food and more importantly the experience when I am there far out way the trouble of calling until I get someone or not getting a call back.

That's it in a nutshell. If you think the food and experience are worth the hassle, you will comply with whatever you need to do to secure a reservation. I know I'd absolutely love the food, but the process simply isn't worth it to me.

By the way, I did get their voice mail on my first attempt, but as I said in an earlier post, I wasn't calling to request a reservation, only to inquire when November reservations would be taken. Even a terse reply of "We don't know yet" would have sufficed. Common courtesy, and all that. Evidently Schwa has enough willing supplicants to not worry whether they alienate potential customers. As I said, this process is for some, but not for me.

To steer the conversation back to dinner (as often happens), has anyone been to West Town Tavern recently? It's been probably three years for me.

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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Just my two cents:

Like everyone else here, I found the reservation system for Schwa to be a head-scratcher...and I have had to contend with Momofuku Ko and Tom: Tuesday Dinner here in New York, which are some of the most difficult reservations I have had the pleasure of obtaining in the past few years. I was going to Chicago in September, and as early as June, I started calling non-stop every day: most of the time, I got the voice mail saying the mail box is full. Frustrating, yes, but I persevered. One day in July, I finally got a voicemail message announcing that reservations for September would be entertained starting later that month. At the appointed date, I began calling almost daily, until I finally got a human voice on the other line, and I was able to get a reservation. Surprisingly, once I got the reservation, I received two more calls from Mr. Carlson himself, checking to see if I still wanted to obtain a resy.

I am a patient man, and I am willing to go the distance to get a reservation at a restaurant I want to eat at. Schwa turned out to be a most wonderful dining experience, one of my all-time favorites. I have read about Mr. Carlson, and I was really intimidated by him, but he turned out to be a lovely man who was willing to sit down and explain the food to me, and even share a glass of wine with me. Mr. Carlson's brother served as front of the house the evening I went, and he treated me well, even hailing me a cab after dinner. My experience at Schwa may not be the norm, but I would like to implore the naysayers to give Schwa the benefit of the doubt. And I do hope that it gets two Michelin stars come November!

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