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Posts Tagged ‘quail’

The first thing you’ll notice about this post is the lack of pictures. Yuki took me out last night for my 34th birthday (damn I’m gettin old!) and my recent experience, I’m sure you’ll agree, has not been good using my cell phone’s camera in dim restaurant lighting. While I have no problem using my regular camera when traveling, I feel weird pulling it out here at home, like a tourist in my own city. That said, here is how our night at the highly acclaimed Naha Restaurant went last night.

We had a 7:30 reservation and showed up right on the dot. The hostess informed us that they were running a little behind and it’d be about 15 minutes before our table would be ready. No worries, we understand that sometimes this happens. So, we sat at these extremely uncomfortable built-in benches along the wall and waited…and waited…and waited. 15 minutes goes by and nothing. Once 8:00 rolled by I went up to inquire how much longer it’d be. I was told that 3 tables had already paid and they were just waiting for them to leave. Ok, however, the assistant hostess rolled her eyes at me for asking. Sorry, but that’s about as rude as it gets when it’s way past our reservation time and we still have not gotten our table. Fortunately for her our table was ready about 2 minutes later; I didn’t have to get the manager.

We get to our table and the interior was quite nice. Very simple and elegant with windows covering all of the exterior walls. Yuki sat on the cushioned bench, so I don’t know how comfortable that was, but the wooden chair I sat in was extremely uncomfortable. There was an ill-placed wooden bar that dug into my spine causing me to hunch over the entire time. On top of that it was way too cold in that restaurant. They could have turned the air conditioner down a good 10 degrees. I noticed most of the women around us were all kind of clenching due to the temperature. I’m pretty hairy, and even I was cold, my natural fur coat wasn’t enough insulation.

Here we are sitting at our cold, uncomfortable table waiting…waiting…waiting. It took more than 10 minutes for the busser to come over and offer us our choice of water. It took another 10 minutes for our server, Albert, to come over and greet us. 20 minutes before an appearance from our server! He even made a dumb comment, “Sorry, I know you’ve been sitting here for 2 or 3 minutes.” Try 20, buddy! I put in the order for some Cava and that came out alright.

After sipping on the Cava for a few minutes Albert came back over once he had taken the order from the table on my left as they were seated shortly before us. He asked if we had ever been there before. When I said no he proceeded to explain just about every dish on the menu. Go to Naha’s website and read the menu, every single dish is well articulated, we don’t need a recap. Not to mention, it was already an hour past our reservation time and we were damn hungry, just take our order! Before we could get our order in he disappeared again. Dude, we’ve been sitting for over a half and hour looking at the menu, our minds were made up over 20 minutes ago!

Finally, we got our orders placed. Then, we waited…and waited…and waited. We’re sitting there waiting; meanwhile, the table to my left who had ordered just 5 minutes before we did was chomping away at their appetizers. I commented to Yuki that they’ll get their entrées before we get our apps. I was right. During the wait Albert avoided us so I couldn’t even inquire. I was getting pissed!

When our appetizers finally came our stomachs were rumbling. Yuki got the Risotto with Blue Crab, Oyster Mushrooms, and Lobster Bisque. The crab was pretty good, nice and moist, but the risotto and bisque were way too salty. She cleared her plate out of sheer hunger more than anything. I got the Gnocchi with Braised Oxtails, Spanish Chorizo, Rapini, Montelerriana Cheese, and Basil. I do have to say that this was a great dish. The gnocchi were nice and soft, the chorizo added a nice compliment to the mild oxtail, the rapini a nice bitterness, the cheese the right amount of salt, and basil a refreshing note.

While we were in the middle of our apps a new table was sat to my right. They ordered right away and got their apps before we finished ours. Did the hostess have a vendetta against us for asking how much longer it’d be to get our table? Then, even though we did finish our apps before them they got their entrées before us, way before us. Shoot, they almost finished their entrees before we got ours.

During our wait between apps and entrées I was finally able to flag down Albert after the wait hit a half hour. He just kept apologizing and saying that kitchen is backed up. Sorry Albert, but that’s no excuse. My little quail should take no longer than 5-8 minutes to roast while Yuki’s brisket was either braised the day before or that morning. It should never take that long between coarses. I told him how I noticed that the tables on either side of us were getting their dishes in a timely fashion and his response was childish and defensive, “Sir, it’s not a competition.” Albert, man up and admit your service sucked. I was merely using the other tables as a reference point, not for some competition you may have going on in your feeble little head.

We just about lost our appetite because so much time had passed. Right when I was about to tell Albert to forget it, we’re leaving, the entrées showed up, more than 45 minutes from the time they cleared our apps.  

Yuki had the Braised Brisket with Hen of the Woods Mushrooms and, honestly, I forget what else was on that dish. We couldn’t get past how salty the braising liquid and mushrooms were as well as how tough the brisket was. They should have called it brisket jerky. I kept watching Yuki try to saw away at that thing just to get a bite. I think it was sitting under the heat lamps for about 20 minutes back in the kitchen. At least that’s how it tasted. I got the Roasted Quail with Kurobuta Pork Belly, Duck Egg baked in La Quercia Prosciutto, and Purple Potatoes. The quail was alright, a little dry, but not terrible. The pork belly was way too sweet, and I do mean sweet. The egg and prosciutto was so damn salty! Doesn’t Chef Nahabedian know that when you cook prosciutto you’re concentrating the salt by removing the moisture? She did nothing to control the salt level. The fact that the yolk of my duck egg was solid and not runny tells me that my dish probably sat under the heat lamps for too long as well. On top of that the three main components had absolutely nothing to tie them together. I was intrigued by the combination on paper and quite honestly, it just didn’t work on all fronts. I kept imagining what Chef Tom Colicchio would say on Top Chef about editing a dish and pulling back on ingredients. Also, there was nothing on either of our plates that justified the price. Brisket is a cheap cut of beef and quail, pork belly (literally three bites worth), and duck egg don’t cost that much either. We clearly didn’t pay for execution as nothing was balanced or cooked properly.

When we finished the entrées it was already 10:00 and we were ready to go home. Albert came by and asked if we were up for dessert and I told him, “We don’t want to be here for another hour, we’re ready to go.” He tried to joke around and said the dessert was on him. We really didn’t care for his nonchalant attitude. We’re two very pissed off diners, not friends.

Another comment on Albert’s service, not once did he come over to see how our food was. He ignored us during our apps and he ignored us during our entrées.

He left to get us the bill and the manager, Terry, came by to apologize. I told him my exact thoughts. If the service had run at regular restaurant speed we wouldn’t have waited the initial half hour to get our table not to mention the snails pace of everything else. It should never take more than a half hour to get apps, and it should never take more than 45 minutes to get an entrée from the time apps are cleared. He also blamed it on the kitchen which is a terrible cop-out. Whether deliberate or shear incompetence, our entrées clearly seemed to have been sitting in the kitchen under heat lamps for a long period of time.

When Albert brought the check he also brought a dessert, Vanilla Ice Cream Parfait with Drunken Fruit and Brioche Pain Perdu, with the obligatory “Happy Birthday” written in chocolate. It was comped, but we clearly told him we did not want dessert and just wanted to leave. The correct move would have been to just take care of some of our wine and not force us to stay there any longer. A free dessert was not enough to get the usual 20% tip we tend to leave.

I do have to say that Yuki had her doubts about Naha months ago when I mentioned that this is where I wanted to go for my birthday dinner. She thought the menu looked pretentious and unappetizing. Once again, she was right. I should have known better. Most chefs worth their grain of salt, especially those who claim to be farm-to-table chefs, are trending towards simplicity, fewer ingredients to showcase the quality of the food. Chef Nahabedian is stuck in the trends of a decade ago. Besides that, the service was clearly lacking. If you want to go out for a nice dinner with fantastic food, trust me, there are hundreds of better options than Naha where you’ll be paying their rent instead of buying a good dinner experience.

Thanks for a horrible birthday Naha!

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Wow! Holidays always seem to disappoint to the nth degree. Valentine’s Day is no exception. I typically don’t care whatsoever about any national holidays as to me they are nothing but capitalist commercial rag. However, my wife and I do like to dine out on Valentine’s since many restaurants whip up sexy dishes special for the occasion. This year we decided to check out Piccolo Sogno, 464 N Halstead.

 

I’ve never been to Coco Pazzo, but Yuki has. She and everyone else I talk to about it have given it nothing but rave reviews. Since Chef Priolo was the executive chef there we were sure that his Piccolo Sogno would deliver the goods. Man, were we wrong!

 

I was going to post my review last night after dinner, but I wanted to wait and see how everything digested. So far so good, no uncomfortable trips in the foreseeable future either. Waiting until today also let me replay last night’s experience in my head over and over again, slowly simmering over low heat.

 

We had a 7pm reservation and were promptly seated. They walked us past this tiny little bar area, through a dining room with sort of a grayish-blue color (kind of a hip dining room), past antipasto items lined up in front of the kitchen out in the open (no sneeze-guard or anything keeping it away from the public, as well as no refrigeration) and into a backroom that was nothing like the rest of the restaurant. The room we were in was small and cramped. They had way too many 2-top tables in that place. Maybe it was to get more Valentine’s couples in, I’m not sure, but they definitely killed any romance whatsoever by having everyone sit on top of each other. Conversation was awkward since it was like we were seated at a table with strangers on all sides instead of at our own table. The space between tables was so small my petite wife had trouble slipping through the crack to get to her seat. I’m glad I’m not married to Aretha Franklin, no way would she make it through! The wallpaper in that room was terrible as well and didn’t match the rest of the restaurant at all. It has this horrible yellowish-beige color with different fruits on it. I thought I was in an old woman’s dining room in a Wisconsin farmhouse, not a hip new Italian place in Chicago. The one good thing I did notice was that all of us men in the room were gentlemen and let our women sit with their backs against the wall. Chivalry is not dead!

 

Our server showed up after about 5 minutes and wanted to take our orders immediately. I got the feeling that we weren’t really wanted there. I told him that we’d order our drinks once we figured out what we were going to order to eat and he said he’d come back in a couple of minutes. Well, that turned out to be about 15-20 minutes. So, here Yuki and I are, sitting with no drinks, no food, and very little conversation due to how uncomfortably close we were to other patrons on both sides. It was definitely not an ideal situation. We couldn’t even flag the waiter down the few times he came into the room since he paid zero attention to us. Also, I noticed toward the end of our meal when a new couple sat next to us they were given some sort of amuse bouche. We weren’t. The table on the other side of us was told about the fish of the day and other specials. Why weren’t we?

 

Once the waiter decided to make a little time for us we ordered a really nice bottle of Sangiovese, easily the best part of our meal. We ordered two salads, the Insalata Mista and the Insalata Barbabietole. The Mista was basically a mixed green salad with a few cherry tomatoes, fennel grissini (bread sticks), and vinaigrette. I really expected more from it. I could have bought some bread sticks and made my own vinaigrette to toss on some greens for much less than the $7 this salad cost. The Barbabietole (beet salad) was also sub par. You put a beet salad on the menu and I’m going to order it. I absolutely love beets! I’m not sure if it’s the sweetness, texture, or the fact that the next day everything that comes out of you is red (actually, I know this last reason is why), but I will always order it. I guess sometimes I shouldn’t, as in this case. The beats were fine, the shaved fennel on top was great, but the ricotta cheese had no place on the dish. Chef Priolo tried to be different by not using a salty goat cheese with beets. You know what Chef? There’s a reason everyone else uses a salty goat cheese and not bland ricotta. There was no balance in the overall flavor of the salad. No textural difference either. The addition of toasted pine nuts would have also made this salad fantastic. The dish stopped short.

 

Our entrees were even worse than the salads. Yuki ordered the Anatra Arrosto (slow roasted duck with fennel sausage and farro polenta) while I ordered the special entrée, Abbraccio di Quaglia (house-cured pancetta wrapped quail stuffed with black truffles and mushrooms over a pillow of soft polenta). Chef Priolo did get the skin nice and crispy on the duck, probably the best part of the entire line-up of food that we ordered. It was really crisp and tasty. The meat however was overcooked and a little dry. The flavor was good, but once duck is overcooked, no matter how great the flavor is, all is lost.

 

I’m putting the review of my quail in its own paragraph because there were many many many things wrong with this dish. Read my description of the dish in the paragraph above. That’s exactly how the dish is described on the website and that’s how it was written on the menu. That’s not what was served. I did get quail, let me make that clear, but wrapped in house-cured pancetta? Where’s the pancetta? How come I didn’t get the pancetta? Why no pancetta? It also said “stuffed with black truffles and mushrooms”. The quail wasn’t stuffed with anything let alone black truffles and mushrooms. There were mushrooms in the balsamic sauce drizzled around the quail, but nothing inside the quail. I couldn’t taste truffles to save my life either. How can you mention something like black truffles and then not use them? Without a single trace of pancetta or black truffles on my plate, what did I pay $26 for? Why not sucker punch me in the gut while you’re at it? Well, they did. On top of missing two of the main ingredients my quail was way overcooked and dry. I love quail to be a little rare in the middle so it’s nice and tender, but this was cooked like a piece of microwaved chicken.  Maybe because there was no pig fat wrapped around this lean little bird to keep it moist. Maybe Chef Priolo just isn’t a very good chef. I don’t care who was back there cooking that thing, it is Priolo’s (I’m going to stop using the term Chef for him as he doesn’t deserve that title.) responsibility to make sure everything’s cooked properly. Since nothing was, I’m convinced he’s a fraud.

 

I wanted to complain to the waiter about this, but he didn’t come by to see how things were for at least 20 minutes after we were served. I also didn’t want to bother our fellow diners who were on top of us and ruin their meals with our complaints. I did call once we got home and told Ciro Longobardo (Priolo’s biz partner in the deal) about that quail dish. All he could do was say that he was sorry. I guess I didn’t expect him to do anything since we were already at home, but I still wanted him to know that there was a major disconnect from what was advertised to what was served.

 

Anyway, on to dessert. We were given two strawberries covered in white chocolate with dark chocolate drizzles and two half-glasses of Santero Fragolino, a sparkling rose to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Wow, what cheapskates! You can get Fragolino retail for about $10 a bottle, meaning that they probably paid $7 a bottle from a distributor. Come on guys, it’s Valentine’s Day and your restaurant is full of couples wanting a romantic dinner, show a little class and serve us something good! Yuki made the comment that the sparkling tasted like Fanta. You know what? She was absolutely right. It was the worst sparkling rose I’ve ever passed through my liver and I drink my fair share of sparkling rose as it’s a perfect partner for grilled meat (Without my grill I’m nothing!). I do have to say that the strawberries were fantastico! I don’t know where they got them, but to find nice big sweet strawberries in February? Not enough to save the meal, but very delicious.

 

We ordered the Valentine’s dessert to accompany the strawberries. It was a chocolate cup filled with three mousses, white chocolate, chocolate, and pistachio. The pistachio was outstanding, the chocolate was good, but the white chocolate I could have done without. The chocolate cup was made that afternoon and was not refrigerated properly. It should have been nice and hard, but it was almost melting and we had trouble breaking it apart to eat. Overall it was a good dessert, not a great one, and definitely not a special Valentine’s-worthy one.

 

On our way out the door, while putting on our jackets, one of the hostesses very awkwardly handed me a rose. I guess it was for Yuki. We definitely appreciate fresh flowers, but it was given to me in such a weird fashion it felt really odd.

 

I have to say that I do not understand the hype surrounding this place. I know it has one of the best outdoor seating gardens in the city, but the two restaurants I know of that occupied that space previously couldn’t hack it even with that space. If not for Priolo’s undeserved reputation this place would be doomed as the food was not buona da mangiare, while the service and atmosphere were both severely lacking. I mean really, it’s not like there aren’t other options for Italian food in Chicago! I, for one, will never go back to Piccolo Sogno.

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