Archive for January, 2011

Lillie’s Q Hates You; Wants You and Your Jerk Friends to Eat Somewhere Else

The following is an imagined conversation between the owner/manager of Lillie’s Q and his mentor, who is well-versed in the protocol and procedure of managing a dining establishment.

Lillie’s Q Owner:

Okay, so what about treatment of the customers? You’re supposed to be nice to them, right?

Mentor:

Nice? Are you joking? No, no.  Your job as  manager, owner, what have you, is to make the customers feel like it’s their privilege to be dining at your establishment. They are the lucky ones, not you. They are blessed to be given the golden, shining opportunity to eat your crappily-prepared and awkwardly-presented barbeque. Treat them like crap and they’ll be eating out of the palm of your hand.

LQO:

Huh. So treat them like crap? Interesting. Never thought of that. (Scribbles furiously on pad.)

So being accommodating, being friendly, making sure the customer is taken care of, all that stuff is out, right? I should probably just be super rude to everyone and ignore them at all costs?

M:

You learn quickly, my boy. Just live by these rules and you’ll make piles of money; so much money you’ll be swimming in it, like Scrooge McDuck. Oh, and another thing! Make sure your restaurant doesn’t take reservations. Reservations are for losers. You  must always cultivate an air of superiority, even it means making tables wait for upwards of two hours. This is key, son. Always make them wait.

LQO:

Wow. I’m so glad we had this conversation. But wait, I have a question. What if I serve all the beverages in Ball jars? Will that help mask my dickish attitude towards customers?

M:

Oh, absolutely. People fucking love drinking out of those jars. “Aww, look,” they’ll say,”how charming and Southern! Instead of regular old glasses, they’ve given us JARS to drink out of! I’m totally doing this at home from now on. I’m going to buy Ball jars off the internet and use them as glasses at home. It’ll be so cute and quaint!”

 LQO:

 Excellent.

Aaaaaaaaand scene.

Well, as I’m sure you’ve already gathered from that little scene study up there, I had a bad experience at Lillie’s Q this weekend. BBQ is really hot right now, and this place has been commended as being the latest in Chicago’s roster of awesome BBQ joints; with phrases like “new Southern” and “barbecue reimagined” being thrown around. I’d heard some buzz about this place and jumped at the chance to try it for myself on Saturday for my friend T.’s birthday.

Things started off on a sour note when we were told that, as a large party (we had maybe 10? 12 people?) we could expect a wait of about two hours, seeing as they don’t accept reservations. No matter, I said to myself, and decided to just start ordering drinks as we stood smashed up against the bar. I noticed that the bartender was blatantly ignoring us as we jockeyed for his attention over other people at the bar, and at one point he refused to even calculate what I owed him for drinks, ignoring me when I said I wanted to pay for my drinks as I had them instead of having them added to a tab.

After about an hour and a half of these shenannigans, we sensed they were starting to assemble our seating area. The bartender (who I later learned was also the owner) handed us our tab and as we settled up, he informed me that the management staff were thisclose to telling us to “go eat somewhere else”, as they “generally don’t seat large parties”. I gave this guy the side-eye as my brain tried to gauge whether or not he was joking with me, nodding and half-laughing as I wondered to myself “what kind of business owner turns down what could essentially be a very large tab, bringing in more money to the establishment and lining the server’s pocket?”

To me, it seemed as though he was suggesting we should be kissing his ass, falling over ourselves in gratitude that he and his blessed staff deigned to allow us to pay them for their services. My friend K. and I both agreed that this was the kind of thing you generally don’t share with your customers, as it could potentially be considered a rude thing to say. This basic rule of social interaction–taking care not to offend–didn’t seem to be on this guy’s radar.

We sat, we ordered, we ate. K. deemed the hush puppies “not as good as Red Lobster’s”, and was put off when her shredded chicken entrée arrived as a glob of chicken on  tray. Literally. That was it. No garnish, no nothing, just a blorp of shredded chicken on a piece of butcher paper, served on a small metal tray. It looked like cat vomit.

My pulled pork sandwich was pretty good, though Twin Anchors’ is better. I ordered it with a side of macaroni, which both K. and I agreed lacked flavor and was mushy and overcooked. I did enjoy the selection of five different barbecue sauces on the table, and glugged the spiciest one over my sandwich after every bite. The fried pickles were good in theory, but the breading flaked off as soon as I took a fork to it, leaving me with a hot, floppy, wet pickle slice.

Now, because it was T.’s birthday celebration dinner, we figured it would be fun to order a birthday dessert for him, perhaps with a candle for him to blow out. We were told that Lillie’s Q “doesn’t do that”, and subsequently sent out not one but two people from our table to scout down a pack of birthday candles to give to our server so he could place it atop the fucking cobbler or crumble or whatever it was. It was maybe an hour-long ordeal, during which our server was very patient, but I could tell that the rest of the staff was making fun of us. I even overheard another server in the kitchen talking about it like she’d never seen such a production before.

I get that we weren’t dining at Chuck E. Cheese, but come on. People celebrate birthdays at restaurants, and yes, even adults appreciate a chance to blow out some birthday candles. Get over yourselves, Lillie’s Q! We weren’t asking you to clap and sing! We simply wanted ONE GODDAMN CANDLE. Gah.

So. By the time the bill came, I was getting super anxious to leave. I also noticed that the later it became, the more the place basically had become a hangout for the owner and his friends, and they all stood at the bar shooting us dirty looks for breathing and being paying customers and having the audacity to exist. We paid and vamoosed. I don’t think I’ll be going back, unless I hear that the place has overgone a major ‘tude overhaul.

This, for me, is a worrying trend that I’m noticing more and more as new restaurants open in Chicago. I’m not sure what happened, but all of a sudden it became de rigueur for dining establishments to treat their customers like total crap, and act like they could give two shits about repeat business or food quality. It’s like everyone who opens a new restaurant is required to fail Hospitality 101 and instead get their masters in Advanced Topics in Being a Dick to Patrons.

It’s not cute or charming, and for a place that prides itself on serving down-home Southern food, the blatant disregard for the enjoyment of customers that I witnessed at Lillie’s Q was completely incongruous and frankly absurd. This place needs a reality check, and soon.

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Meh & Meh

So, I was supposed to do this “cleanse” thing straight after New Year’s. In my head, I visualized the residue from all the rich, fatty foods I’d indulged in for the past two weeks being flushed out of my body, leaving it pure and clean for 2011. I don’t think I’m cut out for “cleansing” or “dieting” or depriving myself of any food-related whim that may pop into my head.

This cleanse, forwarded on to me by B.’s sister, consisted of a staggering amount of asparagus and cucumbers for snacking, a shitload of green tea, and lean proteins and veggies for meals. It’s really not THAT bad. And it was a two-day cleanse. Who didn’t last a day? THIS gal. Good God. There IS such a thing as too much asparagus, no matter what the pundits say!

It’s like that scene in Inception when JGL asks the Asian dude not to think about elephants. If you’re told, don’t think about elephants, what’s the first thing you think of? Fucking elephants. So this cleanse was like, I was telling myself “don’t eat carbs or sugar or any of that delicious crap” and my mind was all “give me carbs and sugar and nomnomnom I want it”. Long story short, the cleanse is over.

SEGUE

This past Saturday, a dinner with my mom and B. was on the agenda, so I chose a place I’d heard good things about but had yet to experience for myself: Kith & Kin. It’s tucked away in a charming stretch of Lincoln Park, right next to what appeared to be a baseball cap store, selling almost exclusively baseball caps. It was perplexing. I also wasn’t sure what the hell “kith” meant until I looked it up on the restaurant’s website: it means “friends”. Who knew!

True to form, my mom insisted on arriving 30 minutes before our reservation time, citing “snow and having to find parking”. There was no snow, and we found a spot right out front. Sigh. No matter! They sat us cordially and immediately, although we were one of maybe four other tables in the place. The inside space is quite lovely, boasting dark wooden floors and what looks like salvaged or original ornate ceiling tiles. However, it has a bit of an unfinished feel to it, and I noticed patches of unpainted wall and uncovered wires. The servers are all required to wear aprons of differing patterns and materials, which embues the place with a bit of a down-home, farmhouse feel. Our charming server wore a flowered apron and took care to explain how the menu worked (appetizers, shareable small plates, entrees, sides).

There was something weird going on with the staff. Either they were overstaffed or lacking diners, or both, neither of which bodes well for the future of a restaurant. Saturday nights are supposed to be slammed, and even as we were taking off at around 8:30, the tables still hadn’t really filled up all the way. Hence, I observed a great many number of servers leaning against the  bar, chatting and looking bored. This served us well, however, as the service throughout the night was impeccable. Our server anticipated our needs and always seemed to arrive at just the exact moment, offering more bread or wine. She was great. The service was actually better than the food, a rare and unique phenomenon which I’ve experienced only a handful of times.

The menu focuses mainly on contemporary American fare with a twist of French Creole thrown in for good measure. We ordered a foie gras pate served with strawberry preserves and brioche, Bar Harbor mussels served Belgian-style with broth, and my mom went with the blackened tiger shrimp served with smoked cheddar grits. B., also true to form, went with the buttermilk fried chicken thighs accompanied by braised collard greens and gravy. I chose the seared scallops, which came atop a serving of cauliflower “couscous”, and was topped with tomato basil soup.

This all sounds as if it should be fantastic, right? Well, it wasn’t.  It was just….good. It was good. I think perhaps I may be a bit spoiled by FDL and our insistence on quality, but I still feel that this meal could have and should have been better, especially for the price (the resulting check was upwards of $200). The scallops, while sizeable and seared perfectly, tasted a bit off. My mom’s tiger shrimp was tough and apparently “too spicy”. B.’s fried chicken was good. Not great, good. The mussels were passable, and the foie gras appetizer was sweet and cloying, more like a breakfast than anything else.

Honestly, I see so much potential in this place, and it seems as if they have yet to go that one step further that would take the food from just okay to really, really excellent. There was a lack of attention to detail that confused me, especially for a place that presents itself as a conscientious farm-to-plate establishment.

It’s 2011.

Yes it is, and I rang it in in the best way I know how: luxuriously. Behold, my plate full of luxury:

Yes, what you see there is a lobster tail, a filet mignon, truffle mac and cheese (which I made MYSELF thankyouverymuch), champagne risotto with asparagus AND blanched green beans. My dear Lord, it was delicious.

Now, because of my previous promise to myself to start actually getting my hands dirty in the kitchen, I chose to contribute to this New Year’s Eve Meal of Luxury by making truffle mac. Ina’s recipe, of course, because Ina knows what’s up when it comes to cheese and carbs. So, this recipe had shiitake and cremini mushrooms, and Gruyère and sharp cheddar cheeses, garlic breadcrumb topping and just an assortment of all the kinds of buttery delicious things I love to put in my face hole. And it actually turned out pretty well! People claimed it was good and I agreed with them, but vowed next time around I’d take it easy on the breadcrumb topping (and use FRESH breadcrumbs opposed to store-bought) and perhaps mix in a little extra shredded cheese with the crust. It was good, though. Truffly and crunchy and cheesey. I’m also thinking maybe I could, to paraphrase Emeril Lagasse, kick things up a notch by making it a tad spicy.

The rest of NYE weekend was spent playing extreme amounts of Xbox Kinect, competing intensely in track and field events and dance battles. I have never been so sore. Like, the arches of my feet are sore. How does that even happen?? I laughed when the introductory instructions to each game encouraged me to “rest or sit down” if I felt sore, disbelieving that anyone could be so terribly out of shape that they couldn’t even handle a few jumps or volleyball serves or javelin throws while playing a mere video game. I stand super corrected. Moving is still a little difficult on my tight calves and hamstrings and muscles I didn’t even know existed in my back and sides now twinge with every arm movement.

Another highlight of my Holiday Eating Extravaganza was taking B. to Hopleaf for the first time, after seeing TRON LEGACY 3D (must be said in robot voice). He’d never been and after the movie let out, I was in the mood for some warm, rustic, homey food and a good Belgian beer. We made a split second decision and shot over to Hopleaf where we settled in at the bar to wait for a table. We had a few beers, a pot of Belgian-style mussels, and a charcuterie plate with duck liver pate, duck prosciutto, and quail eggs. It was, simply put, perfect.

I hope you all spent your New Years Eves and holidays in the best company possible, as I did, and enjoyed doing whatever it is you enjoy doing the most.