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[CHI] Michael - Winnetka, IL


gmi3804
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We tried to ignore the maître d's supercilious perusal of our party of three as we settled into the requested u-shaped booth along the far wall of Michael's cozy dining room. Once seated, the offensive artificial flower arrangements which line the back wall were thankfully out of our line of sight. What we were able to see from our seats, however, answered the question of just where Northfield's Willow Inn Club's patrons had gotten to since that venerable culinary warhorse had closed. That we were able to snag a table on Saturday night lent a ghoulish tinge to that answer. There were other things to look at, as a flurry of activity played out in front of us, with waiters enthusiastically rushing back and forth, yet not seeming to be doing much, all at the same time. Much energy was spent moving wine buckets out of the way of clumsy service trolleys which had trouble maneuvering between the chairs and booths of Saturday night diners. On the trolleys sat interesting-looking food, mostly plated on the same faux-Villeroy and Boch Basket Weave-patterned plates. Twenty minutes after sitting down, our cocktail order was taken, and we were told that a wine list was busy being sought. One of the cocktails, straight-up Grey Goose, had to be sent back because of the presence of Vermouth. After waiting for fifteen minutes for the corrected drink to arrive ("We're very busy and the bartender has a lot of drinks to make," our server offered), we asked about the evening's specials. One was quail stuffed with what the waiter called "pan Pedro." We asked if he meant pain perdu and he sheepishly conceded that he did. Fifty minutes after we sat down, one of us ordered just that, asking to have the quail cooked to medium. The server informed us that, "the chef won't cook anything past medium-rare." As I had planned to order the roasted duck breast and leg confit, I asked if he'd double-check with the chef about this policy, but to please preface the question with the reminder that it was we who were going to be paying the bill that evening. In the intervening minutes, we looked longingly at the bottom of the menu, which advertised five- and seven-course tasting menus, but available only to diners on Monday to Thursday evenings. At the one-hour mark, the server re-appeared with our answer: Yes, the chef would cook to medium just for us. By that time, we'd had time to look at the all-over-the-map wine list, whose selections in the $40-$60 range suddenly jumped to the $130-and-up range. It just may be that chef-owner (or Cuisinère, as the front door plaque proudly reads) Michael Lachowicz brought some bottles with him from his previous stint at Le Français and augmented the selection with some more neighborhood-friendly options. Fair enough, but where were the in-between options? Anyway, after seventy minutes of wondering just how long the evening was going to last, we decided to make good on our promise to pay the bill and did just that. No one seemed to care in the least, except for the cheerful woman who returned our coats and thanked us for coming in and hoped that she'd see us again really soon. I doubt she'll remember us if she does, as she seemed to have already forgotten that she'd taken our coats just a little over an hour previously.

Michael

64 Green Bay Rd.

Winnetka, IL 60093

847.441.3100

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that is really too bad to hear. I live very close-by there, and was pretty much praying that whoever moved into the space would make it something good.... it has been doomed for the last several years. The area needs a seriously good bistro.

Hopefully they work out the kinks... I will try it in a few weeks and report.

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Bummer. I hope most of the trouble you describe can be attributed to their having just opened. Still, even by that measure, your report is not promising.

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Bummer.  I hope most of the trouble you describe can be attributed to their having just opened.  Still, even by that measure, your report is not promising.

=R=

A general lack of care won't be cured with time. The experience left such a bad taste in my mouth that I've little desire to try again. It's a shame since it's so close to home and goodness knows we could use some better restaurants on the north shore.

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Ever since Winnetka Grill closed the place has indeed been doomed. I fear that soon the place will be taken over by a bank or cell phone store or the car dealership nextdoor. Winnetka does need more food choices. I wonder why nothing seems to work there! A bistro would be perfect! Little Ricky's just does not cut it for us. I LOL re the Willow Inn reference!

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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Ever since Winnetka Grill closed the place has indeed been doomed.  I fear that soon the place will be taken over by a bank or cell phone store or the car dealership nextdoor.

That reminds me of the line in Albert Brooks's Defending Your Life about strip malls: "I've never been to one because I don't like frozen yogurt and I do my own nails." :biggrin:

But seriously, if the mediocre experience (I didn't stick around long enough for the meal) I had at Michael the other night is as good as it's going to get, I'm afraid another nail has been driven into the coffin of decent north shore restaurants. One would think that the income level up here could support more (and better) establishments. I'm getting tired of "upscale" chain restaurants. [/bitchin' 'n moanin' - for now]

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Not to beat a dead horse, but why doesn't Winnekta or Glencoe (and I think Northfield and Wilmette) have any Thai restaurants? Everyone says the need is there (and patrons) but alas none. They keep popping up elsewhere!

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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Working garde manger at the Winnetka Grill was one of my first real culinary jobs. The end of the high flying 80's and unlimited corporate expense accounts was the beginning of the end for WG.

As you may remember, the original building burned down around '96 I think. The building that is there now was built for Provence, I think.

There used to be sort of a conglomeration of nice places up that way, La Boheme, ( original chef Didier Durand ) WG, Jilly's cafe ( Kent Buell, Michael Altenberg ), etc...

For whatever reason, it seems that the locals have migrated elsewhere in recewnt years for their upscale dining.

Hopefully Mr. Lachowicz can give them a reason to stay close to home.

All my previous experiences with his food have been above reproach, even outstanding.

Give it some time to shake out...

TC

wine is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy
Ted Cizma

www.cheftedcizma.com

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I think the North Shore (right by the lake more so than say Northbrook) is just in a bad position. People who want a significant dining experience and/or good value can go downtown or just stay after work, and they don't mind going west to Arlington Heights, Northbrook or Milwaukee Avenue either. When they want to eat near home, they usually just want a place they can take the kids and they don't really care that much about the food (and Thai or something probably is not what they want to have on those nights). Plus I think a significant number use their country clubs to entertain. (If the food at my father's club is a good example, some of these people are in a pretty serious rut as far as taste goes. Not to run down the country club cooks; the food always seems pretty well prepared but it is always the same.)

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  • 1 month later...

From Phil Vettel's review in today's Chicago Tribune, cited above:

. . . Indeed, some of the menu's appetizers are almost nostalgic, so redolent are they of Lachowicz's earlier gigs. The crabcake with scallop is pure Le Francais, the lump crabmeat held in place by shrimp mousse (an old Jean Banchet trick) in a lovely cream sauce with Dijon mustard and preserved tomatoes. A plump scallop atop the crabcake adds textural contrast.

The salad lyonnaise dates back to Les Deux Gros; it's a classic, beautifully balanced salad that has one twist. Customers can top the salad with a poached egg or soft goat cheese--though insiders know to ask for both, a request with which the kitchen routinely complies . . .

Michael finds a niche with indulgent, classic French fare

=R=

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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Chicago Mag gave it a good review as well. (Sorry Ron, read the mag on the train last night-would have posted both if I knew. I don't know how to link/post-)

It is funny, I still rely upon e-gullet reports rather than a critic's review. I have never been burned by an e-gullet rec but have dined at places that received positive press and I left with a 'so what'. Based on poor word of mouth vs favorable reviews will this place make it?

What disease did cured ham actually have?

Megan sandwich: White bread, Miracle Whip and Italian submarine dressing. {Megan is 4 y.o.}

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The "service" we received the night we went was a far cry from the polished service described in the review. Certainly things may have improved (or maybe, just maybe, the review was recognized, as he's a big champion of Chef Michael?), but I'm loathe to even consider giving Michael another try, so bad was our experience there. I'll leave it up to other eGulleters to try it and report back. I truly wish anyone who does a good time, but don't say you haven't been warned.

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  • 1 year later...

I dined at Michael last month. It was a SUPERB dinner in every respect. Simply OUTSTANDING.

First, I should qualify what I mean by these superlative terms. I've dined at many of the most highly regarded restaurants in the Chicago area and elsewhere. They are almost always GOOD, with tasty food and attentive service. For me, the difference between GOOD and GREAT is, at a great restaurant, every single dish, every single bite, is an absolute delight, so delicious that it makes you roll your eyes and swoon. There are very, very few places that I would consider GREAT. Based on my dinner last month, Michael was definitely among them. It is not an exaggeration to say that this was one of the very best dinners in my entire life.

Two of us arrived first, and the other two in our party got slightly lost; the wait staff could not have been more gracious, notifying us when our guests had called to get directions. (The visibility of the restaurant from Green Bay Road is somewhat limited, since there is no sign and the entrance faces the parking lot, not the street.) The dining room has an atmosphere of casual, relaxed elegance, which carried through our entire meal. This made the entire experience that much more special! As noted in the Metromix listing, business casual attire was entirely appropriate (fewer than twenty percent of the men wore jackets and ties, although one would not feel out of place thus attired). Our waiter was joking with us when he brought one or two of the items. Michael himself came by all the tables and knew exactly what we had ordered. The entire atmosphere was one of celebration, but without any pretension or stuffiness.

Again, the food was HEAVENLY! Every bite of every dish was simply divine. The descriptions on their menu sound good, but so do those at many restaurants; if you think of how good each dish could possibly be, if it were exceptional, that's how good everything was. Here's what we had last night:

AMUSE BOUCHE:

Mini cream puffs (pate a choux) filled with gruyere cheese

APPETIZERS:

A medallion of seared foie gras over foie gras and mushroom strudel

A duo of warm crab gateau and orange dusted scallop with a sweet curry cream

A rosette of house cured smoked salmon on a warm potato cake with whipped chive, citrus crème fraiche

Truffled potato "cappuccino" (soup)

ENTREES:

Duo of grilled filets of salmon and wild escolar with morels in cream sauce

Duo of braised short ribs and sauteed tenderloin of beef "Grand Mere" with potato gratin

Duo of Moroccan braised leg and grilled rib chops with toasted Fregola di Sardinia (cous cous)

Filet of Japanese black cod in a fine brioche and thyme crust with heirloom tomato "Béarnaise"

Creamy mashed potatos for all

DESSERTS:

Duo of petit fallen chocolate soufflé "Les Deux Gros" and hot chocolate "Michael" with cookies (one each of biscotti, shortbread, and pfefferneuse)

Apple upside down tart with caramel and nutmeg ice cream

Classic vanilla bean crème brulee.

Maple Mascarpone cheesecake with maple caramel and Linzer shortbread

vanilla creme brulee

When our waiter overheard that one member of our party was celebrating her birthday, he brought a plate of truffles with a birthday candle in one of them (without any prompting on our part).

The dinner was also surprisingly reasonable in price, considering the quality of the food. Appetizers were $9-15, entrees were $26-29, and desserts were $8-9. With modest beverages, our total came to $70 per person including tax and tip.

Michael

Proprietor: Michael G. Lachowicz

64 GREEN BAY RD.

WINNETKA IL

847-441-3100

http://www.restaurantmichael.com

Dinner

Tuesday-Thursday - 5;30-10:30pm

Friday-Saturday - 5:30-11:30pm

Sunday - 4:30-9:00pm

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I dined at Michael last month.  It was a SUPERB dinner in every respect.  Simply OUTSTANDING...

A warm welcome to eGullet, nsxtasy! I've read some of your writing (including this review) over at ChowHound. Glad you have you on Board here.

Since I started this thread with a not-very-glowing review, I'd love to know for my own reference point which other French places you've dined at.

My experience at Michael (or at least drink we had there) was 180 degrees from what you reported. I'm glad to see that the place seems to have improved (there really was only one way to go, truth be told), but my experience was so bad there that you'll forgive me for not being too excited to get back on that particular horse.

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In one way Michael reminds me of Gene and Georgetti's. At both restaurants, those who don't have an "in" are treated much worse than those who do. While all restaurants do this to some extent, these two places take it to levels I've not encountered elsewhere in the Chicago area.

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In one way Michael reminds me of Gene and Georgetti's. At both restaurants, those who don't have an "in" are treated much worse than those who do. While all restaurants do this to some extent, these two places take it to levels I've not encountered elsewhere in the Chicago area.

Interesting. Can you cite some specifics? I'm intrigued.

=R=

edit for spelling

Edited by ronnie_suburban (log)

"Hey, hey, careful man! There's a beverage here!" --The Dude, The Big Lebowski

LTHForum.com -- The definitive Chicago-based culinary chat site

ronnie_suburban 'at' yahoo.com

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A warm welcome to eGullet, nsxtasy!  I've read some of your writing (including this review) over at ChowHound.  Glad you have you on Board here.
Thanks for the kind words!
Since I started this thread with a not-very-glowing review, I'd love to know for my own reference point which other French places you've dined at.
Let's see... starting with the Chicago area: Le Francais (separate visits under Banchet, Liccioni, and Lachowicz), Everest, Ambria, Trio (separate visits under Tramonto/Gand and Achatz), Les Nomades, NoMi, Charlie Trotter's, Seasons, Crofton on Wells, the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Spruce, Le Titi de Paris, Le Vichyssois, Chef's Station, Oceanique, Tallgrass, One Sixty Blue, and going back many years to some of the pioneers of Chicago's French cuisine (in addition to the previously-mentioned Jean Banchet), Le Perroquet, Louis's Bon Appetit, and Le Bordeaux...

...and out of town: the French Laundry in Yountville, L'Orangerie and Wilshire in Los Angeles, Sanford in Milwaukee, Jean Georges and Lafayette and Le Cirque and Lutece and the Four Seasons and Picholine in New York, le Bec Fin in Philly, Picasso and Renoir in Vegas, le Maisonnette in Cincinnati, Gary Danko and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco, Seeger's and the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta, Mary Elaine's in Phoenix, Jean-Louis in Washington, the Inn at Little Washington, Le Relais and Lilly's in Louisville, the Glass Chimney in Indianapolis, Geronimo in Santa Fe, the Mansion on Turtle Creek in Dallas, Commander's Palace in New Orleans, Tapawingo in Charlevoix, Bishop's in Vancouver, Margaux in Sheboygan (don't laugh, it was excellent), and L'Antibes in Columbus.

I'm sure there are others I've missed. And some of these may or may not be considered "French"; nowadays, when it comes to fine dining establishments, the lines between cuisines are often blurred. In any case, I guess most people would say that I've been to quite a few French (and other fine dining) restaurants.

My experience at Michael (or at least drink we had there) was 180 degrees from what you reported. I'm glad to see that the place seems to have improved (there really was only one way to go, truth be told), but my experience was so bad there that you'll forgive me for not being too excited to get back on that particular horse.
Oh, I totally understand! There are SO many fine places I haven't yet tried - particularly in a great restaurant city like Chicago - and, heck, SO many places that I've already tried and loved and haven't had a chance to return to - that I almost never return to anyplace where I had a really bad experience.

All I can say is, I absolutely loved my dinner at Michael, and consider it one of the very best dinners I've had. To put that into perspective, above I stated, "For me, the difference between GOOD and GREAT is, at a great restaurant, every single dish, every single bite, is an absolute delight, so delicious that it makes you roll your eyes and swoon. There are very, very few places that I would consider GREAT." All of the places mentioned in this post are very, very good. The ones that I consider "great", according to this definition, constitute fewer than half of those fine places. And I put Michael into that category.

In one way Michael reminds me of Gene and Georgetti's. At both restaurants, those who don't have an "in" are treated much worse than those who do. While all restaurants do this to some extent, these two places take it to levels I've not encountered elsewhere in the Chicago area.
FWIW, I have no "in" at Michael. I did not know anyone in the restaurant, and our party was not unusual in size. I only spoke to Michael (briefly) at the end of the dinner and did not mention any websites or even Le Francais; I just complimented him on the entire dinner and particularly the foie gras dish. He doesn't know me other than that he might remember my face or name if I go there again (not that I am unusual looking, just this is what some restauranteurs are good at). Edited by nsxtasy (log)
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