Monday, August 21, 2006


As promised, the blog is back, and I'm happy to report that we used the first of our many gift certificates this past weekend. While I was off traveling the world as usual, Peter oh so thoughtfully booked us a reservation at Butter, one of several high-end restaurants we'd read about and eagerly wanted to try since we got here. Zagat's promises that this Greektown spot is "sleek," "trendy," and full of "positive energy" and "pretty things." The Web site boasts that it was voted one of the top 20 restaurants in the nation in 2005. And the name Butter alone, one of our favorite foods (add it to anything to make it taste better, I learned in Basic Skills 101), convinced us that this spot deserved a try.

We arrived early to check out the ambience over a drink and weren’t disappointed. The loft-like space was filled with beautiful people and things and we made our way to the bar to soak it all in. The crowded bar almost meant that we had to go to the upstairs lounge (which, curiously, had no bartender), but just as we made our way to order beverages, spots opened up and we found ourselves in a prime location. On the surface, Butter looked certainly like the upscale place I expected: beautiful orchids artfully arranged in large vases with shiny rocks, flickering candles on each table, and immense works of original art on the expansive walls. Still, the longer we sat, the more we realized it was all just a façade. I reached in the vase to find that the orchids were fake, picked up the candles to find that they weren’t even real wax but battery-powered. The art was still cool and fitting of the space.

Still, I remained optimistic and shortly we were seated at a nearby table and presented with menus and the signature Butter martinis: a slightly fruity concoction that tasted of pineapple, framboise, topped with a bit of frothy champagne. Our waitress kindly offered to hang my purse from our table with a shiny metal hook—perhaps this is par for the course in the big city, but for us Cincinnati bumpkins I was impressed by the gesture meant to keep my Kate Spade off the floor. We were off to a swimming start, happily sipping away and perusing the menu, made all the better when a server brought us three individual small bowls of “snacks” to whet our appetite: truffled popcorn, crispy shrimp chips and peppered deep-fried potato chips. Since we’d taken a late reservation and saved up for a big fancy meal, we made short work of these innovative treats, which I found to be a refreshing change from the typical baguette or dinner roll.

Looking around and reading the menu trying to decide what to order, Peter looked at me and suddenly made me aware of the fact that despite seeing many beautiful people in beautiful clothes with beautiful drinks, we’d actually seen no food appear on any table. This seemed even more remarkable when I recalled that the waitress, upon giving us our menus, had commented on the fact that the menu was all-new and that the portion sizes had recently increased. These two facts together made us slight suspicious, but I happily ordered our server’s recommended starter and entrée.

Our first course arrived a long but still reasonable 30 minutes later. My risotto with perfectly brunoised (a cut I never quite mastered) prosciutto and melon chunks was as good as the waitress had promised, but the portion size was miniscule. It was accurately cooked al dente (no gluey “rihzohtto” here as Gordon Ramsay would say) but there was so little of it that I found myself fiercely protecting each bit from my husband’s fork. He had ordered the safer but seemingly interesting “Fork and Knife Caesar Salad” and was disappointed to find that it tasted nothing like the deliciously smoky version at Boca in Cincinnati. Don’t get me wrong—it was okay—but definitely nothing to write home about. His brioche croutons were tasty though.

And then we sat. We sat and waited, and drank another Butter martini, and sat some more. We each visited the restroom, hoping this would make time pass more quickly, but came back to an empty table. There were no more snacks given, and only teeny tiny ovals of bread we affectionately began calling “bread turds.” Once we’d consumed those, there were no more given. When I looked down at my watch and noticed that we’d been seated at our table for 1 hour and 45 minutes, I was peeved. I complained. Our waitress apologized. We were starving.

Finally, our entrees arrived. I’d ordered the Chicken and Lobster. I know, I know, why would you ever order chicken when dining out? But our waitress had highly recommended it, and it did have lobster, so I took a chance. I should’ve gone with my gut, because the half of a poached chicken breast on my plate tasted like dishwater and I couldn’t eat more than two bites. The lobster was tasty, but barely consisted of more than three bites. Peter had gone with the scallop appetizer made into an entrée. His dish was certainly better than mine, but still nothing more than a basic seared scallop on a bed of black-eyed peas. His four scallops were an admittedly respectable size, but not for his Cincinnati-sized appetite.

By the time we reached the end of the meal, we’d been sitting in our cheap, straight-from-IKEA, nice-looking but uncomfortable chairs for far too long to be in a good mood. To prove to you how impatient I was, I even passed up looking at the dessert menu in favor of getting up and getting the blood flowing back to my appendages. We even stopped by Bin 36 on our way home in the hopes of getting a cheese tray, but at that point I was too weary to sit any longer.

Needless to say, we won’t be back. It won’t diminish my enthusiasm for this city or for eating out in more of the fantastic restaurants I’m so looking forward to (Charlie Trotter, here I come at the end of September), but it will make me think twice about the “stylish” places we choose to frequent. I prefer places that have the chops to back up the fluff.

The damage: about $80, NOT including tip or the gift certificate we had going for us. If this is typical for Chicago restaurants, we're going to have to eat out less.

Watch out for: exceedingly slow service and disappointing food.

Food: 1 out of 5 forks – disappointing, especially given the price. I’ll give credit for the snacks that preceded our meal though.

Romance: 3 out of 5 kisses – you’d better go with someone you really, really like though, because you’re going to be together for a looonnng time

130 S. Green Street
Chicago, IL 60607
(312) 666-9813

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The Blog is Back

My apologies, dear readers, for going an entire month without a posting. For those of you who know me, I've had just a few changes in my life lately. First, I switched jobs, and now am happily back at HSR. And when we were subsequently presented with the opportunity to move to Chicago, we jumped. So now our house is up for sale, we've got a new client, and we're packing up this weekend to move into an extended stay apartment on Monday. Wow.

Though I'm not quite as happy to disclose this next bit of information, I did indeed turn 30 two weeks ago. The good part about that is that for my birthday my parents (with Peter's help) gave me a very creative and wonderful gift that I'll be able to share with you: 30 gift certificates to restaurants in both Chicago and Cincinnati. So here's a sampling of some of the deliciousness in Chicago you'll be able to read about in coming weeks:

Japonais (can't wait to try the sushi)
Alinea (the description in our book sounds divine)
Topolobampo (Rick Bayless' original)
Tru (legendary)
Charlie Trotter's (I've wanted to dine here for years and years)
Ambria (right on Lincoln Park at the lake)
Vong's Thai Kitchen (Jean-George Vongerichten right here in Chicago)
Ba-Ba Reeba (we love tapas)

While I'm excited to eat at all these new and wonderful places, I'm also excited to be able to come home at eat at some of my favorites!
Boca (my all-time favorite--love those scallops)
Jean-Ro Bistro (I want that pork chop again)
White Castle (I can honestly say I haven't been there before!)
Sturkey's (they have great desserts)
Graeter's (thank goodness they ship this stuff out of the city)
The Precinct (back in our 'hood)
Skyline (what am I going to do when I can't eat here once a week?!?)

So we're back! Check back often to read about our latest adventures.