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Alex

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

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It took my wife maybe two or three days of calling. I doubt she called four times before getting through. In the big picture it was nothing. I spent much longer trying to get through to my cable provider.


Edited by robert40 (log)

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Who knows why Schwa closed. In any event it's still awesome and I would never steer someone away. I've never had that much trouble getting a table and I've never been cancelled on (I've eaten there probably five times or so).

Anyway.

I went to Maude's Liquor Bar tonight, which is a new place on Randolph. I enjoyed it quite a bit. Here's my write-up from LTHForum:

Had a nice dinner at Maude's tonight pre-Bulls game with a friend.

I started with an Old Fashioned which I really enjoyed (not that I really know anything about cocktails, but I thought it was a good, balanced drink...not to sweet).

We only had a few dishes as we weren't looking for a big meal, and we enjoyed just about everything we had. We started with a half dozen Shibumi oysters. They were fresh tasting, had a good amount of liquor and were well shucked. Next we moved on to the steak tartare. The texture was perfect with the steak having been chopped into good sized (not too big, not too small) chunks. Two weird things about this dish though. First, the egg yolk served on top of the tartare was served somewhere between a solid and a liquid. I asked our server about it and he said that it had been cooked sous vide, with the apparent goal of getting it to that particular texture. I would say they should either ditch the egg or just go with a proper runny yolk. Second the tartare comes with a bottle of sriracha. I'm a fan of sriracha and I liked adding a little to my tartare, but I thought it was out of place given what I think Maude's is going for.

For our next two dishes we did the cassoulet and the market fish (which tonight was a striped bass). The cassoulet was the real winner of the night. Tonight's version had pork belly, duck confit, and garlic pork sausage. I don't eat cassoulet much but I would go back to Maude's just for this dish. The meats all blended together perfectly and the white beans were the perfect texture. Everything was working in perfect harmony. My dining companion mentioned that it was the one thing we ate that really reminded him of his recent trip to Paris. The bass had a nice crispy skin but was somewhat undercooked in places (a little pink and mushy on the inside). Not egregious enough to send back, but it certainly didn't reach the same heights as the cassoulet.

For two of us, the food above plus two cocktails and a glass of wine ran about $110 after tax but before tip which is certainly in line with other restaurants in the neighborhood. Service has friendly and informed (and pretty excited about the food). There was no mention of "dirty French BBQ", only talk of French comfort food which is really a much better description. I look forward to heading back and exploring more of the menu (especially the bone marrow).

Maude's Liquor Bar

840 West Randolph Street

Chicago, IL 60654

312-401-8315

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In closing I must mention after my conversation with Chef Carlson I was blown away by his kindness and generosity. Rarely have I met such a down to earth person and he was like nothing I expected. I honestly walked out the door and stepped on the sidewalk wishing I knew him better.

Could not agree with this more. Accusing him of "abuse" is completely uncalled for. He's only one of the nicest guys you will meet in the Chicago restaurant world.

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You know, one time I made a reservation at Charlie Trotter's for when my family is in town. The day of our reservation they cancelled on me (kitchen fire). A year later we made another reservation and everything was fine. But, my goodness, 50% of my reservations at Charlie Trotter's were cancelled. Now that's a significant chance of customer abuse! :wink:

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Oh, and I meant the Paris Club. Didn't know the name. Keep us posted on what's going on there.

Looks like it's opening on Wednesday. There's a short write-up and menu link here. I can't say I'm overly excited about it, "Vegetable Cassoulet" actually made me cringe. If I want French comfort food, more often than not I'll be at Kiki's.


Edited by KD1191 (log)

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Zoiks: vegetarian cassoulet?

I got through to schwa! :smile: They aren't taking March reservations yet. :hmmm:

Still trying.....

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I will be the first to admit I don't condone some of the reservation policies. But with that said the posters were given no explanation for the cancellations and its only speculation as to why. I will say as much as this. Schwa is like no other restaurant I know of. And after visiting and having personal conversations with Chef Carlson and staff I believe I have a better understanding of the work they are doing. One example is, everything I've learned from the industry over the years is meaningless in Chef Carlson's restaurant. They march to their own beat and really don't care what the common practice is. The menu is so technical and evolved that no restaurateur would even consider attempting it without 2-3 times the kitchen staff of Schwa. They also seem to cook right on the edge of complete chaos. I recall thinking if some nights they may not be able to pull it off and could foresee service crumbling apart. But on the night I visited they pulled it off brilliantly.

Also for a 26 seat restaurant they break every rule in the book on Rule 101. Serve good food and turn those tables as fast as you can otherwise you won't even break even. Not at Schwa, as a matter of fact they never even filled the dining room the night I was there. They don't care about that and said as much.

The thing is I am well aware that the average diner could care less if the restaurant is profitable or how the meal is produced. As long as the food and service has met expectations that is all that counts in the eyes of the customer. As well it should.

Which brings me back to what I said about Schwa being like no other restaurant. I firmly believe from my observation that if only one cook got sick they would have a very difficult time completing service. No need for a fire to close down for the evening as only one sick staff member would do it. Thing is, what diner after waiting months would believe that? They would be outraged and ask why this would not be the case at Alinea or Per Se. Dare I say it may be best to give no reason or explanation in such a case? Of course this is only my opinion.

In closing I must mention after my conversation with Chef Carlson I was blown away by his kindness and generosity. Rarely have I met such a down to earth person and he was like nothing I expected. I honestly walked out the door and stepped on the sidewalk wishing I knew him better.

Amen brother - you hit all the nails on the head - simply put Schwa marches to the beat of their own drum and its a beat like no other. They are in a league of their own and if you are fortunate enough to get a reservation and can get past being concerned that it may get canceled - go for its an experience like no other - and this comes from someone who comes from NY to eat there! The place rocks........

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Chris

At least walk through the Purple Pig near Nordstroms on Michigan Avenue-wonderful small plates (many done on a Wood Stone plancha). Also though you won't have time, Chicago Cut along the river near the Mechandise Mart is a great steak house, awesome views and center of power diners, but their best trick is the complete wine list on iPads presented at each table which allows sorting, discovering and reading about the wine for your evening.

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I'll second the Purple Pig recommendation. It's just across the Mag Mile from my office, so I get there quite frequently for a late lunch. I take it for granted, but it has some fantastic preparations. Skip most of the fried items (except the deviled egg, which is only available at dinner), but anything off the plancha (particularly the octopus), as well as the marrow bones and any of the simple vegetables (today I had roasted cauliflower with cornichon, breadcrumbs and parsley) are superb.

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Lula, Violet Hour, schwa. I'll report back.

Go across the street from the Violet Hour for some Big Star tacos. The takeout window is a great option.

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